If you came directly to this page you may wish to read an introduction to this section first.
View of S. Vito Romano with Bellegra in the background
S. Vito was most likely founded in the IXth century by settlers who abandoned villages raided by the Saracens. It belonged to the Abbey of Subiaco until 1373 when it was acquired by the Colonna who built an imposing fortress at the top of the town. Its high walls form a wedge on the side facing one of the higher points of the mountain.
In 1565 the Colonna sold S. Vito (and Ciciliano) to the Massimo who in turn sold it to the Theodoli in 1575. This family came from Forlì, a town near Cesena. By acquiring S. Vito they became a Roman noble family and they modified the fortress to turn it into a palace suitable for their new status. Other modifications were made in the early XXth century, including a fake Renaissance façade between two medieval towers.
In the old part of S. Vito
A modern mural painting (which you can see in the image used as background for this page) shows how the houses in the old part of S. Vito cling onto the steep sides of the mountain having on top Palazzo Theodoli. Because of lack of space some streets have been covered to enlarge the adjoining houses.
(left) Coat of arms and 1649 inscription of Cardinal Mario Theodoli; (right) Borgo Mario
In 1643 Mario Theodoli, son of the Marquis of S. Vito, became cardinal and he promoted the enlargement of the town along the ridge which linked it to the top of the mountain. The rocks were levelled out (montium asperitatem aequavit in the celebratory inscription) and a straight street was opened, which is still named after him.
The new section of the town was placed under the protection of St. Roch, a saint who was specially invoked against the plague. Apparently the pestilence which in 1656 killed almost all the inhabitants of Arsoli and S. Gregorio da Sassola, did not have the same dramatic impact at S. Vito.
Churches (left to right): S. Maria de Arce; S. Biagio; S. Vito
The Theodoli did not limit themselves to building S. Rocco, but they promoted the construction/restoration of several other churches including one dedicated to St. Vitus, the patron saint of the town.
The appellation Romano was added in 1872 to distinguish S. Vito from ten other Italian towns by the same name.
Living in a house in old S. Vito may not be very comfortable, but almost all of them enjoy great views over the Apennine mountains.
(left) Door decorated with old lintels; (centre) modified tower of the former castle; (right) modern parish church which has replaced that built
by the Theodoli
The Theodoli acquired Pisoniano together with S. Vito which is three miles away. Pisoniano is smaller and situated at a lower altitude than S. Vito on the eastern side of Monti Prenestini. Until 1871 it was known as Pisciano, but the word can also mean a basic body function so it was changed into Pisoniano with reference to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, a Roman consul who had a villa near the town.
Santuario della Mentorella seen from Pisoniano
Pisoniano is situated at the foot of Rupe di Guadagnolo, a rocky peak near which a shrine was founded by the early Christians. It was rebuilt in the XVIIth century and enlarged in 2000. It is known as Santuario della Mentorella, which is believed to be a corruption of mons vulturum, mountain of the vultures. The shrine is dedicated to Mary; it was part of the fiefdom of Poli and the heart of Pope Innocent XIII, who belonged to the family of the Dukes of Poli, is buried there. Pope John Paul II visited Santuario della Mentorella on October 29, 1978, thirteen days after his election and seven other times.
Santuario della Mentorella from "Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846"
Having sufficiently rested and fed, we proceeded downward on our way to Subiaco; but, about a quarter of a mile below the town of Guadagnolo, the remarkable Hermitage and Church of La Mentorella caused us some delay. These are built on the edge of an isolated precipice, jutting out from the mountain side over the valley of Gerano, and possess interest from their antiquity and the legends attached to them, as well as from the wild character of the scenery in which they are placed. Here, in a cave at the foot of the rock, San Benedetto is believed to have lived in the sixth century, previous to his going to Subiaco; and a tradition of far earlier date (during the reign of the Emperor Trajan) represents the crag of La Mentorella as that where a vision of the deer with a crucifix between his horns led to the conversion of St. Eustace to Christianity. A flight of stairs outside the chapel, leads to the Campanile, which is surmounted by a pair of antlers, commemorating the event; and these steps are diligently ascended by kneeling pilgrims on the féte-day of September 29. Lear