Some elements would suggest that the legendary son of King Uther Pendragon, passed through Puglia … In the archivolt, called the Lion’s Gate, of the 12th century Basilica of Saint Nicolas in Bari you can see the sovereign with his knights of the Round Table.
The scene represented in the entire archivolt tells the story of a siege of a castle that has nothing to do with religious worship.
What is most disconcerting is that the first to spread the story of the Arthurian king was Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century. But the legend arrived in Italy a century later while the Basilica was built in 1087 when some merchants brought the remains of the saint, 700 years earlier the Christian bishop of Myra.
How then is such an advance possible? There was already an oral tradition that Chretien limited himself to writing. But why in the archivolt of the basilica?
Traces of King Arthur are also found in Otranto, a port of great importance in the Middle Ages from where the fleets strated to reach the Holy Land. The city is also sadly famous for the massacre carried out by the Turks in 1480 who killed the bishop, the clergy and the people and beheaded the 800 survivors who have gone down in history as the Martyrs of Otranto. The ossuaries of the victims are kept in the chapel of the martyrs in the cathedral, on the central floor of which the tree of life is depicted.
King Arthur is also present in the mosaic. Made by Brother Pantaleone between 1163 and 1165, it places the king among the Old Testament’s characters, with the scepter, the crown and pointed shoes. Why did Pantaleone insert the British king there? Perhaps because at that time the king even represented the search for the Grail. The myth of the Grail is frequent in Breton literature for it was considered one of the greatest ideals of chivalry, but why is it so present also in Apulia?
In the mosaic King Arthur fights with a cat. Following the legend to find the Grail you had to be pure and according to some authors of the Middle Ages, the king was not so he was attacked by the cat of Lausanne, one of the symbols of evil. But in the mosaic King Arthur is thrown and killed by the cat while above the king there is a naked character, symbol of pure man. It could be Gilead, son of Lancelot and Guinevere who according to tradition will conquer the Grail.
But there is another question: the date of construction of the mosaic ( between 1163 and 1165) makes it clear that the Breton history was already far-reaching at the end of the 12th century and reached remote lands from the places of origin. An incredibly short amount of time.
The Omphalos, in Greek means navel and indicates a sacred center, a place where the divine meets the ground. There are many omphalos in the world. In Italy, the tradition is linked to many symbols worked by man, like circular boulders.
Often they are represented by obelisks, menhirs, wells or by the strange symbol of the triple enclosure, which can be traced in many places considered sacred, which consists of 3 concentric squares and segments that join the median points of the sides.
These and other mysterious symbols are present in Sovereto, a small hamlet in the municipality of Terlizzi, in the province of Bari. Terlizzi, in the province of Bari, is one of the most fascinating and mysterious places in Puglia, along the ancient Appian Way a crossroads for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land.
Since the protohistoric period, the site had to be considered an “Omphalos“, a projection on earth of a celestial center, the “place” where the gods dwell in a concept similar to that of the Homeric Ogigia, the place where human and divine can dialogue.
Moreover, in the neighboring countryside we find the signs of ancient rituals: four menhirs aligned, a small leys certainly much denser in the past .
Etymologically, for various scholars, the origin of the name of Sovereto would seem to come from “Suberitum” (lat.), that is from suber (lat.), cork while someone else derives the origin from “erected above”, but above what? What’s in the underground?
According to a legend, around the year 1000 a farmer found an icon of the Madonna and a lighted lamp in a cave. On the area was erected the church of Santa Maria di Sovereto. The effigy was a Black Madonna.
Towards the end of 1100 the site had become so important that two convent communities were built, that of the nuns of San Marco and the Knights Hospitallers of San Giovanni (the Knights Templars). Once the fame of this sanctuary became known, all those who went to Jerusalem passing through the Appian Way, very close to our sanctuary, did not fail to enter it.
Into the Church of Santa Maria di Sovereto there are many traces and clues, sometimes hidden that would make us think of a settlement of the Knights of the Temple: apart the many crosses outside and inside the church there are
also five tombstones of which three represent knights with insignia on the cloak of the Knights of the Temple. Also the arms placed in a crossed position, custom of the Knights of the Temple, which represents the “X” of Xristos (from X in Greek Chi) the name of the Messiah.
On another slab now used as a bench there is also the symbol of the triple enclosure which indicates the sacredness and centrality of the place. Symbol of conjunction, it reappears near the crypt with the “cosmic tree“, a cosmic element of conjunction between heaven and earth.
In the Bible it indicates the courtyard with the triple circle of walls of the Temple of Solomon, but also the Heavenly and the Terrestrer Jerusalem. On the right wall we find clear Templar symbols such as the ladder with the “double rung” and the chessboard is the symbol of positive and negative, of black and white, of good and evil, of war and prayer, of intellect and devotion.
