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The center of Calcata, Italy

The Hippie Town of Calcata - Hiding-Place of the Holy Foreskin of Christ


One of the most important relics in Christendom, the Holy Prepuce (Jesus’s circumcised foreskin) put this clifftop town on the map in the 16th century as a place of pilgrimage. In the 20th century it was condemned to be demolished due to safety concerns. However, it exists to this day, now as a tourist destination, due to its salvation in the 60s and 70s at the hands of hippies. Here is how the story of this enchanting town unfolded.

What’s so remarkable about Calcata, Italy?

Calcata is a town located in the province of Viterbo, in the central western Italian region of Latium. The town’s history is said to stretch back to prehistoric times, as there is evidence for human settlement in the area during that time. The current town, however, dates to the Middle Ages, and would have been like any ordinary Medieval Italian town, were it not for two extraordinary incidents. The first of these, which occurred during the 16th century, involves the arrival of a rather peculiar Christian relic, the Holy Prepuce. The second happened in much more recent times, i.e. during the 20 th century, when artists and hippies moved to the town, thus turning it into Italy’s ‘grooviest town’.

A photo of Calcata, Italy. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0)

A photo of Calcata, Italy. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 )

A Sacred Location

The town of Calcata in Italy is located on volcanic cliffs overlooking the valley of the Treja River. Archaeological evidence suggests that the human presence in the area stretches as far back as 3000 years ago. The Faliscans (an indigenous, pre-Roman people) are known to have used the area as a sacred ritual site, as indicated by the remains of one of their temples. Apart from that, however, little is known about the town.

Cliff top town of Calcata, Italy. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Cliff top town of Calcata, Italy. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )

The Hidden Relic

The present town of Calcata dates to the Middle Ages, though it may be said that it was not particularly notable for anything. The status of the town changed, however, during the 16 th century. In 1527, Rome was sacked by the mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. According to folklore, when the mercenaries of the emperor ransacked the Eternal City, one of them made away with a silver reliquary containing the Holy Prepuce, a Christian relic said to be the foreskin of Jesus Christ. This nameless soldier was eventually captured and imprisoned in Calcata. During his imprisonment, the soldier hid this relic under cattle dung and straw. He was, however, unable to retrieve his precious possession after he was released, and subsequently died from injuries. Thus, the location of the Holy Prepuce followed the mercenary to his grave.

The circumcision of Christ, Preobrazhenski monastry, Bulgaria. (Public Domain)

The circumcision of Christ, Preobrazhenski monastry, Bulgaria. ( Public Domain )

The Holy Prepuce Pilgrims

It was only in 1557 that the relic was re-discovered, and soon the little-known town of Calcata was transformed into a popular pilgrimage site. An annual procession in honor of this holy foreskin was held on the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, which fell on the 1 st of January. Incidentally, this feast day was replaced by the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, in 1960. In 1900, the Vatican ruled that anyone writing or speaking of the Holy Prepuce would be excommunicated. This decision was made as it was claimed, in 1856, that the ‘true’ Holy Prepuce was found in the Charroux Abbey in France, which led to a theological clash between the two sides. In any case, the Holy Prepuce continued to be venerated in Calcata until 1983, when it mysteriously vanished.

Demolition Order

As for Calcata’s ‘conversion’ into a hippie town, the story may be traced to the 1930s. During this time, Mussolini’s Fascist government had planned to demolish the town, as it was feared that the cliffs on which the town was built would crumble at any given time. As a consequence, most of the town’s inhabitants were relocated to a newly-built town called Calcata Nuovo, or moved south to Rome.

Calcata houses are built ominously close to the edge of the cliff. (Riccardo/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Calcata houses are built ominously close to the edge of the cliff. (Riccardo/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Calcata Italy Cuts a New Groove

The abandoned town awaited destruction, though that never happened. During the 1960s and 70s, Calcata was given a new lease of life when artists and hippies, both from Italy and abroad, began squatting in the abandoned houses. These new inhabitants went on to buy the properties from the original owners, beautify the town, and turned many of the caves under the town into subterranean homes.

Calcata street scene. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Calcata street scene. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )

Eventually, the new residents of Calcata succeeded in getting the government to lift the condemnation order. Since then, Calcata has become a tourist attraction, and various art galleries, restaurants, and cafes have been opened to cater to these tourists. It may be added that these establishments are quite unique, which is a reflection of the new inhabitants of the city. Whilst the town is no longer a Christian pilgrimage site, it continues attracting visitors, especially those who hope to see for themselves this rather peculiar marriage between a bohemian community and a medieval Italian town.     

Top image: The center of Calcata, Italy. ( CC BY 2.0 )

By Wu Mingren

References

Devane, A., 2013. Calcata: The land that time forgot. [Online]
Available at: https://www.wantedinrome.com/news/calcata-the-land-that-time-forgot.html

Farley, D., 2007. Calcata, Italy: Where Newcomers Gave an Old Town a Second Life. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/travel/28dayout.html

Italy Heaven, 2018. Calcata. [Online]
Available at: http://www.italyheaven.co.uk/lazio/calcata.html

Jones, G., 2016. Calcata, Italian town that lost Jesus’ foreskin. [Online]
Available at: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/travel/article/2027766/calcata-italian-town-lost-jesus-foreskin

Meacham, S., 2016. Calcata, Italy: The grooviest medieval village in Italy. [Online]
Available at: http://www.traveller.com.au/calcata-the-grooviest-village-in-italy-gs28xq

sixseeds, 2018. Calcata. [Online]
Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/calcata-italy

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