Category Archives: Introduction

Voyages to the Hereafter – The Navigation of St. Brendan (Second Part)

The story that was written by the poet Benedeit (12th Cent.) is the most famous version arrived to us (it was in Norman-French dialect) and tells us the incredible adventures travelers go through during their navigation: celebration of Easter on a huge fish, which at first looks like an island; meeting with angels fallen at the time of the rebellion of Lucifer against God (these had been transformed into birds); attack by a sea snake, defeated by another after having prayed to God; approach to an island with a terrible stench, which is the Hell and where evil souls are being tortured; meeting with Judas, the betrayer of Christ, who enjoys a moment of peace before returning to devils’ torments; finally, arrival at the island “where Adam had been the lord”. Brendan and his companions are allowed to see little of that wonderful place: rivers full of fish, rivers of milk, a golden mountain, gardens full of flowers, an everlasting summer. Back home, Brendan tells the wonders of his voyage and, doing so, makes holy and virtuous those who are listening to him.

Well, we have decided to present you now the main parts of the story that, considering that our work deals with the Afterlife, are the most interesting ones: the discovery of Hell and the visit of Eden.

The island of Hell (chap. 31)

The island of Hell (by Ada Natale)…they came within view of an island, which was very rugged and rocky, covered over with slag, without trees or herbage, but full of smiths’ forges. …When they had passed on further, about a stone’s cast, they heard the noise of bellows’ blowing like thunder, and the beating of sledges on the anvils and iron. Then St. Brendan armed himself all over his body with the sign of the Cross, saying: “O Lord Jesus Christ, deliver us from this malign island”. Soon after one of the inhabitants came forth to do some work… …bearing in his hand a tongs with a burning mass of the slag, of great size and intense heat, which he flung at once after the servants of Christ. But it did them no hurt, for they were protected by the sign of the Cross. It passed them at a furlong’s distance, and where it fell into the sea, it fumed up like heap of burning coals, and a great smoke arose as if from a fiery furnace. When they had passed on about a mile beyond the spot where this burning mass had fallen, all the dwellers on the island crowded down to the shore, bearing, each of them, a large mass of burning slag, which they flung, everyone in turn, after the servants of God. And then they returned to their forges, which they blew up into mighty flames, so that the whole island seemed one globe of fire, and the sea on every side boiled up and foamed, like a caldron set on a fire well supplied with fuel. All the day the brethren, even when they were no longer within view of the island, heard a loud wailing from the inhabitants thereof, and a noisome stench was perceptible at a great distance. Then St. Brendan sought to animate the courage of the brethren, saying: “Soldiers of Christ, be strong in faith unfeigned and in the armour of the Spirit, for we are now on the confines of hell. Watch, therefore, and act manfully”.

On another day there came into view a large and high mountain in the ocean, not far off, towards the north, with misty clouds about it, and a great smoke issuing from its summit, when suddenly the wind drove the boat rapidly towards the island until it almost touched the shore. The cliffs were so high they could scarce see the top, were black as coal, and upright like a wall. Here the monk, who remained of the three who followed St. Brendan from his monastery, leaped from the boat, and made his way to the foot of the cliff, wailing and crying aloud: “Woe is me! father, for I am forcibly torn away from you, and cannot return”. But the brethren, seized with a great fear, quickly drew off from the shore. And, lamenting loudly, cried unto the Lord: “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us!” St. Brendan plainly saw how the wretched man was carried off by a multitude of demons, and was already burning amongst them, and he exclaimed: “Woe is yours, unhappy man, who has made you so evil an end of your life”.

Afterwards a favourable breeze caught the boat, and drove them southwards. And as they looked back, they saw the peak of the mountain unclouded, and shooting up flames into the sky, which it drew back again to itself, so that the mountain seemed a burning pyre.

The Earthly Paradise (chap. 36-37)

The Eden (by unknown author)…At the end of forty days, towards evening, a dense cloud overshadowed them, so dark that they could scarce see one another. Then the procurator said to St. Brendan: “Do you know, father, what darkness is this?” And the saint replied that he knew not. “This darkness,” said he, “surrounds the island you have sought for seven years; you will soon see that it is the entrance to it“. And after an hour had elapsed a great light shone around them, and the boat stood by the shore. When they had disembarked, they saw a land, extensive and thickly set with trees, laden with fruits, as in the autumn season. All the time they were traversing that land, during their stay in it, no night was there, but a light always shone, like the light of the sun in the meridian, and for the forty days they viewed the land in various directions, they could not find the limits thereof.

One day, however, they carne to a large river flowing towards the middle of the land, which they could not by any means cross over. St. Brendan then said to the brethren: “We cannot cross over this river, and we must therefore remain ignorant of the size of this country”.

While they were considering this matter, a young man of resplendent features, and very handsome aspect, came to them, and joyfully embracing and addressing each of them by his own name, said: “Peace be with you, brothers, and with all who practise the peace of Christ. Blessed are they who dwell in thy house, O Lord. They shall praise Thee for ever and ever”. He then said to St. Brendan: “This is the land you have sought after for so long a time. But you could not hitherto find it, because Christ our Lord wished, first to display to you His divers mysteries in this immense ocean. Return now to the land of your birth, bearing with you as much of those fruits and of those precious stones, as your boat can carry. For the days of your earthly pilgrimage must draw to a close, when you may rest in peace among your saintly brethren. After many years this land will be made manifest to those who come after you, when days of tribulation may come upon the people of Christ. The great river you see here divides this land into two parts; and just as it appears now, teeming with ripe fruits, so does it ever remain, without any blight or shadow whatever, for light unfailing shines thereon”.

For the complete version of the Navigation of St. Brendan, one can click on:

E.A. – V.G.

Voyages to the Hereafter – The Navigation of St. Brendan (First Part)

At the end of the 5th Century, Ireland was reached by monasticism, a phenomenon that had developed in the Near East in the 4th Century. Since the beginning, Irish monastic spirit was characterized by an intense asceticism. The most heroic ones started to look for absolute solitude in the contemplation of God. If Eastern monks found loneliness either on top of columns or in the desert, their Irish brothers also had an immense “desert” to use: the sea. Thus, started the Peregrinatio pro Christo, that was the research of solitude in the sea. Some hermits sailed and let their ships be carried by the waves to places which the case or, even better, God’s will had chosen for them. Both large and small islands started to be populated by monastic communities.

