Enduring Beliefs in Perugia

March 14, 2017

This summer we visited the city of Perugia (Italy) and the fantastic exhibit Enduring Beliefs in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell'Umbria. When visiting the museum we stumbled onto the amulet collection of Giuseppe Bellucci (1844-1921) who was, among other things, the director of this museum for some time. Bellucci researched popular beliefs of rural Italian communities and religious practices in South and Central Italy. The information and the objects he collected over the years are now (since 2000) permanently on display.

 

 

 

Perugia is the capital of the Italian province of Umbria. The archaeological museum therefore covers all archaeological finds from the region. Gorgeous treasures can be found there! The museum is situated in the medieval city part, housing Etruscan, Roman and even prehistoric finds. On the first floor, in two rooms, the personal collection of one of its former directors is on permanent display. Bellucci was a broadly interested naturalist, who devoted his life mostly to chemistry, paleontology and #ethnography. Apart from his main research and position in chemistry at the University of Perugia, he also wrote the book "Il feticismo primitivo in Italia e le sue forme di adattamento". In this book from 1907, he published his interpretation of fetishes and amulets that he had collected while conducting research among the rural Italian communities of southern and central Italy. Over the years he visited these communities noting down their habits, fears and the ways in which they traditionally protected themselves against the malevolent forces in their lives.

 

All sort of Wearable Heritage objects were included into his collection: prehistoric stone tools for instance, used in 19th century Italy as talismans ensuring good harvests and averting extreme weather; amulets protecting agains the Evil Eye (Malocchio in Italian) and therapeutic amulets curing diseases. A large part of the collection are so called Agnus Dei, objects of devotion, blessed in special rites. Some of them were made from the wax of candles, burnt in churches on festive occasions, and then pressed into moulds creating small tablets with the depictions of saints. Other interesting amulets include red coral branches (rami di corallo) set in silver to be worn as charms. These amulets provide protection against the Evil Eye and can still be found -in use- in Italy today. Apart from Italian objects, Bellucci also collected some African and Asian amulets in order to illustrate the connection to other Mediterranean cultures.

 

 

Bellucci classified the objects he collected according to different criteria, according to the different materials from which they were made, or according to their function and use: protection agains malevolent forces, therapeutic amulets, talismans attracting good luck, Agnus Dei, objects facilitating transitions in the lives of people and amulets protecting animals and pets. Some of these amulets include breve (brevi), small pieces of paper on which prayers or small formulas for protection were written. These breve were encased in sealed textile or other amulet holders, for their content was to remain a secret in order for the amulet to be effective. These objects were hung in the houses or worn on the Traditional Costume of the Italians.

 

 

Over the years of his research, Bellucci documented unique practices in the Mediterranen region; a mix of folk belief and religious practices, many of which can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The objects also marked social differences in Italy, as the less educated rural communities and lower social classes of Italian society believed in the world of superstition. The objects represent residual beliefs from a close or a more distant (pagan and pre-Christian) past, enduring well into the present century. If you are ever in the neighborhood, you have to go and see this remarkable over-complete exhibit of talismans, #amulets and fetishes!

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