Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Story of Crivòliu, The

We have only a few legends of the saints to mention. Undoubtedly a large number are current among the people (Busk, pp. 196, 202, 203, 213-228, gives a good many), but they do not differ materially from the literary versions circulated by the Church. Those which we shall cite are purely popular and belong to the great mediæval legend-cycle.

               The first is the legend of "Gregory on the Stone," which was so popular in the mediæval epics. There are several Italian versions, but we select as the most complete the one in Gonzenbach, No. 85, called:


ONCE upon a time there was a brother and sister who had neither father nor mother, and lived alone together. They loved each other so much that they committed a sin which they should not have committed. When the time came the sister gave birth to a boy, which the brother had secretly baptized. Then he burnt into his shoulders a cross, with these words: "Crivòliu, who is baptized; son of a brother and sister." After the child was thus marked, he put it in a little box and threw it into the sea.

               Now it happened that a fisherman had just gone out to fish, and saw the box floating on the waves. "A ship must have sunk somewhere," he thought. "I will get the box, perhaps there is something useful in it." So he rowed after it and got it. When he opened it and saw the little child in it, he had pity on the innocent child, took it home to his wife, and said: "My dear wife, our youngest child is already old enough to wean; nurse in its place this poor innocent child." So his wife took little Crivòliu and nursed him, and loved him as though he were her own child. The boy grew and thrived and became every day larger and stronger.

               The fisherman's sons, however, were jealous because their parents loved the little foundling as well as them, and when they played with Crivòliu and quarrelled, they called him a "foundling." The boy's heart was saddened by this and he went to his foster-parents and said: "Dear parents, tell me, am I truly not your son?" The fisherman's wife said: "How should you not be my son? Have I not nursed you when you were a baby?" The fisherman forbade his children very strictly to call little Crivòliu a "foundling."

               When the child was larger, the fisherman sent him to school with his sons. The children, when they were out of their father's hearing, began again to mock little Crivòliu and to call him "foundling," and the other children in the school did the same. Then Crivòliu went again to his foster-parents and asked them if he was not their son. They persuaded him out of it, however, and put him off until he was fourteen. Then he could no longer stand being called "foundling," and went to the fisherman and his wife, and said: "Dear parents, I entreat you to tell me whether I am your child or not." Then the fisherman told him how he had found him and what was written on his shoulders. "Then I will go forth, and do penance for the sins of my parents," said Crivòliu. The fisherman's wife wept and lamented and would not let him go; but Crivòliu would not be detained and wandered out into the wide world.

               After he had wandered about a long time, he came one day to a lonely place where there was only an inn. He asked the hostess: "Tell me, good woman, is there a cave near by, to which you alone know the entrance?" She answered: "Yes, my handsome youth, I know such a cave and will take you to it willingly." Then Crivòliu took two grani's worth of bread and a little pitcher of water with him and had the hostess show him the cave. It was some distance from the inn, and the entrance was so covered with thorns and bushes that he could scarcely penetrate into the cave. He sent the hostess back, crept into the cave, put the bread and water on the ground, knelt with folded arms, and so did penance for the sins of his parents.

               Many, many years passed, I know not how many, but so many, that his knees took root and he grew fast to the ground.

               Now it happened that the Pope died at Rome, and a new one was to be chosen. The cardinals all assembled, and a white dove was let loose: for he on whom it should alight was to be Pope. The white dove made several circles in the air, but alighted on no one. Then all the archbishops and bishops were summoned, and the dove was again let loose, but it did not settle on any one. Then all the priests and monks and hermits were collected, but the white dove would not choose any of them. The people were in great despair, and the cardinals had to wander forth and search the whole country to see whether another hermit was yet to be found, and a crowd of people accompanied them.

               At last they came to the inn in the lonely neighborhood, and asked the hostess whether she knew of any hermit or penitent who was yet unknown to the world. The hostess answered: "Many years ago a sorrowful youth came here and made me conduct him to a cave to do penance. He is surely dead long ago, for he took with him only two grani's worth of bread and a pitcher of water." The cardinals said: "We will look, however, and see whether he is still alive; take us to him." Then the hostess conducted them to the cave; the entrance was scarcely to be recognized, so overgrown was it with brambles, and before they could enter the attendants had to cut away the brambles and bushes with axes. After they had forced their way in, they saw Crivòliu kneeling in the cave, with crossed arms, and his beard had grown so long that it touched the ground, and before him lay the bread, and by it the pitcher of water; for in all those years he had not eaten or drunken. When they let the white dove loose now, it flew about in a circle for a moment and then alighted on the head of the penitent. Then the cardinals perceived that he was a saint, and begged him to come with them and be their Pope. As they were going to raise him up, they noticed that his knees had grown fast, and they had to cut the roots. Then they took him to Rome with them and he was made Pope.

               Now it happened that at the same time the sister said to her brother: "Dear brother, when we were young, we committed a sin that we have not yet confessed, for the Pope alone can absolve us from it. Let us go, then, to Rome, before death overtakes us, and confess there our sin." So they started on their journey to Rome, and when they arrived there they entered the church where the Pope sat in the confessional.

               When they had confessed in a loud voice, for one always confesses openly to the Pope, the Pope said: "Behold, I am your son, for on my shoulder is the mark you speak of. I have done penance many years for your sin, until it has been forgiven you. I absolve you, therefore, from your sin, and you shall stay with me and live in comfort." So they remained with him, and when their time came, the Lord called them all three to his kingdom. [1]

*  *  *  *  *

               An important episode of the original legend is omitted in the above version, but preserved in those in Pitrè (No. 117) and Knust (No. 7). The youth after discovering his origin sets out on his wanderings and comes by chance to the country where his mother is living. They meet and, not knowing their relation, marry. In the Sicilian story this relationship is disclosed the day of the marriage by the son showing his mother the box in which he was exposed as a child. In the version of Knust (from Leghorn), the child leaves his foster-father and goes in search of his parents. He encounters them without knowing it of course, and they, supposing him to be a beggar boy, give him shelter and care for him until he has grown up. Then he marries his mother, who recognizes him by a lock of red hair. At the conclusion of the story, after the Pope has heard the confession of his parents he reveals himself, they all three embrace, and die thus united. The story adds, "their tomb is still preserved in St. Peter's at Rome."

               Another Pope, Silvester I, is the subject of a legend in Pitrè (No. 118) which contains the well-known myth of Constantine's leprosy healed by his baptism at the hands of St. Silvester.


[1] Crivòliu is a corruption of Gregoriu, Gregory, and the legend is, as Köhler says, a peculiar transformation of the well-known legend of "Gregory on the Stone." For the legend in general, see A. D'Ancona's Introduction to the Leggenda di Vergogna e la Leggenda di Giuda, Bologna, 1869, and F. Lippold, Ueber die Quelle des Gregorius Hartmann's von Aue, Leipzig, 1869, p. 50 et seq. See also Pitrè's notes to No. 117. An example of this class of stories from Cyprus may be found in the Jahrb. XI. p. 357.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of Crivòliu, The
Tale Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas
Book Title: Italian Popular Tales
Book Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas Frederick
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin and Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1885
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: ATU 931: Oedipus

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