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San Vittore il Moro
The town of San Vittore is located in the middle of what is called the Valley of the Saints and the patron saint's day is celebrated on 8 May. In this period the solemn celebrations in honor of the martyr take place. The name of the valley originates from the contiguity, within the Liri valley, of the territories of several municipalities whose toponym derives from the patronage of Christian martyrs, almost all victims of persecutions that began as early as the first century AD. and culminating with the most frequent ones at the turn of the third and fourth centuries.
The patron saint of the town is San Vittore Martire. But who was he? When did he live? Why did his cult, clearly of Lombard origin, also spread to our areas?
To answer these questions at least partially, we must analyze both her figure and the historical context in which she matured.
Vittore was known as the Moor, the name still remains today, as he was originally from Mauretania. This region, not to be confused with the current state of Mauritania, extended throughout the North African belt from present-day Algeria to Morocco. Overlooking the Mediterranean, it was at first a kingdom and later, like many other territories, it became a Roman province. Therefore, Vittore almost certainly had Berber origins even though he was a Roman in all respects to the point of becoming not only a centurion living in Milan, but even, it seems, the Emperor's favorite.
The historical context in which the figure of Victor is formed is very complex and it is worth remembering that the Roman Empire, in the period to which we refer, is no longer the golden one of Augustan memory. Its hegemony begins to be called into question by a series of factors, not least the abnormal extension and heterogeneity that had made it, in fact, not very governable.
Vittore lived between the third and fourth centuries and in this period Rome is led by Diocletian. The latter, after his rise to power starting in 284, gave rise to the most massive and violent persecution of Christians ever recorded. Discrimination of all kinds had always existed within the empire against Christians, but never as much as during the reign of Diocletian. Christianity, on the other hand, from a mere religious phenomenon had long since transformed into a gigantic movement that undermined some political certainties in Rome. There were now many to follow the new faith, among which, in fact, the centurion Victor. Diocletian issued an unprecedented series of edicts which, in addition to revoking a series of rights won by Christians, required that they conform to pagan religious practices. Christians were often forced into hiding, refugees in the catacombs which still today represent an admirable testimony of their faith. We will have to wait for the Edict of Milan promulgated by the Emperor Constantine in 313 for the conditions of Christians to improve considerably. The subsequent Edict of Thessalonica in 380 will definitively sanction the passage of Christianity to the official religion of the Empire.
To cope with the growing ungovernability of the Empire, undermined internally by continuous revolts and struggles for power, Diocletian inaugurated the system of the "tetrarchy", that is, the government of the four. In a first phase he appointed as his deputy, an officer named Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximian, attributing to him the rank of Caesar and keeping for himself that of Augustus. The personalities of Diocletian and Maximian complemented each other. As politically skilled the former as valiant and militarily capable the latter. Later Maximian was in turn raised to the rank of Augustus and appointed as his Caesar for the western part Constantius Cloro (father of the future Emperor Constantine I). Diocletian did the same with Galerius for the eastern part. Within a few years, the Roman Empire was divided into four parts, each with its own emperor who, beyond the hierarchical relationships between the various ranks (Augustus or Caesar), or the respective mythological inspiration (one linked to the figure of Jupiter, the other to that of Hercules), administered more or less autonomously their own geographical part. The territory of the empire was in turn divided into twelve "dioceses", three for each emperor. Maximian, who most interests us here, was affected by the Italic, Hispanic and African ones, with the management of power fixed mainly at Mediolanum. And it is here that the events that see San Vittore il Moro as protagonist took place.
The exploits of San Vittore are narrated in the hymn Victor, Nabor, Felix pii written by Ambrogio da Milano, better known as Sant'Ambrogio. The Milanese bishop handed down to us the story of the Roman soldier, sentenced to death for not having abjured his faith together with his friends Nàbore and Felice. It seems that the three soldiers, once their Christian faith was revealed, forced to make a choice between faith in Jesus and loyalty to the Emperor, were resolute and adamant in choosing the first. Vittore in particular, while reiterating his full loyalty to Maximian for what concerned his military and political career, categorically refused to abjure. After being incarcerated for six days without food or water, he was brought before the Emperor and his sneaky advisor Anulino (or Anolino) in the belief that the privations had convinced him to reject his belief. Faced with Vittore's reaffirmed firmness, Maximian's anger became irrepressible and the soldier was imprisoned again in even harsher conditions: scourged, tortured with the pouring of molten lead into the wounds caused by the wounds, Vittore did not give up. Indeed, taking advantage of the distraction of his captors he fled. Captured again, he was taken to the Lodi forest to be beheaded on 8 May 303. Legend has it that after a few days the Maternal Bishop went to the forest to recover the body which was miraculously intact and watched over by some fairs that prevented anyone to get closer. Materno took care of the burial of the body in a chapel that was called "San Vittore in ciel d’oro" due to the rich mosaic decorations. That chapel is still kept in a chapel of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan.
How the cult of San Vittore Martire spread in our territory, to the point of becoming the patron saint of our town is not known. It is certainly known that the Saint's deeds spread thanks to the Ambrosian preaching. Saint Ambrose had the Mauretanian saint particularly at heart, so much so that he wanted to have his brother Satyr buried next to him. Probably the authority and fame of the great Milanese bishop, combined with the incessant work of proselytism, led the first Benedictine monks who arrived in the area to dedicate one of their monastic cells in honor of the Milanese martyr whose testimony of faith, so strong and incorruptible , lent itself well to the development of a new religious community. It is unusual that the Saints who give the name to the municipalities of the homonymous valley all lived between the 1st and 4th centuries. Furthermore, the extreme geographical proximity between San Vittore and the municipality of Sant’Ambrogio sul Garigliano, of which the Milanese bishop who most of all venerated and spread the cult of our martyr, is the patron saint. Finally, it should be noted the extreme similarity between the coats of arms of the Municipality of San Vittore and that of San Giorgio, also martyr by beheading the same year as San Vittore (303). They are practically identical were it not for the creature impaled by the Saint's spear. In that of San Giorgio, certainly more famous, it is a dragon. In that of San Vittore it is a lion.
San Vittore is today the protector of exiles and prisoners.
· the position of the Cosmatesque pulpit in the Church of Santa Maria della Rosa, with the four column-bearing lions that seem to guard the altar of San Vittore, is strongly evocative of the hagiographic episode in which the Vesovo Materno finds the body of San Vittore intact and watched over by some fairs.
· An authentic relic of the saint is kept in the Church of Santa Maria della Rosa. It is a piece of bone, jealously kept in a valuable Gothic reliquary. It was obtained towards the end of the 19th century by Cardinal Ferrari, Archbishop of Milan, through the intercession of the then prior of Montecassino Don Ambrogio Amelli.
· In the nineteenth century, this Canon Archpriest Giuseppe Spera composed a "Sacred Scenic Ludo" entitled "San Vittore Martire Milite Mauritano", a drama inspired by the martyrdom of our Saint. There is only one original copy of the work and it is in our possession.
Marco Aurelio Valerio Massimiano Erculeo
Sacello di San Vittore - Basilica paleocristiana di Sant'Ambrogio (Milano)