WHO WAS JACOPONE DA TODI?
At the bottom of Saint Fortunatus staircase you can see a stone monument dedicated to the most important person from Todi, Jacopone.
Jacopone was a Franciscan friar; he was born in 1230, 4 years after the death of St. Francis, and is very famous in Italy and in the world as a poet.
Along with other Italian poets and writers, such as Dante Alighieri, he contributed to the birth of the modern Italian language by composing about 90 poems called “laude”.
The lauda was a religious poem: the word lauda means hymn, praise to God. This kind of religious poetry began to spread in Italy in the mid-13th century and was usually written by closed brotherhoods of Laudesi.
-THE LAUDA AS A BASE OF THE MODERN ITALIAN LANGUAGE-
The laude were important to the birth of the modern Italian language because they were composed no longer in Latin (the old language used by civil and religious authorities), but in the spoken language used by everyday people. Thus, everyone could understand them.
The laude were usually told publicly in front of churches or in the squares. They were easy to understand and easy to remember because they were set to music.
-THE BOOKS OF LAUDE-
The laude were collected into books, called Laudari: in the Laudari the poems were grouped by topic to make it easier to find a particular lauda. The principal topics were: the Nativity, the Passion, the Madonna, the Saints, and the transience and corruption of wordly goods.
Jacopone wrote only one lauda (also called “sequence”) in Latin: the Stabat Mater.
It was so famous that it has been put to music by many composers over the centuries (such as Verdi, Rossini, Dvorak…). Probably the best known version is the one by G.B. Pergolesi, written in 1735. An excerpt of the Stabat Mater will give you a feel for this lauda:
Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.
Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.
Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animæ donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.
Translation by Edward Caswall
Lyra Catholica (1849)
-EARLY LIFE: THE PARTY BOY –
According to history and tradition, Jacopone belonged to a very noble and rich family of Todi, the Benedettoni. As a young man, he was a libertine and a lover of wordly goods, but also a cultured man who had probably studied at Bologna University. Thanks to some old documents, we know for a fact that he worked in the legal department of the municipality of Todi as a lawyer or notary.
When he was about 38 years old, he got married to the countess Vanna of Coldimezzo, a noble and very religious woman. We don’t know for sure what happened: maybe this pious woman began step by step to change Jacopone’s mind and heart… The fact is that 6 months after the marriage, his wife suddenly died and Jacopone changed his life forever, committing himself to a devout life and giving all his goods to the poor.
–A NEW LIFE AS A PENITENT-
For the next 10 years Jacopone lived without a fixed address like a “bizzoco”, a spiritual penitent: he was trying to do penance for the sins he had committed during his first 38 years of life. In the meantime he also tried to be admitted to the monastery by the Franciscans: he strongly desired to become a Franciscan, but the friars were afraid that his desire was just madness and not a true vocation.
-JACOPONE IS FINALLY A FRANCISCAN-
After 10 long years of observation and tests, the Franciscans realized that the vocation of Jacopone was real; the 48-year-old man was finally able to take vows.
As a friar, he was very active as an educator and preacher. He spent much time composing and reading his laude (about 90 poems) and other works written in Latin (above all, “tractatus”). He really tried to teach the common people and Franciscan novices as much as possible about the true love of life that is Jesus Christ.
LAUDA 89 (EXCERPTS, translated by Elisa Picchiotti)
Amor de Caritate, perchè m’ài ssì feruto?
Lo cor tutt’ho partuto, et arde per amore.
… Bellezza antiqua e nova de po’ ch’eo t’ho trovata,
o luc’esmesurata de sì dolce sprandore!
… Cristo sì me tra tutto, tanto è bello!
Abràcciome con ello e per amor sì clamo:
“Amor, cui tanto abramo, fan’me morir d’amore!”
… ‘Amore, Amore’ grida tutto ‘l mondo,
‘Amore, Amore’ onne cosa clama.
Amore, Amore, tanto si prefondo, chi plu t’abraccia, sempre plu t’abrama!
… Iesu, speranza mia, abissame enn amore!
Love of Charity, why did you hurt me so much?
My heart is broken and burns for love.
…Ancient beauty, but new as well, since I have found you,
Oh endless light with a splendor so sweet!
… Jesus Christ completely attracts me, since He is so beautiful!
