Ghosts, queens and the flow of everyday life


Image by construction worker in the renovation of the Cairate monastery

The local Varese edition of Il Giorno, the newspaper of Milan, has reported about a ghost noticed in the old monastery of Cairate, a small town northwest of the City of Fashion. The monastery is currently under reconstruction and slated to open as one of the sites protected by UNESCO in the region, which was a historic Longobard outpost.

The ghost sighting has been captured by the cellphone of a construction worker and was of such importance that it was reported in several local news outlets. It has also merited the official intervention of the mayor of Cairate and several local authorities, who speculate whose ghost it actually is. Most of them conclude it must be the ghost of Queen Manigonda, the Longobard foundress who built the monastery back in 737. There are also different speculations of why she still inhabits the place as a ghost, and most of them have to do with Frederick Barbarossa who spent the night there before his battle of Legnano (also nearby).

This could happen only in Italy. I mean, not ghosts or the digital snapshots that capture them, but the tight and natural connection between the local, the gossipy, even the petty and the universal, the historical, the timeless. Local current affairs and gossip thereof freely flow among the stones of the buildings and intertwine with the stories that came from history textbooks those same local people learned in school, with the difference that what they (and everyone else in Europe) learned from those textbooks was their great great grandparents life story.

Not to be surprised: after all, Dante dealt with his personal enemies in the Divine Comedy by placing them in hell where they belong and now posterity is on his side. Their descendants who still bear the same last names are silent on the topic. But, boy, does it make a difference in local politics: recriminations that are based on centuries-old rancors or loyalties. I read recently that people in each neighborhood in Siena are genetically distinct from their fellow sienese from a different neighborhood. How would they compete, otherwise, in the yearly Palio if they didn’t vote their identity with their genes?

Coming back to Queen Manigonda the ghost and her integration in everyday life of the small town of Cairate, this monastery used to be building of the (public) middle school that Leo attended as a boy. He saw these frescoes every time at recess or going from one classroom to another. The frescoes have observed their fair share of schoolyard scuffles and other mischief, perhaps judging the children harshly from the high perspective of the centuries. This is how everyday experience becomes integrated with historic consciousness in the minds of impressionable young Longobards.

Here is how the reconstructed monastery looks like today.


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