The prestigious cultural magazine «Archivio Storico di Belluno Feltre e Cadore» - now in the XXIIIth year - published in the number 349 (May-August 2012) a large essay by Lucia Nadin entitled: A monument to Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg in the 1465: the newsstand-ciborium of Mel. Reading hypothesis.
The scholar - known for her contributions to Albanian history and art, of which we have also recently illustrated some results of her research - reads in a Albanian key of history a splendid work of art preserved in the church of the Addolorata in a town of Bellunese: Mel, where in the second '400, he was parish priest for almost fifty years, from 1460 to 1505, an Albanian: Giorgio di Novomonte.
The ancient parish church of Mel was part of the Diocese of Ceneda: the parish church was the church of S. Maria, then of the Addolorata, with the baptistery of San Giovanni Battista nearby, gone in the destroyed time.
Novomonte can be identified with Novo Brdo, today in Kosovo, a very important mining center in southern Serbia, where a strong immigration flowed from both German lands, Dalmatia and Albania.
The Via di Zenta, from Prizren to Shkodra, was a strategic commercial junction of the wider stretch from Sofia to Ragusa. The Catholic clergy depended on the archbishopric of Antivari, with strong presences both from Cattaro and from the northern Albanian lands. In the 1441 there was a first Turkish conquest of the city, with a strong exodus of the population; the Turkish domain stabilized from the 1455.
It could be hypothesized that Novomonte was a place of the same name between Shkodra and Drisht, where the testimony of local scholars recalls the existence, at one time, of a Mali i Ri village, precisely Novomonte, of which today there is no trace. This second thesis is linked to testimonies coming from Scutari. Malesi e Re (Montagna Nuova) is a mountainous area around Lopcit, a town in the 15th century cadastral maps of Shkodër: the highest and most strategic point was Mali i Ri (Novomonte). The inhabitants, as happened in other towns perched on the mountains, kept their faith even after the Turkish occupation. To note that even at Drivasto, not far from the fortress, there was a Castle of Novomonte.
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Giorgio da Novomonte's family can be returned to theAlbania of the north following the route of Zenta, from Prizren to Scutari.
Giorgio di Novomonte arrived with his family, therefore of emigrants, in the Venetian lands in the fifties of the fifteenth century: being registered as a sub-deacon in the 1443, he was then just a teenager. In his native land he will never return and he will know the events as they are linked to the Serenissima: events that see the great ascent of the Albanian hero Giorgio Castriota, with which Albania acts as a barrier to the Ottoman advance for almost twenty-five years, until to 1468, date of his death.
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In the mid-fifteenth century, crucial decades opened for the Western-Eastern clash: the fall of Constantinople in the 1453; then the advance of the Ottomans towards Europe, where Albania was a land of obligatory passage: it was re-proposing its centuries-old condition of land poised between West and East, born with the "line" of Theodosius in the distant 395. Albania found in an emerging leader, Giorgio Castriota, nicknamed Scanderbeg (Noble Alessandro), an extraordinary political strategist to whom all European powers will look, as well as an exceptional military commander whose actions against the Turks will be destined to enter the legendary: a true myth of Scanderbeg will be created, which will be fed in all the countries of Europe, and his figure will inspire narrators, poets, painters, musicians until the beginning of the twentieth century.
Thus the Castriota soon became the most bitter enemy of Ottoman expansionism, and this role became functional to the economic aims of the Western powers, as well as to the claims of the papal utopian crusades. As for the Serenissima, initial contrasts for lands in northern Albania were resolved in a subsequent alliance.
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In the 1460 to direct the parish of the Addolorata is assigned a priest of Albanian origin: Giorgio da Novomonte who remains in his role as regent for more than forty years. His death is in fact around the 1505.
He had been previously, from the 1453 to the 1460, parish priest in the church of Santa Maria di Lentiai, not far from Mel. In the 1473 he gave up the benefit in the church of S. Lorenzo, in the castle of Zumelle.
Therefore, Mel and its surroundings for a long period of time saw the presence of an Albanian priest. And also in other churches of the diocese of Ceneda, between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there were prolonged presences of Albanian priests; as for example in Cavalier, near Fossalta Maggiore, whose parish was run for about seventy years (1482-1551) by Albanian priests: Giovanni Pertali, Paolo Pertali, Giovanni Martusio.
It is a famous story: the legendary heroes' feats are famous, the strategic political weight of the Serenissima and for the whole of Europe is famous, the role of Miles Christi, Athleta Fidei, Soldier of Christ, Defender of the Christian Faith therefore, assigned to him by various popes: a truly supranational figure soon entered the myth.
Marino Barlezio, who became a priest in the Veneto region in the 1494 (the exact discovery of this date is recent) will write of Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg a Life, in 1510, which will become the reference text for every subsequent writing on the hero, synthesis also of oral traditions up to then preserved.
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Giorgio di Novomonte, parish priest in Mel from 1460, learns about what is happening in Albania: all the clergy, to which he also belongs, is in fact called by Pius II to participate with a "tenth", that is, with a cash contribution, to the historic enterprise he is planning: an anti-Turkish crusade, which ended happily, which the Pope himself would have crowned Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg as "king" of Albania.