Saint Brendan - Map of voyagesSt. Brendan was born around the end of the 5th Century in Clonfert, where he also died, and his ashes were buried in Notre-Dame-d’Aynès (a small Roman chapel rebuilt between the 14th and 15th Centuries at Conques in the Aveyron region), far from the sea. He joined the monastic life and made numerous pilgrimages by the sea, reaching Scotland, maybe Brittany, Orkney and Shetland islands. His name is linked to the foundation of various monasteries. After his death, the memory of his travels was amplified by oral tradition and mingled with legends of Celtic folklore. Between the 6th and 8th Centuries, Ireland experienced a period of great cultural splendor and artists, scholars, monks elaborated a new culture, combining elements of Antiquity and Christianity with the old Celtic world.

The Navigation of St. Brendan (a second available text is Vita Prima Sancti Brendani – First Life of St. Brendan -, whose first version dates back to 11th-12th Centuries, but it recounts another version of the voyage), if we assume that it was written in Ireland, could be dated, as for its first draft, between the 7th and the 8th Centuries. It confirms its compliance with the new faith but, at the same time, highlights some issues in regards to the tradition:

  • Paradise is important for mankind not only at the End of Time, but one needs to already find out its existence on Earth;
  • the sea, conceived by the various cultures in different ways, is “the anteroom of the Afterlife”;
  • it is by going towards the West that one will reach the Promised Land (in the Bible the Eden is instead located in the East).

This legend was written in Latin by an unknown author, probably a cleric, and spread throughout the Middle Ages. It was translated into many languages (Anglo-Norman, French, Old Provencal, Catalan, English, Dutch, various Germanic dialects and, in Italy, Venetian and Tuscan).

This literary work reminds “Imram” (an adventurous sea voyage, made by one or more heroes). This kind of literary work was appreciated by the Irish, who were so well-linked to the sea that they could properly understand all those concepts coming from classical culture, for example Aeneid and Odyssey.

Navigatio Sancti Brendani

Navigation of Saint Brendan (German manuscript)St. Brendan is shown as a monk-blacksmith, a kind of magician who knows the power of water, an animal master, etc. These few elements are enough to give us an idea of the typical hagiographic approach: each image is used to highlight the Creation and convince mankind to convert to God.

Out of the thirty-eight chapters of the Navigation, the first tells what will be Brendan’s final destination, that is the Island of the Blessed, which is described by the abbot Barinto, his host (this is typical of the literary genre of Echtrai, whose protagonists reach islands shrouded in mist, where dead souls settled down).

The next three chapters describe the preparation of the voyage, the choice of companions and the ship construction.

The giant whaleFrom chapter 5 to chapter 35 one can read about the navigation, full of events and strange encounters: Island by high cliffs, Island of the giant sheep, the great whale, the Paradise of Birds, the elders of the community of Saint Albeo, Island of blacksmiths (the Hell), Judas Iscariot, the hermit Paul (episodes where one can find similarities with Imram, the Apocalypse or medieval texts describing voyages to the Holy Land, or even with the Aeneid, the Odyssey or Germanic mythology).

Saint Brendan encounters a siren (German manuscript)Chapters 36 and 37 again describe the Island of the Blessed, while chapter 38 tells of the return home and the serene death of the Saint.

This literary work is considered to be one the sources of inspiration of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, so as to suggest some scholars that the demonology of Dante could have been also derived, even though not all, from this ancient legend (in fact, it recounts of fallen angels, that the protagonist finds in the guise of snow-white birds, perched on a tree in Paradise; these are spirits fallen but not evil, nor proud, all sins for which, for example, in the Divine Comedy Dante places them as neutral).

E.A. – V.G.

Dogs: possible means of “unusual events”! (part 3)

Statue of Don Bosco and the GrayAfter around 4 months since we have published our last article on this topic (for those who would like to read it again, click HERE for a direct access) and after approximately one year and a half from our first work about this fascinating matter regarding dogs as possible means of “unusual events” (for those who would love reading our first publication, please click HERE), we decided to deal again with the story of Don Bosco and the Gray dog, in order to provide you with further and interesting information.

Wait a minute! Do you remember the story that inspired us address the topic of miraculous phenomena related to the presence of dogs, which we sometimes find in the anecdotage of some Saints’ lives? The all idea came from the story of Mr. Mario Ritaldi from Rome. Should you like to enjoy again or for the first time his video-interview before continuing with the reading of this our new article, you can click HERE.

Well, now we can start!

«I have caressed the Gray».

Mr. Renato CelatoRenato Celato, a Salesian, who has been a reliable and discreet chauffeur of four Rector Majors, witnessed a “mysterious” meeting.

In May 1959, the urn containing the body of Don Bosco, during its way back from Rome to Turin on a special van incognito, made a stop in La Spezia, at the church of Our Lady of the Snow…

What do you remember about the mysterious dog that you saw beside the urn of Don Bosco?

I could see, touch and caress that mysterious dog. All happened on May 5 or 6, 1959, after the inauguration of the great church of Cinecittà (Rome). We were on our way back from Rome and were carrying the urn of Don Bosco, that had remained in Rome for a few days. Pope John XXIII had also come to see it… The urn of Don Bosco had remained for two days in the basilica of Saint Peter, while we were organizing its return trip to Turin… We arrived at La Spezia at The Gray crouching (general view and in detail)around 7:00am, instead of 4:00am. Our confrere, Mr. Bodrato, who was the sexton, had opened the doors of the church at 4:30am and had seen this dog crouching at the entrance. So, he had given a kick to the dog in order to send him away but the dog, without any reaction, had just moved aside, continuing to wait for the arrival of the urn.

Once we arrived, we took the urn into the church and put it on a carpenter table. The dog followed us and crouched under the table. At the beginning nobody cared about it, but then, when people started to gather and some Masses were celebrated, the director began to be concerned and told the policemen who were there: “Send away this dog that is lying under the urn!” The policemen did not succeed, as the dog started gnashing his teeth and looked really angry. The dog remained there until noon, when the church was closed. Then, the dog went out of the church and began to wander among the boys in the courtyard. Of course, the boys were happy to have the dog there and started to caress him, to pull his tail. I joined them too.

