Pacentro boasts a long history of peasants, knights, monks and hermit saints…
At the times of the Romans, the fertile territory, located at the foot of the rocky spur on which the medieval Pacentro will rise, presents a scattered and structured settlement system. In particular, for one of these places the name “Petilia” appears in many inscriptions and archaeological finds. However a fortified location named “Pacentro” is mentioned, for the first time, only in 745 AD. At this date the dukes of Spoleto Ildebrando and Lupo donated to the monastery of “San Vincenzo al Volturno” the church of “Santi Leonardi in Pacentru” located at the foot of the hill with the same name.
The territory of Pacentro, that belonged first to the Gastaldato and later to the County of Valva, shows in the X century a very influential and widespread Lombard and Frankish presence. This situation is witnessed by the first historical documents that tell about Pacentro, in particular the “chronicon vulturnense” and the “instrumentarum” of the “chronicon casauriense“. The Lombards can be found in the cult of their saint Sant ‘Angelo, but also in the origin of the name “Fonte Romana” (“Roman spring”) situated near the Majella. Indeed, this name does not refer, as it seems, to an elusive Roman presence, but to a Lombard name “fons arimanica“. This spring, In fact, belonged, with the surrounding wood, to a military chief Arimanno. His name has undergone a succession of phonetic alterations: fons restica, rimana and therefore Romana. The town of Caramanico has also the same derivation; originally “barimanicus” or “belonging to Arimanno“.
The oldest, but also weakest, monastic penetration was established in Pacentro, as in the neighboring area, by the Volturnensi.
The latter, according to their Chronicon, possessed all the lands between the Gizio and Vella rivers. Among the Volturnesi possessions, confirmed in the year 851 AD by Ludovico II, we find the church of San Leopardo which stood near the Vella. From the Benedictines the people of Pacentro learned the technique of crop rotation on the same land to increase its yield. This is highlighted by a dense network of purchases, transitions or donations of land in the mountain and flat territory of Pacentro, normally called “Villa Pacentri“, where “Villa” indicates a more homogeneous settlement context than the ancient Roman settlements. In this period rich landowners are known for these trades, such as the Lombard brothers Girando and Transarico, sons of Landolfo. Frauperga is also mentioned as a woman of Lombard lineage that, because became a widow, sold even her “morning gift”. The latter, according to Lombard custom, was made by the husband to his wife the morning after the first night of marriage. In the case of Pacentro it consisted of a plot of land.
In the year 951 AD a “group of several houses surrounded by defensive walls” was mentioned for the first time as the castle of Pacentro.
It was probably built not by the monastic orders, but by Oderisto to constitute a place of defense for the local populations, continually afflicted by the threat of Saracen raids. The magnificent towers were later erected within the walls, which still today are the pride and symbol of the indomitable Pacentro. Towards 1020 AD, not far from the church of San Leopardo, in a fertile area at the beginning of the middle course of Vella, the holy monk Adalberto founded the monastery of San Quirico SS. Trinity. This casauriense complex, called only “SS trinità” plays an important role in the territory of the Pacentro of the XI century. This is also because to the SS Trinità were donated a total of 745 hectares of land situated in the plain and on the slopes of the mountain reliefs. The whole territory located at the foot of the Maiella and up to Cotia (Coccia), is called in the Chronicon Casauriense, until the middle of the XI century: “De Pacentri Valle Superequana” that is the “valley above the plain” (superequum). Another example is Gerardo, an inhabitant of Pacentro, who freely donated to the monastery of SS. Trinità of Fignano the part that belongs to the small church of the Lombard saint Germano. This church has been rebuilt several times over the centuries mainly due to earthquakes.
Pacentro, protected by Morrone and Maiella from the icy winds of the north, fits in this way into an economic system that harmoniously integrates the mountain and the plain.
It allows the exercise of a modest micro “transumanza”, which recalls the vertical movement of the mountain pasture, and the conduction of an agriculture facilitated downstream by the abundance of the waters coming from its mountainous territory. This privileged position constantly attracts the feudal nobility, not only Italian, which will replace along the centuries the local domination. The first known count of Pacentro is Beraldo, in 1030 AD, while in 1130 AD it is confirmed that Gualterio, son of the count of Valva Manerio, lives in the castle of Pacentro. Given his nobility he strengthens automatically the defensive structures of the fortification. It is no longer the “castellum” mentioned in 951 AD and with the characteristics previously underlined, but now a more compact defensive circle that will be further enhanced by its successor, count Mallerio, “habitator et dominator” of Pacentro’s land in 1171 AD. In the 1187 Mallerio appears in the catalog of Barons vassal of count Boamondo, on whose account he still owned Pacentro. He probably erected the oldest tower of the castle, to be considered complete in the early 1200 AD. In the XII century Pacentro has an urbanistic nucleus already outlined with its castle as a center.
As for the churches in 1113 AD and 1138 AD, Pasquale Il and Innocenzo II respectively attest to Pacentro the first church of episcopal jurisdiction, San Vito, defined rural and located in the surrounding countryside. On the other hand, Adrian IV mentions, in addition to San Vito, the church of San Pietro which in the absence of any specification, it is assumed it was within the castle and with functions of “cura animarum” (soul healer). However the big development of the churches of Pacentro is recorded with the seal of Lucius III (1183), which mentions: San Vito, San Pietro, San Nicola, San Marcello, Santa Maria, San Lorenzo, San Salvatore, San Panfilo, Sant’Agata, San Giovanni, San Clemente, San Benedetto, San Pietro, Santa Giusta, Sant’Angelo. The seal of Clemente III, dated 1188, confirms the previous churches, qualifies one of the churches of San Nicola as “veteris” and mentions another church titled Sancti Petri.
