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© Jeff Matthews  entry March 2018  


Norman Douglas, Old Calabria & the Grotto of the Archangel Michael at Monte Sant'Angelo

George Norman Douglas (1868 – 1952) was a British writer, now best known for his travel writings about southern Italy. He was a long-time resident of the island of Capri, an honorary citizen of the island, and he died and is buried there. He's in the company of a very long list of late "Grand Tour" northern enthusiasts of the bay of Naples and the south of Italy, among whom we may count Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, Jacque Fersen, D.H. Lawrence, Alfred Krupp and countless others. Old Calabria, first published in 1915, from which the excerpts (below) are taken, is among Douglas' better-known works. These are small extract from Chapters 3 and 4 of Old Calabria and are to supplement my material at  The Lombards, Monte Sant'Angelo and the Sanctuary of St. Michael as well as material in these pages on Cave Churches.  [More on cave-churches here and under 'cave churches' in the home page index.]


from chapter 3, The Angel of Manfredonia:
Archangel Michael Casts the         
Rebellious
Angels into the Abyss   
by Neapolitan artist,  Luca Giordano

Whoever looks at a map of the Gargano promontory will see that it is besprinkled with Greek names of persons and places--Matthew, Mark,Nikander, Onofrius, Pirgiano (Pyrgos) and so forth. Small wonder, for these eastern regions were in touch with Constantinople from early days, and the spirit of Byzance still hovers over them. It was on this mountain that the archangel Michael, during his first flight to Western Europe, deigned to appear to a Greek bishop of Sipontum, Laurentius by name; and ever since that time a certain cavern, sanctified by the presence of this winged messenger of God, has been the goal of millions of pilgrims.

The fastness of Sant' Angelo, metropolis of European angel-worship, has grown up around this "devout and honourable cave"; on sunny days its houses are clearly visible from Manfredonia. They who wish to pay their devotions at the shrine cannot do better than take with them Gregorovius, as cicerone and mystagogue.
- - - - - - -

from chapter 4, Cave-Worship:

Why has the exalted archangel chosen for an abode this reeking cell, rather than some well-built temple in the sunshine? "As symbolizing a ray of light that penetrates into the gloom," so they will tell you. It is more likely that he entered it as an extirpating warrior, to oust that heathen shape which Strabo describes as dwelling in its dank recesses, and to take possession of the cleft in the name of Christianity. Sant' Angelo is one of many places where Michael has performed the duty of Christian Hercules, cleanser of Augean stables.

For the rest, this cave-worship is older than any god or devil. It is the cult of the feminine principle--a relic of that aboriginal obsession of mankind to shelter in some Cloven Rock of Ages, in the sacred womb of Mother Earth who gives us food and receives us after death. Grotto-apparitions, old and new, are but the popular explanations of this dim primordial craving, and hierophants of all ages have understood the commercial value of the holy shudder which penetrates in these caverns to the heart of worshippers, attuning them to godly deeds. So here, close beside the altar, the priests are selling fragments of the so-called "Stone of Saint Michael." The trade is brisk.

The statuette of the archangel preserved in this subterranean chapel is a work of the late Renaissance. Though savouring of that mawkish elaboration which then began to taint local art and literature and is bound up with the name of the poet Marino, it is still a passably virile figure. But those countless others, in churches or over house-doors -- do they indeed portray the dragon-killer, the martial prince of angels? This amiable child with girlish features -- can this be the Lucifer of Christianity, the Sword of the Almighty? Quis ut Deus! He could hardly hurt a fly.



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