We went to have lunch. There were the inspector, all the directors of the inspectorate, the novices and the confreres who had been able to enter. The dining room was upstairs. During lunch, we saw this dog pushing the door with his front legs and coming in. He began to wander among the tables. Don Puddu, secretary of the High Council, gave him a kick, but the dog did not bother and continued to wander. The dog was offered some bread, ham, salami, he just sniffed as he liked that food but did not eat anything. He remained there during all the lunch. Shortly before the final prayer, the dog opened the door and went out.

The Gray crouching (in detail)At about 2:00pm we went back to the church. We had to leave because the journey was still long. The dog was again crouching under the urn. How did the dog get in, as the church’s doors were locked?

We loaded the heavy urn onto the van and the dog was still there near us. I left a photograph in our archive in order to document all that.

We left, heading to Genoa Sampierdarena through the Turchino passage, since there was no highway yet. Don Giraudi, who was in the car with me, every now and then used to ask me: “Please check if the dog is still following us!” The dog was still following the van, even in the city. I saw the dog as far as the third curve of a steep road. Then, the dog disappeared.

E.A. – V.G.

Cover of Salesian Bulletin (April 2016)Interview taken from the Salesian Bulletin, dated April 2016 (Year CXL, n. 4)
“I have caressed the Gray” – Meeting with Mr. Renato Celato (pp. 10-13), by the envoy Jesus Jurado

Voyages to the Hereafter – The Purgatory of St. Patrick

The Church has followed the Jewish tradition regarding Purgatory. In fact, since the 2nd Century BC the Jews believed that there was a period of purification after one died. For this reason, in the book of 2 Maccabees 12,43-45 it is written that Judas Maccabaeus sent to Jerusalem 2,000 silver drachmas in order to offer a sacrifice for those who had died in battle. Then, further references to Purgatory are also found in other biblical passages. In the Apocalypse, for example, it is written that nothing unclean will enter the Hereafter (Ap. 21,27), so everyone has to enter free from sins, therefore completely purified first. In the book of 1 Corinthians 3,15 St. Paul says that one can be saved, but only through a sort of fire. Moreover, Jesus clearly says that there are sins that can be forgiven after death (Mt. 12,32). Since the beginning, Christianity believed that there was a period of purification after death, although a more articulated idea of Purgatory formed between the 3rd and 12th Century. This was an evolution of the belief – such a belief was present in both liturgy and funerary epigraphy – that one may purify from some sins after death. The theoretical basis for the existence of Purgatory was provided by Augustine of Hippo and Gregory the Great, who described Hell’s pains. As for the idea of a Purgatory place and its representations, were fundamental the descriptions of visions or travels to the Hereafter, which already had a long tradition in pre-Christian literature (e.g., the descent to the Hades of Odysseus and Aeneas). Initially neglected for the will of the Church of defeating paganism, stories of travel experiences to the Hereafter flourished from the 7th Century, especially in the monastic framework, where popular elements could be filtered by Christianity. Finally, these stories spread all over in the 11th and 12th Centuries. It is worth to mention that the Catholic concept of Purgatory fully realized only later, thanks to Dante Alighieri who, in his literary work “The Divine Comedy” (written between 1302 and 1321), described the triple division in which he imagined the Afterlife was divided: Hell (place of eternal punishment), Purgatory (place of temporary punishment) and Paradise (place of eternal reward).

The Purgatory of St. Patrick.

The first mention of St. Patrick’s Purgatory was made in the Saint Life, written between 1180 and 1183 by Jocelyn of Furness.

According to his account, Jesus appeared to Saint Patrick, who was unable to convert Irish people. Christ showed him a round and dark cavity, maybe a pit or a cave, and assured him that those who, after having been purified from their sins, had spent a day and a night in it would have seen both the punishment awaiting the evil ones and the prize for the righteous ones.

Upon the Saint decision, the cavity was then enclosed by both a wall and a door, and a church was built nearby (by tradition the episode is dated to the year 445). The door key was given to the canons’ prior (he would have then become Saint Dabheog) that established there. It was provided that all penitents, who had faced the try, should have then written down a report on what they had seen.

Jocelyn of Furness located the place of the Purgatory of St. Patrick on a mountain of Connaught, in the western part of Ireland.

The knight Owen (left side) listens to the list of Purgatory torments from Prior (in the middle). From Le voyage du puys sainct Patrix auquel lieu on voit les peines de Purgatoire et aussi les joyes de Paradis by Claude Noury, Lyon 1506.However, the international success of St. Patrick’s Purgatory is due to the work of Henry (ancient codes do not say anything more about his name), a monk of the Cistercian abbey of Saltrey. In the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii (written between 1190 and 1210) Henry of Saltrey tells the story of the Cistercian Gilberto, who was sent to Ireland at the time of King Stephen of England (between 1135 and 1154).

As he did not know the language of that country, the monk chose the knight Owein to guide him. The knight told him that, after a bad life, he repented of his sins and wanted to go through the punishment for all the bad actions he had committed while he was still alive, instead of being punished for them after death. Therefore, he was brought to a mysterious place through a door, which was strictly guarded by monks and to which no one was admitted without the consent of both the bishop of the local diocese and the neighboring church prior. First, both bishop and prior tried to dissuade him to take the try, because if he had been seduced by demons’ temptations, he would have then been sent directly to Hell, with no return. Since his obstinacy, they gave their permission, imposing him a preparatory period of fasting and prayer in the nearby church and advising him to invoke the name of Jesus in case of need during the try.

After having entered the cave, Owein went through various places of punishment. Everywhere he saw souls punished according to a well-established Christian imagery. He also received his punishment: he was assaulted, tempted, threatened and mocked by the demons who were providing those punishments and were leading him during the “visit”, but he was always saved in extremis by the invocation of the Divine name.

