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Roccascalegna: history and legends from the medieval castle in the heart of Abruzzo.

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Roccascalegna is a small town situated at 455 meters above sea level, in a valley right of the Rio Secco, a tributary of the Aventino river, in the inner mountains of the province of Chieti, midway between the mountains and the sea; its 1400 inhabitants are called roccolani.

In all likelihood, the founders of Roccascalegna were the Longobards who, since 600 AD, permanently occupied the actual Molise and southern Abruzzo, after having descended from northern Italy. Consequence of this was the alignment of the Byzantine garrisons on the shores of the Adriatic sea. The logic of this conflict explains the construction of the Watch Tower, first, and of the Castle, afterwards, on the imposing rock mass that dominates the valley of the Rio Secco (affluent of the Aventine) just by the Longobards. Once the hostilities between the two peoples ended, excluding an accounting note of 1320, there are no historiographical source that speaks about the Castle of Roccascalegna until 1525. In that year there was a description of the restored Castle, in compliance with the new requirements needed with the advent of firearms.

A further notarial deed describes the restoration of the access ramparts of the Castle of Roccascalegna, but by now we are already in 1705. Since 1700 the Castle of Roccascalegna lived three centuries of neglect, in which was prey to the weather and looting of the local population, until the donation to the Municipality of Roccascalegna, in 1985, by the last feudal family. Immediately began the restoration work that brought the Castle of Roccascalegna to its former glory in 1996.

The castle, rising on a rock of limestone, is connected to a bloody event: the murder of the most cruel and violent baron of the castle, Corvo de Corvis, killed by the people of the village in his own castle. Historically, the Baron was identified with Annibale Corvi or with a man of the Carrafa family, but in truth his existence is enveloped in the legendary mist of past times. The fiefdom of Roccascalegna was purchased by the Corvi family from Sulmona in the year 1599, exactly by baron Vincenzo Corvi for 10,000 ducati. Baron Corvo de Corvis, who left a deep mark in the people of Roccascalegna, lived in the the 16th century, the Spanish period. He never stopped exacting taxes of all kinds, and also obliged his subjects to kneel before a raven, black as the darkness around the castle. The raven was placed in a cage in front of the castle door, where he could see all the activities of the people, and anybody going to or leaving the village had to pass in front of him, along the only road leading to the settlement: people who refused to pay homage to the bird were arrested and, sometimes, killed.

After many years of terror the baron, now forty-five years old, decided to introduce the most hideous of medieval feudal customs, the “Jus primae noctis”, which obliged every newly-wed bride to spend her first nuptial night with the Baron. This terrible law deeply angered the parish priest, who protested publicly. The Baron then ordered his guards to punish the priest, that was killed at the entrance of the village, while he was trying to escape. Time passed, until one winter night a young bride, while the baron was going to lay in bed beside her, took out a sharp dagger and stabbed the Baron in the heart. She fled away in panic, while the dying baron shouted at her horrible curses. The baron’s son wanted to take revenge, but the Abbot of San Pancrazio was able to convince him to abandon his bloody purpose. According to the legend, It is not clear if was the young bride, or if her husband, dressed up as a bride, that has stabbed the Baron. However, at the point of death, the Baron placed his bloody hand on the wall on top of his bed, and it seems that the mark remained until 27 January 1940, when the bedroom collapsed with the tower of the castle. It seems also that, over the centuries, even if people tried to wipe away the scarlet hand, it always came back as red as ever, as for witchcraft.

Another story says that, on stormy nights, when the Northern wind hits the merlons of the castle and the door creaks, the ghost of the baron takes possession again of his ancient manor, and is compelled to repeat endlessly his tragic death, in the company of his faithful raven, disappeared with him.

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