The Volturnese chronicles
Abbazia San Vincenzo

Alfonso Pacitti
San Vincenzo

Deep in the central Apennines of Abruzzo, near Castel San Vincenzo, in the province of Isernia, Molise, the Volturno River rises and flows southeast. At its junction with the Calore River near Caiazzo the river continues south as far as Venafro. Finally, it turns southwest, past Capua, to enter the Tyrrhenian Sea at Castel Volturno; northwest of Naples and some 175 kilometres from its source.
The Benedictine Abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno is located on a rocky site about two kilometres from the source of the River Volturno, on the fertile Rocchetta plain. The history of the monastery is recorded in the ‘Chronicon Vulturnense’ (Volturnense Chronicle), an illuminated manuscript written in 1130 by a monk named Giovanni Monaco. Giovanni made use of monastery records dating from the eighth to the eleventh century. The Chronicon is now kept in the Vatican Museum in Rome.

At its height, the abbey is known to have covered a significant acreage, as indicated in this artist reconstruction. According to the Chronicon, the monastery was founded at the beginning of the eighth century (703 AD) by three noblemen from Benevento; a small town situated to the northeast of Napoli. The three gentlemen, Paldo, Taso and Tato, were seeking a suitable location in which to devote themselves to a spiritual and ascetic life as monks. In the year 787 AD, Emperor Charlemagne placed the monastery under his direct protection, granting it privileges such as fiscal and judicial exemptions, and the election of its own abbot.

Charlemagne, (Charles I) was the first emperor in western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, some three centuries earlier. Within a hundred years of its establishment, the monastery at San Vincenzo had become one of the largest abbeys in Europe and an important spiritual and intellectual centre. For a time, it was more important than its better known local counterpart, the Abbey of Montecassino.

The Saracens

On 10th October 881, the monastery was attacked by the invading Saracens. Over 700 inhabitants (about 330 monks and a similar number of community workers from the surrounding area) were massacred; the monastery building itself was severely damaged by fire.

The first recorded incursion by the Saracens onto the Italian peninsula took place in 840, in Calabria. Over the next few decades, they progressed northwards and eastwards. Bari fell in 871 and in 881 the abbey of San Vincenzo di Volturno was destroyed. Two years later, the same fate befell the abbey of Montecassino. From then onwards the local inhabitants found it necessary to organise themselves into fortified, walled communities (castellum) for self-protection.

The Saracen camp at Minturno (in modern day Lazio) by the Garigliano River became a perennial thorn in the side for the Papacy and many expeditions were mounted in order to get rid of them.
In 915, Pope John X organised an alliance of southern powers; including Gaeta and Naples, the Lombard Princes and the Byzantines. At the subsequent Battle of Garigliano, the Papal Allies were successful, and the Saracens were ousted. However local raiding would be a continual problem for a further century.

The monastery of San Vincenzo was not fully restored until the end of the tenth century, with the assistance of the German emperors, Otto II and Otto III; both of whom included King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor in their titles. At its height, the monastery’s lands extended over Molise, Abruzzo, Lazio, Campania, Basilicata and Apulia. However, during the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, the Abbey of San Vincenzo declined and its estates disintegrated.

In 1699, at the request of the last Abbot, Innico Caracciolo, the San Vincenzo monastery passed under the jurisdiction of the neighbouring Abbey of Montecassino.


Cerasuolo, the home town of my family, boasts its origins from around the time of the Volturnense Chronicle. The settlement and its surrounding countryside are well defined within that document.

About the middle of the tenth century, the two abbots of the main monasteries of Montecassino and San Vincenzo were concerned about how best to consolidate the areas of land that surrounded the monasteries themselves; known as Terra Sancti Benedicti and Terra Sancti Vincenti. In addition they were keen to find new means of exploiting their territories. One solution that they developed was to lease the land to groups of peasant farmers, local families and also to immigrants, many from the Abruzzi countryside. In return they required rent in kind, typically a proportion of the cultivated wine and crops. The Volturnense Chronicles indicated that it was essential to bring in new settlers who would exploit the then semi-deserted land holdings of the abbey.

In 962 AD, a monk sent by Abbot Paul, leader of the Abbey of San Vincenzo, leased land at a place called Causa, near the river Volturno, to a group of seven immigrants from the lands of ‘Francia’. The immigrants were probably from northern Italy, since at that time, the North Italian kingdom was part of the French Empire; as it was still, much later, during the time of unification. In return for the lease holding, in addition to the crop payments, the tenants were also required to build a ‘castellum’ or fortified village. The ‘castellum’ located at Causa was one of 17 charters of ‘incastellamento’ that are documented in the chronicles.

A century later, the village established at Causa in 962 became the site of a ‘castellum’ called Cerasuolo; in the southwestern part of the Terra Sancti Vincenti. This site is now known as Cerasuolo Vecchio and is located a short distance to the North and slightly east of the current village of Cerasuolo as indicated in the map below.

Cerasuolo is also mentioned in a number of archaeological research articles and books that refer to medieval documents. The current Cerasuolo appears to have been established sometime in the eighteenth century.

Il primo dei contratti di locazione della terra è Chronicon Volturnense 112 (CV 112 - 962AD), inerente terra “ad ipsa Causa”, cioè posta presso il torrente altrimenti denominata rio San Pietro, che scorre dall'abitato di Cerasuolo Vecchio in giù, sino al Volturno. Cerasuolo Vecchio è adesso disabitato (sembra che i suoi abitanti si spostassero nell'attuale Cerasuolo nel XVIII secolo), sebene i suoi edifici siano ancora in parte rintracciabili entro la macchia; dei diversi tipi di ceramica, vi e stata finora trovata solo maiolica. Le rubriche del cronista del XII secolo a CV 112 ci chiariscono che ‘ad Causa‘ divenne il castello di Cerasuolo.

The first contract for leasing of land was CV 112 in 962 and concerned an area of land “to the cause”, adjacent to the stream also known as the rio San Pietro, which runs down from the settlement of Cerasuolo Vecchio to the Volturno. Cerasuolo Vecchio is now abandoned (its inhabitants appear to have moved to modern Cerasuolo in the eighteenth century), though its buildings are still partially traceable in the undergrowth: so far there has only been found traces of majolica pottery. Writings from the twelfth century chronicler (CV 112) indicate that ‘ad Causa’ became the castellum of Cerasuolo.