Finally, he arrived at an extremely narrow bridge, going over an infernal river of fire, which kept on widening as he was proceeding along the path. Once passed, he reached an amazing countryside, in front of a high wall that surrounded a beautiful city, which was nothing but the Earthly Paradise. Once through the door, a procession of Saints met with Owein and joyfully welcomed him in the divine city, then showing him the wonders of that place of bliss.

After this adventure and having been cleaned from all his sins, the knight returned outside. After 15 days of prayer in the nearby church, he returned to the world, but the experience had impressed him so much that Owein decided to become a crusader and then went to the Holy Land.

Lough Derg, ancient map. Island of St. Patrick’s Purgatory.Henry of Saltrey does not indicate the place where St. Patrick’s Purgatory was. However, in a margin note of a manuscript, dated to the second half of the 13th Century, of the Topographia Hibernica by Gerardo Cambria it is indicated that there is a lake in Ulster, with an island divided into two parts: the first, that is pleasant, with nice gardens and a church; the second, that is horrible and desolate, with many demons. It is highly probable that this lake is Lough Dergh (Lacus Derg), in which there are two islands: the largest of which, Saints’ Island, is home to a church, today dedicated to Saint Patrick; the second, Station Island, is the place of the “Purgatory” door.

The fame of the Purgatory of St. Patrick rapidly spread in Christendom thanks to Matteo Paris who, in the 12th Century, popularized the story of Henry of Saltrey, and also thanks to the poetess Mary of France, who translated the text into French in the Espurgatoire Saint Patriz. The story spread through remakes and versions in the vernacular throughout the whole West. Then, the Purgatory of St. Patrick often appeared in preachers’ sermons, and this contributed to its extraordinary fame.

Further voyages’ stories to the Purgatory.

Lough Derg, today.Further to the story of the knight Owein, it is worth mentioning at least other three reports: those of the knight Ludovico of Sur, the knight William Lisle and Antonio of Giovanni Martini.

The story of the knight Ludwig of Sur, who visited Purgatory on September 17, 1358, reports that, after a preparatory period of prayer and fasting, Ludwig was led by twelve monks to a rather small cave. After having spent there about half an hour, he saw a man dressed in white, who invited him to start the journey. After having descended some stairs, the knight found himself in a large room, where three monks scolded him for his temerity and anticipated him the temptations and pains he would have faced soon. In order to succeed, it would have been enough to make a cross sign and say a Gospel passage. The story continues with the description of Hell’s torments, with the difference, in comparison to Owein story, that temptations were not the work of demons but of graceful young women.

As for the account of the experience of the English knight William Lisle, who had been in Ireland in 1394, it is reported that William had been locked with a companion in the cave of Island Station for a whole night. During the descent, he had been surrounded by hot steam and had fallen asleep in a sleep full of strange dreams. This led him to believe that the “visions” of the place had been nothing but illusions, caused by gases, which would have caused an altered state of consciousness.

In a letter, sent by the Florentine Antonio of Giovanni Martini to a fellow citizen, is described the experience of Antonio’s descent to the Purgatory, which took place in November 1411. The preparation process for the try is accurately described: a three-day fasting (just bread and water), wearing a long white robe (like a shroud), monks’ recitation of the prayers for the dead over the pilgrim laying down on his back, a procession around the chapel next to the entrance of the cave, the “burial” into a narrow cave (similar to a tomb rather than a cave). It would appear that this complex ritual was part of a well-established technique to alter the state of pilgrim’s conscience, which, in fact, refers that he felt very weak and saw things that he could not write or say, except in confession. Antonio of Giovanni Martini was extracted from the cave while he was unconscious, after only five hours.

E.A. – V.G.

Dogs: possible means of “unusual events”! (part 2)

We have published our first article on this topic around a year ago (for those who are interested in reading our first publication, direct access is granted by clicking HERE) and now have decided to deepen one of the four examples used in that article. We will deal with Don Bosco and the Gray Dog!

‘Don Bosco and the Gray Dog’, illustration by Andrea F. PhillipsHowever, before starting this new work, please let us remind you what, a year ago and also today, has inspired us to debate about miraculous phenomena related to dogs, and which are found in the anecdotage of lives of some Saints. Well, we have been inspired by the story recounted by Mr. Mario Ritaldi from Rome. So, it could be interesting to watch his video-interview before continuing this reading (for a direct access, please click HERE).

And now we can start our story!

The urn of Don Bosco and the “gray dog”

The following story is a synthesis of what has been recounted by Don Tiburzio Lupo, who was at that time director of the Salesian House in Livorno (Italy) and was an eyewitness of what happened. Don Tiburzio passed away in 2001 at the Mother House in Turin, when he was around 100 years old.

In May 1959, the urn containing the body of Don Bosco had to secretly travel by a special van to Rome and then from Rome to Turin, and even the stops necessary for the long journey had to be kept completely secret. However, Don Tiburzio was determined to also have the urn of Don Bosco in La Spezia (Italy), and he had to convince his confrère Don Giraudi, who was in charge of the trip. Finally, Don Giraudi was convinced. This would have been the program: a) on May 12, the urn would have secretly arrived from Livorno to La Spezia at around 5:30am; b) confrères and youngsters of the House would have been allowed to see Don Bosco; c) on the same morning the urn would have then left to Sampierdarena, the last stop before returning to Turin.

‘Church of Our Lady of the Snow’, La SpeziaOn May 12, Don Tiburzio and some confreres got up early, and reached Garibaldi street, that was just in front of the church Our Lady of the Snow. They started waiting for the coveted arrival of the urn of Don Bosco. At this point, began the story of the “gray dog”.

A dog, that was half wolf and had gray hair, approached two confrères among those who were waiting there, and started to wander around them. They tried to drive him away, even with stones, but the dog went where Don Tiburzio, Don Oliva and a lady holding a child were waiting. Don Oliva, who was sitting on a bench, began to stroke the dog and the dog crouched beside him, putting his head on Don Oliva’s knees.

The van, together with all the people escorting it, finally arrived, albeit with an hour delay. Following persistent requests coming from Don Tiburzio, Don Giraudi agreed to let the urn be carried into the church for the veneration by devotees. The urn was placed on a steady table in the presbytery, lit by some spotlights and visible from every part of the church.