The crusade is officially banned in the 1463. An event, we know, ended tragically the following year, with the pope's sudden death in Ancona. In the same 1463 Giorgio Castriota was aggregated to the Venetian nobility.
The Pope died, the crusade failed, Giorgio Castriota remained alone in his titanic struggle.
The 1465 is a dramatic year for the condottiere: in the spring he loses eight of his most valiant officers in an ambush, who are barbarously killed and whose bodies - cut into pieces - fed to the dogs; the renegade Ballaban attacks on several fronts: in the summer Castriota himself is wounded, he falls to the ground with his horse; he thinks he is dead and around him a struggle is raging because the enemies want to take possession of his body and decapitate him. But soon Castriota got up, resumed the fight, quickly brought his own to victory. A victory that he announced to the whole of Europe at the end of the summer, with the sending of ambassadors and gifts taken from the spoils of war.
The story of those events in Marino Barlezio, which we report in its entirety, will remain timely.
«Sunt barbarian arbitrations Scanderbegum extimatum [sic, rectius extinctum] esse, omnesque conglobati ibi, ut eum obtruncarent accurrerunt. Sed a militibus suis subito protectus a furore et impetu eorum tutatus est. Adiutusque statim equum insiluit et lenito mitigatoque pain refocillatisque viribus pugnam acerrimam quum barbaris redintegravit ».
"The barbarians considered Scanderbeg dead and everyone threw themselves at him to decapitate him. But, immediately protected by his soldiers, he was saved from the fury and impetus of his enemies. Thus assisted, he suddenly stood up, jumped on horseback, and with the pain subdued and regained his strength, he renewed a fierce battle against his enemies ".
Taking the situation in hand, Scanderbeg leads his team to a crushing victory, immediately communicated to all European states.
We still read in Barlezio:
«Litteras ad omnes fere reges et christianos principes scripsit et victoriam hanc, quam adversus barbaros (Deo author atque propitio) adeptus fuerat his impertivit dispensavitque. Quibus etiam varia donorum generates et munera ex hostium spoliis utpote equos allipedes (ut aiunt) et velocissimos, servos captivos, weapon and canvas, preclaras quoque equorum falera et id genus ornament misit ".
"He wrote letters to almost all the kings and Christian princes illustrating the victory he had won against the barbarians (thanks to the will and help of God); he sent them gifts of various types taken from the remains of their enemies and also winged horses (as handed down) and very fast, captive prisoners, cutting and throwing weapons, splendid horse harnesses and ornamental objects of this species ».
During the 1465 the news evidently arrives also in the Veneto region: Giorgio di Novomonte, pastor of Mel, is building a large ciborium, about three meters high, for his church, with a central tabernacle destined to preserve the Body of Christ. He had commissioned a local sculptor, Antonio da Marcador (a town near Mel), to do the work.
The client has the figure of a warrior, fallen to the ground, who raises his arms upwards, as if kidnapped by a vision, right under the door of the tabernacle, therefore, in a central position. The warrior is covered only with a crush in an iron mesh, made from a very fine chisel that highlights the artist's ability; it has neither bracelets, leg loops, or toes, elements of a composite armor.
He has an oblong shield on one side and a spear; a sword on a belt; he wears a banded helmet with a feather; he is represented in profile with abundant hair, but without a beard, in a lying position, with his legs crossed and with open arms in an attitude of amazement, like someone who has a sudden vision or shock. Below a band shows a scuffle of soldiers.
In the upper part of the ciborium has a date engraved: 26 July 1465.
The centuries pass: the ciborium is preserved intact, a splendid work of art that served as a model (it seems, at the present state of knowledge) for a similar ciborium that can still be admired in the Sanctuary of Saints Vittore and Corona di Feltre, destined to preserve the holy oils.
No one can explain the reason for that figure of a warrior, in that central position, under the tabernacle, nor the underlying scene of a melee of soldiers.
Only the knowledge of the history of Albania, says Lucia Nadin, can now explain it. The Albanian pastor wants to visualize the exploits of the hero Giorgio Castriota, the Soldier of Christ, the Defender of Christianity, predestined by God to carry out the mission of faith: hit, falls to the ground, but "gets up" to continue his action . It is a part interpretation, it is logical, because it is a priest who commissions the work of art and reads the story in a religious key. He has Giorgio Castriota represented as a warrior dressed in simple cotta, almost without armor, because protected by a divine design.
Only after fifty years will the humanistic portrait that will accompany the Life of Barlezio set the "high" image of the Albanian hero.
But in 1465 the Albanian priest of Mel has no visual reference; collects the news that comes from his land: the events are in progress and he displays them in that soldier (of Christ) fallen and "relieved" by divine will.
The testimony is doubly precious: it is the only monument built by Giorgio Castriota alive and confirms what Barlezio says, when he claims to have been a collector of oral traditions born during the life and actions of the Albanian hero. What happened in Albania was collected and spread even outside Albania: in this case in the Veneto region. A sort of war bulletin that was circulated in Europe.
The myth of Scanderbeg was born, by right, well before his own death.