Oratino is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Campobasso in the Italian region Molise, located about 7 km west of Campobasso. As of 31 December 2004, it had a population of 1,326 and an area of 18.0 km2. Oratino borders the following municipalities: Busso, Campobasso, Castropignano, Ripalimosani.
Established in Lombard times, its first recorded feudal lord was fu Eustachio D’Ardicourt in 1268. When the Anjou took possession of Southern Italy, in 1326 king Robert gave the fiefdom to his wife Sancia. Then other families followed: the D’Evoli, Gambatesa, Sforza, Di Capua. A very special tradition is repeated on the night of December 24, when the “Faglia”, a giant column made of canes, 7 feet wide and 40 feet high, is lit in the square before the parish church.
The History of Oratino
Present day Oratino, located at the summit of the high hill, must have sprung up during the Barbarian era, when the Roman empire was destroyed. In order to defend themselves from aggressors, the inhabitants looked for high, naturally fortified places.The place where the Mother Church is located at present was probably a bare precipice, rising in isolation at the top of the hill. Clinging to that rock, the small village of Oratino arose, around the present Church of St. Nicola, which was the oldest one.
Tradition holds, and this is partially confirmed by the ruins and reasonable deductions, that the church of St. Nicola was the oldest church and the first center of Oratino. A short distance away, and perhaps also called Oratino, since it was part of the same world , so to speak , was a certainly more populated center farther down the hill which is today called “La Rocca” (The Fortress).
This settlement is perhaps more ancient. Located above the only stone bridge which spanned the Biferno River, it was probably on the Roman road linking the Frentani and Pentri families’ estates.
The ruins of the bridge, called the bridge of the “turrets”, have not been carefully examined.But the words “of the Turrets” in the name suggest that they derive from the remains of pilasters in the shape of towers, which was a characteristic of Roman architecture.
At the top of the great rock formation called “La Rocca” there arose a large fortress, perhaps from the pre-Roman epoch, as could be argued from the megalithic walls, the remains of which can still be seen.
The Benedictine Monastery of St. Giovanni Ottobonis was then built there. The land on which the settlement arose is marshy, and the earthquakes must have created continuous problems, the last one being known as St. Antonino’s earthquake because he left a complete description of it and the complete ruin that it caused.
The settlement was almost swallowed up by disasters, the beautiful monastery with the church disappeared, and the few remaining inhabitants took refuge where the present day Oratino is located; a safer place almost immune to the numerous enemies in the form of earthly natural forces and mankind.
With the commune enlarged by the inhabitants of the destroyed settlement of “La Rocca” and of the village called Casale, in the region of the same name, the population felt the need to build up or enlarge the new church. So the precipice rising straight up at the top of the hill was leveled off with tremendous effort. The present archpriest’s church was built there, awkwardly situated as it is because of uneven terrain, with the bell tower located on some of the rock which was not completely leveled off.
The church of St. Maria of Loreto was built at the same time, and the ancient Byzantine statue of St. Maria, as well as that of St. Giovanni, was taken there from the destroyed Benedictine Monastery of St. Giovanni Ottobonis.
The earthquake which administered the coup de grace to the church of St. Maria of Loreto struck at 11PM between Saturday and Sunday , December 5th , 1456. St. Antonino, in the detailed description he made of the earthquake, lists among the towns destroyed “Lo Ratino”. The ancient “Lo Ratino” was composed of three inhabited centers, one in the “La Rocca” area, which was certainly the most important and perhaps of pre -Roman origin. The name referring to the monastery remained in use until the eighteenth century, mostly among the clergy of Oratino. The second center was where Oratino is today. The third and least important was in the Casale area.
LA ROCCA - THE FORTRESS
On the slopes of the massive stone formation, below Oratino and above the Biferno river, lay the second town. Nothing remains of its walls, just an enormous quantity of broken bricks, which are also found further down the hillside. Among the ruins of the church there can still be seen the door posts, a fountain for holy water, and at the top of the rock, the ruins of a large tower, which was part of a fortress that was built there. The tower was probably the central structure, with the door of the fortress about halfway up the massive rock, as can be judged by the ruins. A staircase cut into the rock can still be seen.
At the top are ruins of pre-Roman walls, with 25 blocks of stone remaining, the largest being 1.7 meters long. No date is carved on the tower, which certainly was rebuilt during medieval times. On the door can be seen a sort of coat of arms carved into the stone. A figure in the shape of a half moon or a sickle is carved inside a circle, with other details that defy explanation.
Some people said the tower had been built for signaling purposes. This is unlikely, since towers of this kind were built in a series, one visible to the other; and since they were built in descending fashion, on a narrow horizon, there was no one with whom to communicate. A legend told in all the surrounding towns speaks of treasure hidden in the rock, a she goat with seven gold kids. Many have believed this story, and holes have been made at several points in the tower. No excavations have been systematically performed to find objects of antiquity and treasure. On the facing promontory, the statue of Minerva, now admired in the Imperial museum of Vienna, was found. It is possible that antiquities of great value can also be found here.