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Home The town The 2nd of July



The name

The name Vastogirardi is the combination of the name Guasto and the medieval name "Girardo".
Guasto is the name that was given to the area after the Gothic wars which occurred subsequent to the fall of the Roman Empire, and it is the name which, in dialect, is still used by the townspeople. It is derived from the Germanic “woshti” or “unpopulated clearing surrounded by woods”. During the Middle Ages, “Girard” was added to distinguish the property from many other places named similarly. Girard (a name of French origin), according to the tradition, had taken part in the Crusades during the mid-thirteenth century. It was only after then that the name appears next to Guasto. il nome di Girardo compare accanto a quello di Guasto.

The village

Panorama di Vastogirardi

According to oral tradition, the “old land”, i.e. the old town, would have been located near Mount Capraro, where today we can still see the ruins of stone houses that probably served as dwellings for the Abruzzi peoples during the summer months. The remaining months were mainly spent in the lowlands of the Apulia region along with the sheep herds. In fact, articles of the Neolithic Age found near the towns of St. Mauro and Staffoli can attest that the area was inhabited by semi-nomadic peoples long before the founding of Rome. In Roman times the transhumance (local seasonal movement of people and livestock) of sheep herds was practiced on the “tratturi” (ancient roads). A plaque (dating to the time of Cesar) indicating the route is embedded in the facade of a church located in the neighboring town of Saint Felix of Cerreto.

Lapide Cerreto

The ruins of Saint Angelo, which are found near the town and date to the second century B.C., testify to the vitality of the Samnites (ancient tribes of the southern regions of Italy) even after their submission to Rome. We have to rule out, though, the formation of villages in that era because of the continuing population displacements, Saracen invasions and epidemics. However, circa 1000 AD, a fortification was erected. (This fort is referred to as “the castle” or “il castello”.) Around it were built homes to house the families and the elderly while the heads of households were obliged to practice the transhumance of the sheep herds. In the courtyard of the “castello” was built the Church of Saint Nicholas that became the parish of the town.


In the early centuries of the second millennium, the town continued to develop around the “castello”. The population was divided into two: those living within the walls of the “castello” and dependant on the lord of the place and those living “outside of court” who rendered their homes safe by building towers, walls and arches. The clock tower, for example, is a square-based reconstruction of a circular tower that formed a bastion for the “fortified village”. This tower was later modified to be used as a bell tower for the Church of Saint Anthony of Padova which faced the town square. The church was destroyed in the 1700s. The church of the Annunciation was built in an area referred to as “towards the door of Agnone” (a nearby town), and the little church of Our Lady of Grace was built near the edge of the town, on the road leading to Castel di Sangro (another nearby town). These three churches were on the road which formed the axis of the tiny village, while the church of Saint Rocco was built on the road linking the hamlet to the Valle Antonina (today it’s the town square), where were found the stables and the gardens of the townspeople before the 1600s when the two areas were united.

The people

It is difficult to establish a continuity between the Samnites and the current townspeople. Too many famines, epidemics and wars do not allow us to cofirm the connection between them and the present-day population, except perhaps marginally or sporadically. Although, the Vastesi of today can probably say that they are the descendants of the inhabitants of the stone houses and the Lombards (a Germanic people who invaded Italy). Among the family names which still exist in the town such as Marracino, Amicone (listed in a census of 1040) and Di Benedetto (census of 1281) is the name Scocchera, which by the late 1500s was the name of half of the inhabitants of the town. Along with new heads of households coming from outside of the village to strengthen the ranks of herders were the Bisciotti, Lucarino, Inforzato, Della Croce, De Dominicis, Marchione, Leone and a few others.
The plague of 1656 reduced the population by two thirds from the previous year. During the second half of the 1800s, the decimation of newborns by disease, poor harvests which had rarely been generous and the fall of the economic model based on the transhumance of sheep because of the closing of the pastures of the lowlands of the Apulia region all lead to the inevitable exodus to the Americas.
It was first in Buffalo (NY), Ohio (New Philadelphia, Canton, Steubenville), Pittsburgh (PA) and in Torrington (CT) that the emigrants of the Guasto laid the foundations for new exoduses to other cities in New England or to California.
Many of them have not forgotten about their roots, and the new generations are discovering them through the Internet.

di Claudio Iannone

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The Parish Church of Saint Nicholas – Historical and architectural background

Vastogirardi’s present day urban area is the result, across the centuries, of progressive building developments in a semicircle shape around the so-called “castle”. This is, in fact, a fortified walled town with two access gates, which incorporates, within its walls a inhabited area, currently still occupied, a “piazza” and a religious complex including a parish church dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari, the town patron saint.

Because of its architectural characteristics and distinctive structure the town’s historical centre has been declared to be of especial historical, artistic and cultural interest by the Italian Ministry of Culture Heritage, with a Decree dated 9 August 1989.
The numerous functional and architectural changes in Vastogirardi “castle” are mainly due to the various lordships ruling the place over the centuries.
Having been built between the eighth and ninth centuries, during the late Lombard Age, the castle was firstly meant for defense uses against the Saracens’ assaults. Afterwards, during the medieval decline it was most probably used as a shelter place for the local herds and the people looking after them. Later on, presumably it became the location of activities related to farming in the surrounding lands, such us threshing, grains storage.
However, the public use of the “piazza” designates the place as a familiar reference and meeting point for the villagers to carry out their social, economic and religious traditions, also due to the collocation in the area of Saint Nicholas parish church.
It is also most likely that the present church complex was first started to be used as a worship place, between the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D. , when, following the transfer of Saint Nicholas’ relics in Bari, the cult of the saint spread almost all across Italy and mainly in the southern regions. This was largely due to the continuous interconnections between Apulia region, where the relics of the saint were taken, and the surrounding regions because of the practice of the winter transhumance of the herds from the Appennine mountainous areas to that region.

