Chronicles of Narni
Silvia Marchetti goes underground for a fascinating tour
Narni, an easy hour’s drive north from
Beneath a 14th century Dominican church, called Santa Maria Maggiore, is an extraordinary site—the best-preserved of the Catholic church’s Holy Inquisition secret courts in
It was unearthed one night, when a local student, Roberto Nini, with some friends, decided to explore an open crock in the wall of a neighbor’s house [side note: this is different than the information the tour guide provided]. Below, they saw the eyes of an angel surrounded by a star-blue sky, staring at them in the torchlight. They had discovered the ruins of a medieval chapel frescoed with angels. Built to worship St. Michael the
The discover began a lifetime’s work for Nini. In his bid to recover and reconstruct the history of this court, and its victims, he has been inside the
In April 2005, days before the death of Pope John Paul II, Nini wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) when he was still head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former Holy Inquisition Office, asking permission to visit the Congregation’s secret archives. After a month the new Pope granted him a special pass. Here he found a list of victims’ names.
Nini, now 50, is an archaeologist and still in charge of the tours to the Inquisitions rooms, the frescoed chapel and a Roman aqueduct. The money from these tours helps preserve the site, but there’s a lot of work to be done and Narni hold other “hidden treasures” still to be unearthed.
The tours through the spooky halls, torture rooms (racks, ropes and other instruments are displayed) and cells are an evocative reminder of a terrifying past. These cells were used for more than 200 years (1650 to 1860) and thousands were held and tried here, accused of polygamy, blasphemy and other “crimes”—such as eating meat on forbidden days. Women were accused of witchcraft and adultery. The church considered them all heretics, and friends of the devil.
The pain endured by the detainees in the “Room of Torments” is almost tangible. One of the cells is covered in esoteric codes, prayers alchemic formulae, religious and Masonic symbols, signed in 1759 by Sir Andrea Giuseppe Lombardini, a guardian of Spoleto’s Inquisition jails who was accused of freeing another prisoner. He carved suns, moons, triangles, ladders to paradise, Jesuit and cabalistic images and the word “innocent”—later erased by his jailers. In one corner, the bed bears the imprint of a body’s head and sweat. In this cell, I felt a man’s personal drama, unwavering spiritual faith and desire to communicate his innocence to future generations. Lombardini, however, was lucky—condemned to the pillory in 1763 he begged forgiveness and was freed.
Every town and even small villages in
For more information and to book visits by email: www.narnisotterranea.it. Narni Underground is open until October 31.