I embrace him and thus I invoke God:
“Love, who I long so much for, let me die for love!”
… Love, Love all the world cries out,
Love, Love declares everything openly.
Love, Love, you are so deep that the more you embrace Him, the more you desire Him… that he who embraces you most, desires you even more.
… Jesus, my hope, let me fall into the abyss of love / let me sink into the abyss of love!
-UNEXPECTED TURNING POINT: IN TROUBLE WITH THE POPE-
His life changed again in 1294, when Pope Celestinus V (who was beloved by Franciscans) abdicated.. At this time, Benedetto Caetani was a candidate for the papacy. Jacopone knew him well – as a religious figure and as a person – and thought he would be a poor choice to lead the Catholic Church. Jacopone spoke out against the candidacy (he was not alone: later Dante Alighieri would place the future Pope in hell in his Divine Comedy). However, Benedetto Caetani was elected pope and took the name of Boniface VIII; after the election, Jacopone continued to criticize him openly. Because of his rebellion, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned; according to tradition, Jacopone was locked in the dungeon of the Franciscan monastery in Todi.
By this time he was an old man, about 67 years old. He remained in prison until 1303, when Boniface VIII died and his successor Benedict XI lifted the excommunication and freed Jacopone.
THE DEATH: THE FUNERAL MONUMENT
Jacopone da Todi died in 1306 from failing health. However there was a problem: because of his earlier excommunication, burial in consecrated ground was not allowed. But because of his popularity, a simple burial elsewhere would not be accepted by the inhabitants of Todi. For lack of a solution, his body was placed in a sarcophagus which stayed in the sacristy for almost 300 years.
Jacopone was finally buried in the crypt of S. Fortunato’s Basilica in 1596. The construction of both the crypt and the tomb was entirely financed by the bishop Angelo Cesi, the “mecenate” (patron) of Todi par excellence: he was bishop of Todi for 40 years (1566-1606).
-BEATIFIED BY POPULAR ACCLAIM-
On the tomb you can read “beati” (beatified): Jacopone was never officially beatified by the church, but only by popular acclaim; he has always been called Beato Jacopone.
THE MOST FAMOUS LAUDA BY JACOPONE OF TODI: “DONNA DE PARADISO”
This moving lauda is the dramatic dialogue between the Virgin Mary, a messenger and Jesus Christ under the cross, during the crucifixion. Mary Magdalene and St. John the Evangelist are also there, near the Madonna, but Jacopone doesn’t let them speak: they are questioned by Mary, but they don’t answer.
This lauda is quite long; here you can read the beginning and the end of the poem (translated by Elisa Picchiotti).
Messenger: “Donna de Paradiso,
lo tuo figliolo è preso
Iesù Cristo beato.
Accurre, donna e vide
che la gente l’allide;
credo che lo s’occide,
tanto l’ò flagellato.”
Virgin Mary: Figlio bianco e vermiglio,
figlio senza simiglio,
figlio, e a ccui m’apiglio?
Figlio, pur m’ài lassato!
Figlio bianco e biondo,
figlio volto iocondo,
figlio, perché t’à el mondo,
figlio, cusì sprezzato?
Figlio dolc’e placente,
figlio de la dolente,
figlio àte la gente
mala mente trattato.
Ioanni, figlio novello,
morto s’è ’l tuo fratello.
Ora sento ’l coltello
che fo profitizzato.
Che moga figlio e mate
d’una morte afferrate,
mat’e figlio impiccato!”
“ Heaven’s Woman
your son has been captured
holy Jesus Christ.
Rush, woman, because people are mocking him:
I believe they are about to kill Him,
Since they flagellated Him so long.”
“My son, white and purple,
Son without compare,
Son, who I can hold tight to?
Son, you left me completely!
My Son white and blonde,
Son, cheerful face,
Son, why did the world
Son, despise you so much?
My Son, sweet and lovely,
Son of the sorrowful woman,
Son, people have treated
You so badly.”
John, my new son,
Your brother is dead.
Now I can feel
The prophesied knife.
Die the mother and the son,
Caught by the same death,
We stay embraced,
The Mother and the hanged son”
MORE INFO IN THE BROCHURE (WRITTEN BY ELISA) THAT YOU WILL RECEIVE AS A GIFT AT THE END OF TODI GUIDED TOUR!!!