My maternal family all hail from the south of Italy, most of them from the small town of Bitetto, outside of Bari.
I could be writing about il Cattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo, the church in town which undoubtedly played a role in the faith lives of my ancestors. (It occurs to me at this writing that the frequency with which the name Arcangela was used in my grandmother's family might bear testament to this.) But my main association with the cathedral in Bitetto is that when I visited the town, in college, I was met by my second cousin once removed and his young son. My Italian was better then than it is now, but I still didn't understand anything that was spoken in dialect, and didn't catch much of what was spoken in Italian. Still, I understood as young Donato, in the back seat, told his father that they should show me the cathedral - il primo cattedrale di Bitetto! ("The number one cathedral in Bitetto!") Only moments into my very first visit to the town, even I got the joke: there's only one cathedral in Bitetto.
But although I can speak to 10-year-olds making jokes that even barely proficient Americans can understand, I can't speak, in any meaningful way, to the importance of il primo cattedrale di Bitetto! in the faith lives of my ancestors. What I can speak to is the continuing importance of a different church, Il Santuario del Beato Giacomo di Bitetto, in the lives of people who trace their roots to Bitetto.
Il Beato Giacomo translates to "Blessed James" in English, but although he's occasionally thus named on English-language websites, even in America, no one refers to him in English. He's always Il Beato Giacomo, or just Il Beato (which just means "the blessed," but which somehow never gets confused with, say, Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, or Bl. Benedict XI).
Il Beato was born in Croatia, and relocated to Bari, Italy, where he received a call to religious life and joined the Order of Friars Minor in Bitetto. During his life, he was known for his holiness and prayer life, including levitating during prayer. After his death, in 1896, his body was discovered to be incorrupt. It is currently on display in the Santuario Beato Giacomo in Bitetto. (Blessed Jakov Varinguez, saints.sqpn.com)
|My "doors of faith": Il Santuario Beato Giacomo|
|Image source: Santuario Beato Giacomo - Bitetto. http://www.beatogiacomo.it/|
If you look around, you'll find traces of il Beato throughout the lives of my family and, I'm sure, others from the area. There's a framed image of il Beato Giacomo's incorrupt body in my grandparents' home. My mom has a prayer card in her car. I just reached into my wallet and pulled out these, a card and a medal:
Beato Giacomo, ora pro nobis.