Chapter #1

Pietro and the hare

The most northern municipality in the province of Prato, this mountainous area has a strong connection to the main links with the Po Valley. It can also boast a history laced with the deeds of saints and devils. One of the blessed company was called Pietro, who lived in the ninth century and who, with other monks, founded a little monastery near Montepiano. An episode of his life is preserved in a fresco in the Abbey of Santa Maria in Vernio, which shows a hare hiding from the hunt by taking refuge under his monkish habit. Count Bardi, the leader of the hunt, asked the monk if he had seen the animal. Pietro said no, and the count, who had his suspicions, said "You would sooner see a tree jump onto my horse than find a hare between the feet of a monk." But that, according to legend, is precisely what happened next: a tree leapt into the saddle, so the fresco shows.

Chapter #2

The devil who understood love

Dreadful to behold, thin of body, with an aquiline nose and a long black beard: that was Vitale da Rimochi, known as the Demon of Rimondeto. After a stint in Rome at the right hand of Pope Boniface VII, the man famed for his wickedness returned to his birthplace of Vernio. The place was abuzz with the news that Count Valfredo degli Alberti had kidnapped a young couple who were about to get married, but in a moment of compassion had decided to release them. The first to be let out was the young man, who then demanded that the count do the same for the young woman. At this point the story becomes blurred, but what we know is that the guards opened the gates for the count, who was riding out from the castle with a young girl. It was in fact the shapeshifting demon, who was springing the girl from her confinement. The next day the lifeless body of the corpse was found, wearing the clothes of the demon. The young couple married soon after, while legend holds that the ghost of Count Valfredo degli Alberti wanders the walls of the castle at Vernio.


Chapter #3

The Count's compassion

There is a bit of history among the legends too. The famines that struck these lands in 1512, during the invasion of the Spanish, were real enough. The Bardi counts, feudal lords of the area, took it upon themselves to hand out sweet homemade polenta to the people of Vernio, along with herring and salted cod. Even today, so many centuries later, these events are commemorated with an all-day festival, which contains many excitements apart from the expected gastronomic delicacies, which include frittelle, not to mention 9 pans of chestnuts and polenta, being handed out from morning to nightfall. There is a traditional procession in historic costume, where hundreds of people wind their way through the town streets from morning onwards; they are later joined by other processing groups from neighbouring Tuscan towns.

Photo by: Le foto di Max