Less than an hour later, the church was completely full of people, conveyed to venerate the relics of Don Bosco.The number of people continued to increase so that, at approximately 8:00am, the police arrived in order to control devotees’ inflows.

‘The Gray Dog crouched’, illustration by Andrea F. PhillipsMeanwhile, something strange happened. During the seven-thirty Mass, that was celebrated by Don Giraudi, some of the faithful followers informed Don Tiburzio that a dog was crouched on the steps of the balustrade, just on the side of the urn, and prevented people from approaching it. After having tried to move him away from there, the dog – this dog just resembled the dog which was seen before the arrival of Don Bosco’s urn – even crouched under the table on which the urn was. Since no one complained, the dog could stay under the table, all the Mass long.

After the Mass, Don Tiburzio went to the sacristy to accompany Don Giraudi to have breakfast. Suddenly, the dog, quiet and wagging, arrived there and followed them into the refectory. Don Tiburzio tried to chase him away but Don Giraudi then said while smiling: “Leave him alone… Maybe he is the Gray of Don Bosco!”

In the refectory the dog crouched under the table, between Don Giraudi’s feet, refusing any food that was offered him: buttered bread, cheese, salami. All the people there were astonished because, if the dog had been a stray dog, he wouldn’t have refused to eat.

After breakfast, Don Giraudi went to rest for a while and Don Tiburzio then picked up the dog by the scruff of his neck and led him into the courtyard. The youngsters there, who had attended the Mass celebrated by Don Giraudi, were having some free time, but as soon as they saw the dog, they gathered around him and started to stroke him. However, even on this occasion the dog refused to eat what the guys offered him.

After the school bell rang, the dog was taken to the reception. There he crouched truly miserable, and the porter, since the dog refused to move, left him alone. At around 10:00am, Mr.Basilio, who was the factotum of the House, passed by the reception and saw the dog there. So, he picked up the dog by the scruff of his neck and dragged him off the House, then closing the door. After that day, no one saw the dog anymore.

E.A. – V.G.

The concept of the Afterlife beyond the oceans of time: “the Etruscan civilization”

What was the concept of the Afterlife in the Etruscan culture?

This is the question we will try to answer through this presentation, and we hope that, further to catch your attention, we will manage to provide you with a relatively complete framework, which may be able, at the same time, to increase your desire to deepen this topic further.

Before starting, however, we would like to clarify the reasons for this article, which could inaugurate a new line for discussions on our website. We could provide you with an articulated explanation and various motivational elements, but we prefer to be direct and simple. A recurring topic (indeed a dominant subject), that is basically shared by all the ancient peoples (it’s worth to mention, for instance, ancient Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and, of course, Etruscans), is the great importance of religion and the spiritual side of life, in particular the evident interest for the Afterlife. Today, as well as during the past, this topic is fundamental in our existence, whatever some people may say. Therefore, it will be very interesting to proceed together along ancient civilizations’ paths, so that we can then return to our current world, perhaps with a new awareness by having gone through the sources of our civilization.

Now we can start our journey in the past!

Etruscan necropolis of Tarquinia (Italy)First of all, we would like to point out that the practice of excavating underground complex monumental necropolises was started by the Etruscans. In fact, before them in Italy the dead were burnt and their ashes were buried, usually in a small hole in the ground.

The lower world was considered by ancient peoples as the womb of both Mother Earth and the Hereafter. Souls of the dead were believed to reach that world and arrive at the presence of deities. The Underworld gods were a divine couple: Hades and Persephone, that were named, in the Etruscan language, Aita and Phersipnai. The yearly return of Persephone on earth, among the living, corresponded to the beginning of Spring and, on that occasion, “Little Mysteries” festivities were celebrated. “Great Mysteries” festivities, instead, were celebrated in September and recalled when the goddess disappeared, going back to the underworld.

The entire symbolic and mythical cycle of the Mysteries referred to the great mystery of death and rebirth. The main Mystery topic concerned the soul that, through a particular ritual of death and rebirth, could aspire to immortality, providing a higher meaning to the human condition, which, in this way, could be equivalent to the divine life of gods and heroes. This concept of the soul and its possible “awakening” was the core of this great sacred mystery. This concept was used later, for example, by Pythagoras, but we can also find it in the heart of Christianity. In the inscription of Samothrace it is also mentioned that the priest of Cybele used to break a consecrated bread and offer a sacred drink to the person to be initiated, and this also has common aspects with Christianity.

According to an ancient Mediterranean belief, human beings would not have a single “Self” but different ones. The human being would be the sum of three main identities, or “bodies”: the physical body, the shadow and the demon (or double).

At the time of death these parts would separate from each other: the physical body would decay and would be absorbed by the ground, while the “shadow” would be released and destined to an ephemeral existence in the Underworld or, possibly, to be born again (after drinking from the “spring of oblivion”). The third element instead, the demon, according to the ancient Romans was made up of two parts, Lares and Manes. There were two Manes for each person: one was good and the other was evil. Lares instead were a collective entities of divine nature.

The soul, at the moment of death, would return to its Lares, that is to its original strain whose location was inside the Mother Earth. Human beings would have, however, the possibility of a different fate. Those who had recognized their own demons, Lares or Manes, and had gone beyond their limits, could have an immortal soul and enjoy the same life of gods, heroes and initiates to Mysteries. For the others it was inevitable to enter the never-ending cycle of life-death-rebirth as shadows, unaware of reincarnations they had gone through.

It’s likely that the Etruscan word Larth may be the source of the Latin word Lares. The Etruscan Larth was the sacred-king, the first authority which the twelve Lucumoni obeyed to and who had a supreme power. Etruscans and Romans started to worship their ancestors (Lares), whose souls were living underground in front of the earth’s gods. The result of all this was the construction of large and monumental cities for the dead (necropolises). They were built according to a magical concept: heaven and earth forces were joined in a magical connection, allowing the soul of the deceased to adequately perform his/her long journey into the Afterlife. Necropolises were assiduously visited. In fact, banquets with music, dances, rituals and offerings (e.g., milk, honey, wine were poured on the ground, on memorial stones or on altars) were performed for the dead and for the gods.

