On 25, 26 and 27 August in Ostuni, the beautiful “White City” of Puglia, is celebrated the patron saint and protector Oronzo, also protector of Lecce. The cult for Sant’Oronzo spreads in the territory of Ostuni in the seventeenth century and over time the most ancient for St. Biagio, a medieval hermit saint already revered in Ostuni since the eighth century. It is interesting to point out that both the saints, Biagio and Oronzo, were hermits, bishops and died decapitated, hence martyrs. Above all, traditionally, both the saints chose, on the spot, inaccessible and rocky places and immersed in the wild nature to escape the percipients, even if in different historical periods. In reality neither of the two saints has ever been in Puglia and Oronzo, in particular, is probably to be identified with Aronzio, martyr in Potenza, known in other places of Basilicata and Puglia, of which the closest to Ostuni is mentioned in the Martyrology Geronimiano is Taranto.
Considering tradition, however, is handed down a saint named Oronzo born in Lecce and converted to Christianity along with his nephew Fortunato da Giusto, disciple of St. Paul. Just St. Paul elected Oronzo first bishop of Lecce who was then martyred under the empire of Nero. To the Neronian period (first century AD) it is to be placed, according to tradition, the link of St. Orron to the city of Ostuni. It was then that the saint escaped from the Roman persecution on Mount Morrone, on the Ostuni Murgia, from which he continued his evangelizing work. Here he hid in a cave where he quenched the water from a rock to quench his thirst with a stick. He continued his escape into the territory of Bari where he was arrested, brought to Lecce, tried and beheaded.
The devotion to Sant’Oronzo in the territory of Ostuni is already documented in 1447 when a child was given the name of Roncio. In 1567 there is a church dedicated to the holy bishop on site Morronei, easily identifiable with Monte Morrone, a testament that cites goods and a masseria of the Lercario family linked to the church of Sant’Oronzo. Then for a century or so the cult faded until the rock site was found in which Oronzo took refuge. This research was wanted in 1637 by the bishop of Ostuni Melinghi. The historian ostunese Ludovico Pepe postpones, however, the renewed devotion to the saint in 1560 precisely, putting it in relation with the years when the plague devastated the Terra d’Otranto sparing Ostuni and Lecce, where the inhabitants were miraculously saved thanks to the intercession of Oronzo. Also in the seventeenth century, in the rock site on Mount Morrone, during the construction of the church was found the pool of water made to spring from the rock by Sant’Oronzo. The miracle manifested itself with the oxen employed for the transport that instead of drinking they knelt down. The same water was inexhaustible despite the continuous supplies that followed and over time became a precious therapeutic source for people and animals. The last time the miraculous water was seen to spring, it dates back to 1960 by an Ostuni priest, Pasquale Virgilio.
The places of Sant’Oronzo in Ostuni
Going up the hills around Ostuni we reach Monte Morrone where in the seventeenth century the Sanctuary dedicated to the holy bishop was built, in a very panoramic position with the façade facing the boundless Piana degli Ulivi and the Adriatic Sea. It was the devastating plague that struck southern Italy in 1656, including Apulia, but which miraculously spared the Terra d’Otranto, which spread the conviction that it was Oronzo who saved both Lecce and Ostuni. So a new church to thank the patron saint. Not far from the church there is a monumental portal carved with buckets, of baroque taste, from which the staircase leads to the top of the chapel built on the rock where St. Oronzo made the miraculous water flow. Many faithful walk the stairs on their knees to ask for a favor. Oronzo like Moses in the desert, therefore, that miraculously gives water to the people making it flow from the rock. The reference to the dry karstic Murgia is clear, a territory paradoxically rich in underground waters but which is devoid of superficial.
A ride for Sant’Oronzo
Every August 26, in honor of St. Oronzo, there is a scenic Cavalcata, named after him. The ride is a further manifestation of thanksgiving to the saint as a protector from the plague of 1657. In the seventeenth century, in fact, to thank the holy intercessor was transported a papier-mâché statue of the Saint from the Sanctuary of Mount Morrone in the city. That statue was replaced at the end of the eighteenth century with the precious silver staua made in Naples by the goldsmith Baccaro. When the simulacrum reached Ostuni it was escorted by the vaticali (carrettieri) on horseback that had run in guild to support the expenses of the patronal feast, financed also by local notables.
The group of cavaliers who escort the statue remembers those tenacious and faithful vaticals. The uniform of the knights is a red jacket that refers to the martyrdom of the Saint, white trousers, cylindrical hat with scarlet plume; the horses are the murgesi, tall and powerful, and are covered with red gualdrappe, worked with little buttons of mother of pearl that wrap them up to the hooves. The dressing of knights is a ritual in which family members also participate. The role of knights is also handed down from father to son. The event starts from the former cathedral in the old city and ends in Piazza della Libertà, decorated with lights, with the performance of operatic and symphonic pieces.
Nineteenth-century palace located in the center of Ostuni. Renovated respecting the original style.