In the high rocks of the Lucane Dolomites there is Castelmezzano, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy born in the 10th century AD. When the citizens of the town of Mandoro (Golden World) were forced to flee in search of shelter among the peaks, in order to survive the Saracen invasions. The legend says that a shepherd named Paolino, found an ideal area to escape the dangers, as it was rich in water and a strategic point of defence, thanks to the steep rocks, along which huge boulders roll out to drive the invaders. Later, in 1000 AD was conquered by the Normans, who built the fortress still visible today.
The great amount of water has always been a vital aspect for locals. The church of Santa Maria dell'Olmo, the main church of the town, was built in the twelfth century near an elm and a source, two elements that have been always considered as dispensers of eternal life, symbol of the transformation from a dead soul into an immortal one, as well as the accomplishment of Grail's search: since it was possible to drink the eternal life from the sacred cup, the same can be drawn from the tree of life and from the source.
Adding a bit of fantasy, it is not so difficult to imagine the mountain chain around Castelmezzano as a large cup of the Graal, which encloses the village hosting the church, the source and the tree.
The Tree of Life must not be confused with the Tree of Good and Evil, which is present in Eden as well. According to the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were sent away because of the Tree of Good and Evil, but soon after identifying the "other tree", i.e. the tree of Life, they will find Paradise.
The elm that gave its name to the church unfortunately has been cut off in the seventies by some reckless, but hopefully there still exists an important ancient pagan tradition that every year in May, the month of fertility of the earth and the explosion of life , celebrates the blooming nature of the village. It is the "Wedding of Trees", a ritual of sexual union between a trunk of Turkey oak and a hollyhock, chosen in the woods and then brought to the hamlet with great festivity. The holly comes is joined to the trunk that will then be climbed by the most courageous inhabitant.
We talked about the Sacred Grail, because in the past Castelmezzano was a Templar fortress. This important historical past is made evidenced by numerous symbols spread throughout the village, first of all the coat of arms of the country, depicting two knights on one horse.
The Templars' passage is also visible in the above-mentioned church of Santa Maria dell'Olmo. Originally, the entrance was facing east, but it was replaced by a wall with a template cross in the triangular architrave. Plus, During a restoration phase, a template patent cross was found, another witness to the presence of the Order.
Being knight of the Templars means receiving directly from God the divine task of protecting the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and that is why the power was conferred upon him during the ceremony of the investiture. Moreover, the chosen man also had to spend the night before the rite in deep prayer and fasting, swear fidelity to God, and promise him his defence in return for life.
The last ceremony of the Order in the church of Santa Maria dell'Olmo dates back to 2006, when a knight received the investment according to ancient rituals. The presence of the sword in the church, therefore, is not to be interpreted as a sacrilegious gesture, rather as a sign of devotion: if on one hand it is a weapon of offense, on the other hand it is a cross.
Along with the church of Santa Maria is linked another religious legend of religious related to the protector of Castelmezzano: the miracle of San Rocco.
It is said that this saint saved the city when in the nineteenth century a French general received the order to destroy the area to eliminate the phenomenon of brigandage, made possible by the numerous rocky coves. It seems that the General looked at the fresco of St. Rocco of Montpellier in the church of Santa Maria and recognized the resemblance with a native French citizen, who came from the same city. This, together with his solid religious faith, made him decide to immediately stop the execution, thus saving the poor inhabitants, who immediately made a great celebration in honour of San Rocco.