It seems that the church stands on a geomantic node, also highlighted by the numerous menhirs that are still visible in the area. Also linked to the idea of omphalos is the concept of thaumaturgical water. In fact, an underground river flows below the church, accessible through a well outside the church. Many witnesses affirm the miraculousness of this water. Outside the church a lunette depicts the Black Madonna and a man climbing the steps of a staircase that rests on the water. It is clear that even the ancient builders of the church knew of the existence of underground water and its particular importance linked to the place of worship.
Porto Badisco, near Otranto, according to the myth, the first shore touched by Aeneas in his escape from Troy. Here is the Grotta dei Cervi, discovered only in 1970.
Inside speleologists found rock paintings of the first inhabitants of the area who lived there 6 millennia ago, according to archaeological ricostructions. Studies on wall lasted more than 10 years and stated these paintings as
“the most important and qualitatively most impressive post-paleolithic wall painting art complex known in Europe […] enclosed in a single cave“.
The red and black paintings depict hunting scenes, deer and other signs of difficult interpretation. The place is not officially open to the public so as not to disturb the particular microclimate of the cave and thus preserve the paintings. Among the pictograms there is one that depicts a cruciform celestial body with a sort of cockpit in the center and elsewhere hominids with their weapons who destroy villages and kidnap the inhabitants.
What do these signs mean? What ancient memory do they tell? Is the closure of the cave linked to the desire to keep these paintings hidden? The speleologist Isidoro Mattioli who was among the group of discoverers returned to the cave other times to never return because, he says, during the explorations he heard the roar of rolling stones and the sound of drums.
The legend of the Shaman of Messapia
A new legend inflated by followers of extraterrestrial theories tells that 5 millenia ago, the same period of paintings, the Salento was a lush and mysterious land, rich in water and life, of immense forests with huge tall trees and a fertile undergrowth populated by wild boars, deer and magnificent moose. The planetary assembly of the gods met periodically near the sulfur springs, generated by the disintegration of the bodies of the Titans, massacred by Heracles with the help of Zeus. Every hundred years, a great multitude of picturesque deities discussed the problems and destinies of humanity. The result of each meeting of the planetary divinities was fixed on ideograms and pictograms impressed on the walls of the main caves along the coast.
During the first assembly of the fifth millennium BC they decided the fate of the weaver Aracne and the Shaman of Messapia (probably portrayed in this pictogram), who were confined into the Grotta dei Cervi. The Messapian Shaman was a beautiful and very intelligent man, who wanted to refute the methods and treatments of the god Asclepius.
He proposed to obtain healing from illness and even to guarantee the resurrection of death with the help of faithful snakes and the magical effect of the blood of the Medusa, the Gorgon, which he had exchanged for his own with the help of Athena.
Asclepius, in revenge, proposed to wall him alive in the Grotta dei Cervi . But Arachne, who loved the shaman, offered him a huge polygonal canvas as a gift, which would be used to shelter from the cold and humidity of the cave. When Asclepius learned of this, he reached the cave angry, horribly deforming the shaman’s features and fixing him like a pictogram on the cave walls; moreover, the furious divinity reduced the cloth lovingly woven by Arachne to a thousand pieces and deposited his apparently useless rags (zinzuli) in a cave to the south, which for this reason took the name of Grotta Zinzulusa.
If this seems to be only a legend, we suggest you to have a look on the many pictograms and paintings in many caves whose signs remember Ufo and spacecraft and peolple with an helmet. To be continued…
A village a few kilometers from Otranto, the fame of Santa cesarea Terme is linked to the sulphurous waters considered miraculous, gushing out from four natural caves: the Sulfurea, the Fetida, the Solfatara and the Gattula, recommended for treating diseases related to the respiratory tract.
The origin of these waters is disputed by two legends: one pagan and one Christian. The pagan one tells that Hercules on the advice of Pallas ran to aid Jupiter, attacked by the Titans (moved by the wrath of which goddess?).
Titans were defeated by Hercules on the Phlegraean fields, and took refuge on the coasts of Japigia, an inaccessible place full of caves in which to hide but where however Hercules overtook them, killing them all. Giants’ bodies dissolved and their rottenness penetrated the soil, transforming the underground waters of the springs into sulphurous waters.
Even the Cristian legend tells of the conversion of water into sulfur due to an evil body and supernatural factors to explain the origin of the town: Caesarea was a beautiful young local virgin who took refuge in a cave along the coast of Castro along the road to Otranto, to escape from her father’s incestuous desire. During the pursuit, her father fall into the sea that his wickedness transformed into impure and smelly waters. At the exact point of the accident the sulphurous water source originated while the girl was saved. A town was built around that cave which in honor of the girl was called Santa Cesarea.
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