'The shadow of the evening' - III Cent. BC, Volterra (Italy), Etruscan museum «Guarnacci»Ancients believed that the experience of death could face a fundamental problem of “detachment”: the person’s earthly part, that is his/her “shadow”, could obstacle the soul during its difficult separation from the physical body. Therefore, funerary objects, as well as the amazing frescoes in tombs, had the purpose of attracting the shadow and making it release the spiritual soul. An interesting representation of a shadow is the well-known Etruscan bronzes called “shadows of the evening”: slender and elongated figures with adolescent, evanescent and serious features.

Among the Etruscan gods, it is worth mentioning the young goddess Vanth (comparable to the Greek goddess Moira). She had great wings and a torch to illuminate darkness as she accompanied the souls during their difficult passage into the Hereafter, and symbolized destiny, the implacable fate. We don’t know much about her, just that she had the “role of escorting souls” (as for the Romans, this task was given to Mercury, Hermes “Psychopomp” for the Greeks).

There were monstrous characters, who were often depicted in Etruscan tombs, with the function of monitoring and protecting tombs:

  • the demon Charun (the greek Charon) was a half-beast humanoid, holding a hammer;
  • the horrible Tuchulcha, whose face resembled a vulture, had donkey ears and used snakes as offensive weapons.

Precious depictions of the Etruscan Hereafter reached us thanks to the tombs of Tarquinia (Italy). Among others, we want to mention in particular two tombs which, in our opinion, can better provide us with information useful to our subject.

Tomb of Charons

“The Door” (“Tomb of Charons”, Etruscan Necropolis of Tarquinia, Italy. It was used a Nikon D-70 with a Nikon 50-70mm zoom lens, 2011) This tomb was discovered in 1960 and is an excellent example of a Hellenistic hypogeum with “two floors and a vestibule”: an upper floor (vestibule), used for religious ceremonies, and two burial chambers (located at a lower level) and accessible through stairs starting from the main hall. On the vestibule’s back and right walls two false doors have been painted (a symbolic entrance to the Afterlife).
Both doors have, on each side, two winged Charons, who are the Etruscan demons of death, custodians of Hades, dressed up with short skirts and holding different tools: hammers, axes and snakes. Next to each figure, a painted inscription indicates the name of the Charon demon, together with a different nickname which distinguished its particular function (unfortunately we do not know it).

Tomb 5636

“Before the Threshold” (“Tomb 5636”, Etruscan Necropolis of Tarquinia, Italy. It was used a Nikon D-70 with a Nikon 50-70mm zoom lens, 2011) This tomb dates back to the second half of III (3rd) Century BC and has significant differences in comparison with those dating to the previous period. It has a flat ceiling (instead of a sloping one), and only the right wall and the central pillar have been painted. On the central pillar a winged Charon is shown. On the side wall there is a scene of particular interest: a dead person is ready to cross the door of the Afterlife, accompanied by the goddess Vanth who, while laying her right hand on the deceased left shoulder, holds a torch in her left hand. The door is guarded by Charon who is sitting, and in the middle of the scene there are two men and a child (perhaps relatives of the deceased, who had died previously), represented in the act of welcoming the deceased and showing him the way to the Afterlife.

Some considerations

Besides the two similarities between the Etruscan world and Christian faith, already mentioned above (“awakening” of the soul; breaking of the bread and drinking from the holy cup), it is interesting to highlight another aspect that provides further resemblances.

The Afterlife is completely separated from our world and Etruscan demons, who are guarding its entrance, are just a confirmation of that. Even for our belief, the two worlds are distinct and separate, although they can get, under certain circumstances, partially and temporarily connected. We refer not only to Near-Death Experiences, during which the world of the Afterlife or, more often, of the Near-Afterlife is reached for a short time by those who have been considered dead and, later on, awake. In fact, we also refer to many people who, at the point of death, witness the visit of their dead beloved ones. Well, in both of these cases the threshold between the two worlds can become a privileged place for the encounter with those who have already died. In some cases, our loved ones arrive to accompany us during the transition, and in other circumstances they stop us and push us back. We can find all this in a painting from tomb 5636, in Tarquinia (Italy), that we have already mentioned above. In fact, we can see there just this double typology of experience, where the encounter with our ancestors takes place near the door to the Hereafter, guarded by the demon Charon. The soul of the deceased is accompanied by the goddess Vanth, who holds a torch, but it is certainly the meeting with his loved ones to “enlighten” the moment of his passage.

E.A. – V.G.

