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Bill Thayer

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Leonessa (Rieti province)

A town of northeastern Lazio: 42°34N, 12°58E. Altitude: 969 m. Population in 2003: 2700.
A large open public square, about 3 city blocks in size, fronted on by rows of two-story houses and in the background a medieval church; behind the square, a tall hill with a castle, and further behind that, snow-capped mountains. It is the main square of Leonessa, a town of the northeastern Lazio (central Italy).

Early morning in the Piazza 7 Aprile, Leonessa's main square.

Leonessa is one of the more remote towns of central Italy, in the mountains 41 km NE of Rieti and 20 km N of Mt. Terminillo, on the road north to the Umbrian towns of Monteleone di Spoleto (12 km) and Cascia (22 km); the second main road thru the town is the one from Terni (44 km W) and Labro (24 km WSW) to Montereale in the Abruzzo (39 km ESE).

Although the town now serves mostly as a base for excursions to the ski resorts and wilderness areas on Mt. Terminillo, it is a beautiful place with a few 16c and 17c manor houses and several late medieval churches to keep the art lover happy: S. Maria del Popolo, housing a 15c gilt silver processional cross; S. Francesco, with a particularly beautiful early 16c Nativity crèche that was featured on an Italian postage stamp in 1997; S. Pietro, with Gothic sculpture outside and good paintings inside.

Small as it is, Leonessa boasts a local saint, of the real rather than the legendary kind. Born in Leonessa in 1556, Eufranio Desideri was ordained a Capuchin priest when he was 24; seven years later, sent by his order to minister to enslaved Christians in Constantinople, he eventually attempted to preach Christianity to Sultan Murad III: who took a dim view of the young man and had him subjected to savage tortures, an idea of which can be got from this painting in the church of S. Giuseppe in Otricoli (Umbria). Returning home, he learned to make better use of his enthusiasm, waged war against poverty in his native region, and died in nearby Amatrice in 1612. He was canonized in 1737 as St. Joseph of Leonessa. (For a more detailed life of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa, see the Catholic Encyclopedia.) The baroque church of S. Giuseppe is the fourth of the principal churches to be seen in town; and the Leonessani, very proud of their saint, have named their main street after him the Corso S. Giuseppe.


A small website is starting to appear here, since a very full day in Leonessa in the spring of 2004 made this little city one of my happiest discoveries of that trip; I'd love to go back for a longer stay, and warmly recommend it to you if you're visiting the area:


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The churches of Leonessa must number several dozen over the territory of the far-flung comune; in the town itself I counted eleven, and I know now that I missed at least two. Most of them are medieval, and at least three are of particular interest or beauty: S. Francesco, S. Pietro, and the sanctuary of the native saint, S. Giuseppe of Leonessa (1556‑1612).

[ 10/28/10: 18 pages, 72 photos ]

In addition to the more formal website, you should find it useful to read the May 9/10, 2004 entries of my diary, which include 2 more photos of the town; for more complete and detailed information, you should see the websites below, of course.

Frazioni

Most of the comuni in the Lazio include in their territories some smaller towns and hamlets, of a few hundred inhabitants if that, with a certain administrative identity of their own: as elsewhere in Italy, these are referred to as the frazioni of the comune. Because the area around Leonessa is so sparsely populated and the comune is large, the hamlets that do exist are not large enough to form viable comuni, and Leonessa thus has 39 attendant frazioni, an unusually large number. Friendly rivalries going back about 500 years float back up to the surface for the annual Palio del Velluto, in which they square off in six teams, or Sesti; in keeping with this spirit, I've organized my links to the frazioni according to these sesti; for the location of the sesti and their frazioni, linking them to their websites, see this excellent clickmap on Villa Carmine's site.

Sesto di Corno

Casanova • Fontenova • Leonessa proper

Sesto di Croce

Colleverde • Cumulata • Sala • S. Clemente • S. Vito • Vallimpuni • Viesci • Vindoli • Volciano

Sesto di Forcamelone

Casale dei Frati • Fuscello • Villa Alessi • Villa Berti • Villa Bigioni • Villa Bradde • Villa Carmine • Villa Ciavatta • Villa Climinti • Villa Colapietro • Villa Cordeschi • Villa Gizzi • Villa Lucci • Villa Massi • Villa Pulcini • Villa Zunna

Sesto di Poggio

Albaneto • Piedelpoggio • Villa Immagine

Sesto di Terzone

Corvatello • S. Angelo in Trigillo • Terzone

Sesto di Torre

Capodacqua Ocre • Pianezza • S. Giovenale • Vallunga


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Page updated: 1 Aug 13