The church is characterized by its plan’s irregularity as a result of successive building stratifications. In fact the church right and external wings lie within the castle walls, whereas the inside consists of a central nave surrounded by three asymmetrical profiles, as a further proof that in origin the building wasn’t destined to religious purposes, but it was subsequently converted to these uses. So it is the case of the two main entrances both open on the side opposite the one laying within the castle walls. The church is preceded by a portico in the style of a Renaissance loggia, which in those times could have presumably been used as a trading place. In this loggia there is a notable stone carved bifora-window giving onto the castle main square. On the loggia open the two principal entrances to the church: one made by a white stone staircase covered by a vault ceiling, leading to the secondary castle gate, the second one degrading in a large ramp ending in a terraced platform that is still used nowadays as stage for open air concerts and representations, and heading to the main gate. Inside the church on the right side there are several chapels surmounted by round arches in pre-Romanesque style, as it is the triumphal arc opening onto the main altar. Each chapel contain statues of saints of local devotion, some of them salvaged from old churches now disappeared. Others are of some artistic value, such as the one in the third chapel from the back, portraying saint Nicholas, the town patron and to whom the church is entitled. The statue, beautifully carved in gilded wood and more than 2 meters high, was made by the local craftsmen Di Capita in 1857, as stated by an inscription found at the bottom of the effigy. It is kept in a similarly valuable urn, made of glass and painted wood. In the first chapel to the right of the major altar, were the Blessed Sacrament is kept, in the centre there is a 17th century, marble high-relief sculpture portraying Saint Charles Borromeo, carved in Canovan style. On the wall, on the left side of the chapel there is the memorial stone dated 1622, dedicated by his sons to a member of the family ruling the place in the 16th century.

The barrel vaults of the central nave date back to the Renaissance age. Further alterations took place in the Baroque age, by the Petra family, ruling the place at the time, when the church interiors were also boosted with richly decorated altars, stuccoes and remarkable frescoes, allegedly made by the followers of the painter Gamba, most of which have now gone missing because the ceiling has collapsed and been restored several times during the last 3 centuries. In few corners of the church can also be found traces of the original terracotta left as evidence during the several restoration works the church has undergone so far. Another original feature left is a window with a grate, from where the aristocrats living in the neighboring house use to listen to the mass celebrated in the church, without mixing up with the ordinary people.
On the left side of the central nave, immediately past the main entrance door, on the wall it can be found a painting on copper portraying the Virgin of the Carmel between two saints, namely saint Francis of Paola and saint Catherine of Alexandria, who do not particularly belong to the local devotion, therefore the painting must have been commissioned by foreign patrons. At the very end of the church of the left side of the major altar, there are niches containing three statues of saints, one of which is an excellent example of Neapolitan sculpture of the 17th century, representing saint Anne. On the corner past the niches, on the walls can be still seen some remains of old frescoes, now nearly fainting, portraying further saints. The apse, which is also of later addition to the building since it doesn’t retain the usual semi-circular shape, contain a painting portraying the Assumption between the saints Sebastian and Francis of Assisi and the access door to the sacristy. The bell tower, accessible from the left side of the main entrance and provided with two symmetrical accesses, is in the typical Romanesque style of Southern Italy and in his structure also contains stone pieces salvaged from a pre Roman temple excavated in the village countryside.
One can wander how it happened that a tiny town like Vastogirardi could afford such a magnificent church with so many outstanding works of art. This was mainly due to two key factors: the church was the base of the rich and powerful brotherhood of the “Holy Sacrament” today dissolved and to the patronage of the several aristocrat families ruling the place across the centuries. In particular the one that possibly left in the church the most notable artifacts were the Petras.
In fact they are responsible for commissioning, between the 16th and 17th centuries among the others a magnificent 16th century altar with multicolored marble inlays, in the vestry a beautiful walnut boiserie in the same style of the church choir now gone lost; and a floor in precious tiles in Vietri manufacture style some remaining of which are still visible in the sacristy. During that period,they also used the church as burial place for the family members as attested by numerous internal memorial stones laid on the floor or on the walls and external plaque marble inscriptions. A prominent member of the family was the cleric Vincenzo Petra, whose portrait can be found in the church sacristy. He was made a cardinal in 1724 and among the many achievement in his long and successful career included being appointed in 1727 the Prefect of the Holy Council of “Propaganda Fide”, the Congregation to organize all the missionary activity of the Catholic Church, and taking part in two Conclaves for Pope election as both a passive and an active voting member.
Numerous other precious handcrafted items and pieces of furniture went destroyed or lost during the various works of maintenance carried out over the years to the church, testifying that the complex was considered more for the artifacts and for its religious importance than for its architectural character.
Therefore the church remains a must to see and a landmark not to be missed for all those visiting the area.


di Rita Di Benedetto

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