Recent Eucharistic miracle in Argentina, Buenos Aires

After Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano [1] (it consisted in a consecrated host, which became flesh and blood) that, dating back to 730-750, is considered to be the most ancient event of this kind, a new Eucharistic miracle recently occurred in Argentina, Buenos Aires. This one, as for various aspects, reminds us the Lanciano miracle. Parish of Santa Maria (neighborhood of Caballito, Buenos Aires)It was August 18, 1996, when Fr. Alejandro Pezet was celebrating an evening Mass at the catholic church of Saint Mary, in the commercial center of Buenos Aires. While he was finishing to distribute Communion, a woman approached him and said she had found a discarded host on a candleholder at the back of the church. Fr. Alejandro, once arrived there, collected the host and placed it in a bowl with water. Then, he put it away in the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Father Alejandro Pezet with Msgr BergoglioOn August 26, upon opening the tabernacle, he found out that the host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (currently, Pope Francis), who decided to let the host be professionally photographed (photos were taken on September 6). These pictures clearly showed that the host, which had become a fragment of bloodied flesh, had grown significantly in size. After that, for around three years this host remained in the tabernacle and this extraordinary event was kept a strict secret. Then, since the host suffered no visible decomposition, Cardinal Bergoglio decided to allow scientific analyses. Eucharistic miracle of Buenos Aires (1)On October 5, 1999, at the presence of Cardinal’s representatives, Dr. Castanon took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York to be analyzed. Since he did not want to prejudice the study, on purpose he did not inform the team of scientists about its provenance. One of these scientists was Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. The team determined that what had been analyzed was real flesh and blood, containing human DNA. Dr. Zugibe stated: “The analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.” Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests and, since they knew where such a sample had come from, remained astonished after Dr. Zugibe’s testimony. Moreover, Mike Willesee asked the scientist for how long white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a human tissue, which had been kept in water. The scientist replied that they would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes. The journalist then told the doctor that the sample was from a tissue that had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then in a bowl with distilled water for three years; only then the sample had been taken for being analyzed. Dr. Zugibe had no scientific explanation for all this. Only then, Mike Willesee informed Dr. Zugibe that the analyzed sample came from a consecrated host (white, unleavened bread) that had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugibe replied that all this was an inexplicable mystery to science, a mystery totally beyond his competence. The above-mentioned details were reported by Fr. M. Piotrowski SChr on the website Love One Another!, 17/2010; some further details on this event (even if, in some cases, information are slightly different from what has been reported above) have been then provided by the Italian journalist and writer Antonio Socci, who personally carried out some investigations in Buenos Aires. Particular events would have started in May 1992, in the same month and year when Jorge Bergoglio was nominated auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires. On May 1, 1992, two pieces of host were found on the corporal in the tabernacle. The parish priest decided to put them in a bowl with water, inside the tabernacle itself. After some days, these two pieces of host were still not dissolved and on May 8, they had also become reddish. Furthermore, on Sunday, May 24, on the internal wall of the tabernacle a drop of blood was observed. Eucharistic miracle of Buenos Aires (2)After these events, it happened what has been already detailed above (even if the discarded host was found on August 15, 1996, not on 18). Once the transformation into flesh and blood had been noticed, Archbishop Quarracino was directly informed. He was the one to decide not to spread the news and to authorize photographs and specific studies. Then, all the documentation was sent to Rome. In 1999, Archbishop Bergoglio, who started to follow the case only from June 1997, authorized specific analyses for both cases (1992 and 1996), and these were carried out in USA (California) in 2000, by using typical FBI procedures. As for the 1992 sample, this contained fragments of human skin. Finally, there were the New York lab analyses on the 1996 sample, with the amazing results already said above. A brief comparison with Lanciano’s miracle. At this point, it might be really interesting to carry out some comparisons between Buenos Aires’ miracle and the first Eucharistic miracle that took place at Lanciano. Eucharistic miracle of LancianoThe Miracle of Lanciano, dating back – as already mentioned – to the VIII (8th) Century, happened during a Mass, just after the consecration: host turned into flesh and wine into blood. The host and the blood are still conserved in the church of Lanciano, that was built after the miracle. In November 1970, the Archbishop of Lanciano decided to submit samples of both the host and the blood to scientific examination. Professor Edoardo Linoli was appointed, together with Professor Ruggero Bertelli from the University of Siena. On March 4, 1971, were finally presented the results of the analyses, which confirmed that flesh and blood were, with no doubt, of human origin. The flesh was unmistakably human heart tissue, and the blood belonged to AB blood group. Remarkably – this was also found in the case of Buenos Aires -, flesh and blood have not been subject to the usual cadaveric degradation. In 1973, the Superior Council of the World Health Organization (WHO) appointed a scientific Commission to verify the findings of the two Italian doctors. This research, which lasted 15 months, with a total of 500 examinations, confirmed what had been indicated and published in Italy. The extract of the scientific work of the WHO Medical Commission was published in December 1976, in New York and Geneva. Here-below is a table where the scientific analyses results of the two samples (Lanciano and Buenos Aires) are compared. As one can see, similarities are striking. From what we know, it also seems that Dr. Castanon let some labs compare the results obtained in New York with those obtained for the miracle of Lanciano; it would seem that, in addition to having the same blood type (AB), the samples would also have compatible DNA and, therefore, could belong to the same person.

Table: comparison between miracles of Buenos Aires and Lanciano

As for the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, one can read researches and lab analyses’ results in volumes published by Prof. Linoli and in the WHO magazine published in New York and Geneva in 1976, as well as in the documents conserved in the Sanctuary and exposed to the public. On the contrary, as for the miracle of Buenos Aires it is not possible to say the same. The Eucharistic miracle of Buenos Aires, in fact, has only recently started to be known because the bishop of Buenos Aires at the time of the event was Jorge Bergoglio, who has become Pope a few years ago. The only one who disclosed the news was Dr. Castanon, who did it through interviews and conferences, but it seems he has not published any of the results yet. E.A. – V.G.

[1] Italy, Abruzzo, in the area of Chieti.

Dogs: possible means of ‘unusual events’!

As we already mentioned in the section Boundaries > Descendants of Anubis ( concerning the case reported by Mr. Mario Ritaldi (Italy, Rome), in the anecdotage of both lives of Saints and miraculous phenomena we sometimes find the presence of dogs: in some cases positive presences that work to help, in other occasions definitely negative manifestations that come for threatening.

Let’s proceed through four examples, that are really interesting to mention.

Don Bosco and the Gray (dog)

A Piedmontese Saint from XIX Century, founder of Congregation of Salesians, don Bosco found a faithful companion in a big gray dog​​, èl Gris’ in Piedmontese dialect, by many described as a German Shepherd-looking dog that aroused fear; some people instead thought that this dog looked like a wolf: a long snout, pricked ears, gray coat, about one meter tall. This mysterious dog became Don Bosco and the Gray (dog)protagonist of fanciful stories so that don Bosco, in order to clear away possible exaggerations, preferred to directly recount the events about him, at the end of his “Memoirs of the Oratory” (anyway, recent studies confirm that before the Gray, don Bosco was helped, although for a short period, by another dog, with features similar to those of the Gray, called by the boys of the Oratory “the Polish“).

The first meeting took place during a particularly dark evening when, all alone, don Bosco had to cross an abandoned area. He saw a big dog but, since the dog didn’t show him any hostility, don Bosco approached him and began to caress him. The dog fawned on him and then accompanied him, and then disappeared. This fact happened several times.

Towards the end of 1854, on a foggy night, while don Bosco was walking, he realized there were two threatening men proceeding before him, but it was too late to change course. The two men attacked him, wrapping him with a cloak in order to block him. Then the Gray appeared. The dog barked loudly, pushed one of the men using his legs and then jumped to the throat of the other one. The attackers, terrified, asked don Bosco to restrain the dog. Don Bosco called the animal, which kept on barking, and then ran away.