At the beginning of the 200 Pacentro sees a demographic increase that leads to a need for more spaces that are stolen from rocks and woods and destined to crops.
The terraced cultivation represents a technique of which the people from Pacentro are masters. They handed down from generation to generation up to our days and particularly visible in that part of the territory that already in the Chronicon Casauriense is called Cisterna de Pacentri, a toponym that still exists. But the genius of this community explodes in the construction of the stone huts “a tholos”, of which splendid examples can be admired not only upstream to the slopes of the Maiella, but also downstream and up to the outskirts of Sulmona. , these shelters were originally shelters for peasants forced to reach the camps located very far from the main inhabited center. The huts existing upstream are in fact a projection of existing examples downstream, as the foothills of the Maiella and beyond the ascribed one today to the territory of Pacentro, has been destined essentially to crops and not to pasture, confirming that to feed the masses has provided the wheat and not the meat, the prerogative of the rich. In this period the feudal lords Amelio de Corbano are mentioned ( 1269) and Theobaldo de Bellovidere (1280).
In the 14th century the ownership of the county of Pacentro was divided between two feudal lords, a rather singular fact that ceased with the arrival of the mercenary captain Giacomo Caldora.
He enlarged the castle, fortified the town, enlarged the walls and sighting towers throughout the territory. In 1356, the pastoral visit of Bishop Francesco de Silanis instead allowed to better delineate the socio-economic structure of the Castrum Pacentri. First of all, we have three mother churches that have the care of the San Marcello, Santa Maria and San Nicola animarum. Then there are the ruralis churches such as Ecclesia Sancti Nicolai Veteris, San Vito, San Bartolomeo, San Leonardo, San Francesco, Sant Angelo, Santa Giusta, San Panfilo, San Giovanni, Sant ‘Agata and San Leopardo. These churches, defined in the document omnes rurales demonstrate the persistence of a scattered settlement system precisely because it is linked to agriculture, an activity that constitutes the historical soul of Pacentro and that leads to a wise channeling of the waters of Vella, whence the quarrels with Sulmona that resorted to King Robert in 1317. Despite the impressive fortification works carried out by Captain Caldora, the city did not manage to resist, in 1421, the siege of Braccio Da Montone, an ally of Alfonso of Aragon in the war against Renato D’Angiò, with whom the Caldora had lined up. In 1447, instead, the numbering of “fires” took place in the Sangro valley and in the Peligna area, which recorded a number of inhabitants equal to 983 units, of which about 90% of the registered surnames in Pacentro did not correspond to the current ones. On the death of Giacomo Caldora the fiefdom passed to his son Antonio who continued the fortification work begun by his father. Meanwhile, after the death of Alfonso D’Aragona, the war between the Aragonese and the D’Angiò for the possession of the Kingdom of Naples had resumed with greater force and Pacentro was again besieged by enemy infantry and 13 teams on horseback. The city capitulated on 11 August 1464. The winner Ferdinand of Aragon visited it a few days later finding the fortress “gentle and beautiful and well equipped with every necessary ammunition”. After the fall of the Caldora the fiefdom passed to the Orsini family (1491).
The sixteenth century can be defined as the “golden century” of Pacentro.
Many of the late Renaissance buildings, which had also survived the earthquake of the 1700s, still dominate Pacentro, for example the austere beauty of Palazzo Larocca, along the so-called Vico Diritto which leads to Piazza del Popolo, with its classical layout, the 16th century church of Santa Maria Maggiore rises majestically on this square, while the beautiful bell tower which remembers those of the Annunciation and the Celestine Abbey to the church is also Sulmona. Pacentro is a real architectural jewel of Abruzzo. In 1577 he passes through Pacentro, directed to the “Preaching of Caramanico”, friar Serafino Razzi, who notes in his diary: “On Monday morning, at three in June, we said mass for Caramanico and at the third mile we found Pacentro, Big Earth, whence we could contemplate the vague plain in which Sulmona is situated. From Pacentro, following a large water channel, we climbed about three miles: and afterwards many others descending, we arrived at the Land of Caramanico “. It is therefore the itinerary that runs along the Vella upstream and that bends to the east towards the Guado di San Leonardo, patron saint of mountain travelers, an itinerary followed by the craftsmen of Pacentro who went there, as shown by some documents of the sixteenth century every year at the fairs of Caramanico, resizes the alleged “historical isolation” of Pacentro towards the eastern slope of the Maiella and therefore of the average Adriatic coast as claimed by some scholars.
The local workers had a very high quality throughout the craft sector.
From stonemasons to blacksmiths, who treated stone and iron or like a goldsmith treats gold, we move on to the factories in charge of processing hemp and especially silk. In the period 1458-1466 Pacentro silk was exported to Florence and she was much appreciated for her quality. This activity had developed in a perfect ecosystem, which made the territory of Pacentro a kind of “garden where, in addition to mulberry trees, thriving plants of all kinds flourished. The feud passed to the captain Antonio Domenico De Santis (1612), to the prince of Gallicano Francesco Colonna (1626) and finally to the Barberini who kept it until 1890. In the meantime the new laws of the Kingdom of Naples against feudality had already interrupted the long buying and selling process.
The habitat of Pacentro, transformed by the tenacity and sweat of the peasant farmers in a botanical garden, the dominations of the Caldora, the Cantelmo, the Orsini, the Barberini have passed by without leaving any trace. What has come down to us is instead the product of a choral story, made by peasants, shepherds and artisans, who by piece, through the centuries, have composed that mosaic of great beauty which is precisely Pacentro.