One night Margherita, the mother of don Bosco, tried to dissuade his son from the idea of ​​going out, but don Bosco was determined to go, letting some big and brave boys accompany him. The Gray was lying down at the front door and did not seem willing to move. Don Bosco told him to move for going with him, but the dog, instead of obeying, began to bark and refused to move. Twice don Bosco tried to climb over, but the Gray refused to let him pass. At the end, don Bosco had to desist from his intention to go out. Later, don Bosco acknowledged that that night he was expected by some men who would have attacked him with the aim of killing him.

Don Bosco wrote that he saw the Gray for the last time in 1866 when, having to go for greeting a farmer, the Gray was locked in a room, to avoid the guard dogs of the farmer attack him. When someone, later on, went to bring him food, the dog had mysteriously disappeared. No one ever saw him again.

Don Bosco was asked several times to give an opinion on the nature of the amazing animal and he admitted that the dog was a creature worthy of note in his life. Although saying that the dog was an angel would have certainly made ​​people laugh, nevertheless he had to admit that he was not a common dog. Don Bosco often thought about the origin of that dog and he admitted that he had been a true gift from Providence.

Father Pio and the monstrous dog

Father Pio, whose original name was Francesco Forgione, born in Campania and become a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, is a Saint from last Century and his life is full of many “unusual” events.

Father Pio in 1906 was in the convent of St. Elias in Pianisi (in Campania, Italy). During a summer Father Pionight, since he couldn’t sleep because of the heat, Father Pio heard, coming from the room next to his, footsteps noise of someone who was keeping on walking forth and back.

Padre Pio, thinking that it was Father Anastasio who, like him, could not sleep, thought to call him for talking a bit and so spending some time together. He walked to the window and called the other friar, but then he stopped when he suddenly saw appearing, on the sill of the other window, a dog with a monstrous snout. After a while, while he was still terrified, he saw a big dog entering through the door. From its mouth a large quantity of smoke was coming out. Father Pio fell on the bed and heard the animal talking in dialect: è iss, è isso” (it’s him, it’s him). Then, that ugly dog jumped, with a great leap, onto the window sill and from there jumped again onto the roof of the house that was on the other side, and then disappeared.

Father Pio considered this strange event as the first encounter he had with the Devil (during his life, Father Pio had many other encounters with the Devil).

Our Lady of Divine Love and a “pack of rabid dogs”

The shrine of Divine Love, located on the way Ardeatina, in the area of ​​Castel di Leva (Italy, Rome), is the object of great popular devotion since when a traveler was saved thanks to the image of the Madonna and Child that was painted on the wall of the ancient tower.

It is said that, in the spring of 1740, a pilgrim, going to the basilica of St. Peter, got lost in the Divine Love - The pilgrim and the dogscountryside near Castel di Leva, about 12 km South of Rome. Having seen a few houses and a ruined castle on top of a hill, the traveler went there, hoping to find someone who could give him information to find his way. He was approached by a pack of rabid dogs which surrounded him. The pilgrim, looking up, saw that on the tower of the castle there was an icon representing the Virgin and Child, and on top of them the dove of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, after he had prayed the Virgin to save him from that danger, the dogs, which were going to attack him, suddenly stopped and vanished. Shepherds who were in the area, having heard the cries of the traveler, rushed to the spot and, after having listened to his story, gave him the necessary indications to get to Rome.

The name of the pilgrim is unknown but the news of the incident spread rapidly in the city, so that the place with the icon of the Madonna in Castel di Leva soon became a destination of pilgrimages, which still continue today.

Saint Rocco and his dog

Saint Rocco, who had French origins, lived in the XIV Century and, according to tradition, once his Saint Rocco and his dogparents had died and he had given the poor people all his wealth, left France and went on his journey to Italy. He chose Italy because, along the Via Francigena (road used by pilgrims), he wanted to help sick pilgrims.

At Piacenza (a town North of Italy), while attending the ones sick of the plague in the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, got sick himself. Expelled from the hospital, Saint Rocco arrived at Sarmato, 17 km from the city, where he managed to take shelter in a cave waiting for death.

It was a dog that saved him. The animal in fact, aware of his presence and of his suffering, brought him daily a piece of bread, until he recovered. Saint Rocco, once healed, did not return to France but resumed his activities in favor of the ones sick of the plague – and for all this he is still remembered – and the dog stayed with him.

E.A. – V.G.


Frontiers of Death (Limina Mortis): reasons for this definition

In front of mystery, there are two extreme positions:

  • trying to explain it, providing a translation of what, by nature, is “Beyond” and “Other” into an understandable language, but with the risk of falling into banality or ridicule;
  • otherwise, remaining silent for the sake of seriousness and dignity.

Our position remains at the threshold, without any trespassing and without shame.

Far be it from us to use anecdotes for defining the mystery of mysteries: death.

On the other hand, we don’t think that collecting and showing what has been glimpsed through some “cracks” may be an inappropriate or unnecessary action.

The <elsewhere> has always stimulated both research and adventure, even more when what is related to eternity is at stake!

E.A. – V.G.


Our first conclusions

After a month since this web site was released on the Internet and following so many comments you sent us (posted directly here and on our Facebook page, but also sent to us by other means), we would like to share with you some considerations.

Thanks to all of you, this web site has been seen by so many people (you can verify it by seeing the access counter at the bottom of each page). This is a confirmation that you are really interested in our Project or, at least, curious about it.

As far as your comments are concerned, what you appreciated most was our choice to talk about a really ‘sensitive’ matter in a different way, always remaining on the ‘Threshold’ and without pretending to cross it. In other words, without any desire of sensationalism, we started to provide stories “out of the ordinary” of common people but also professionals, whose narrative simplicity fascinates whoever is watching. Moreover, they are original videographic documentaries, recorded by us and never been published before.

So, we do hope that all of you (and even more!) continue to visit our web site. What’s our next hope? At the end of each visit to these pages, that you may ask the following question: “What will be published next?…”

Our answer can’t be other than “Follow us on a regular basis and you won’t be disappointed!

E.A. – V.G.