A letter written by Antonio Scutellari from Parma to Feliciano da Piacenza

From I Frati Cappuccini, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia 1991, III/2 pp 3786-3789

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

At the end of October 1629, the plague spread through the countryside in addition to striking victims within the city of Parma. Towards the end of April Duke Odoardo and his court departed not, however, without having first appointed overseers to supervise each section of the city. These were joined by zealous religious especially the Capuchins and the Jesuits. When he departed from Parma, the Duke transferred full authority to a Capuchin friar, Romualdo da Parma (Aquilante Ugolini di Castellina) (+ 1677) and made him the representative of the Duke. The Vicar Apostolic, Mons. Mario Antonio, did the same. Thereby, Fr Romualdo became the consoling Angel of the city in those months filled with anguish. Among the few friars who survived, those who deserve to be remembered in addition to Fr Romualdo there was Fr Antonio Scutellari da Parma who, when he was the Guardian in the city, wrote a very important letter to the Minister Provincial outlining the tragic situation and identifying the friars who were outstanding in the sacrifices that they made. In this letter he asked for more help and requested that he be assigned personally to work among those stricken by the plague.
[Parma, 7th May 1630]

7285 Very Reverend Father,[1]

I have written you two letters in the past few days, and hope that this one will reach you, in order to inform you how things are getting worse than ever in hapless Parma. The dreadful situation is spreading so that almost one hundred become infected with the plague each day.

Three have died in the friary. They were Br Gionimo da Casalmaggiore,[2] Father Giovanni da Parma,[3] whom I believe went to heaven immediately, because every day including the day he died, he went to hear the Confessions and distribute Communion to poor people throughout the city although he was very frightened, since nine priests had died from the plague, and only a few remained to do the work. The last one to die was Br Francesco Maria de Imola,[4] who contracted it at the hospital of S. Lazzaro.[5] Now the priest who is the sacristan is vey ill with trouble in his lungs and his body.

The three who died at S. Lazzaro all died within three days after having been there for three weeks. Father Romualdo[6] did not stop giving the Sacraments to the poor people in the city and he soon became ill, as did almost all the Jesuits who were involved in this service.[7] If there is one of the young ones who could come here to help in the kitchen for the love of God, he would fill a great need and help us.

What is more, if there were more priests who were willing to come and give their life for the love of God, as did Father Giunipero da Modena, this would be their opportunity to do so. Father Angelo da Parma[8] along with a cleric from Mantova[9] provided indefatigable assistance to our brothers who had been stricken by the plague. Father Angelo also went throughout the city doing what had been done by Father Romualdo and Father Giovanni.

7286 Father Provincial I beg of you to exercise your paternal care to send some one to replace me and I promise solemnly that I will do what Father Romualdo was doing and what father Giovanni had done, since in the twenty-eight years of religious life I have done nothing in the service of God, and let this be said in truth, and to my shame, but now I will willingly undergo death in order to serve God and to afford these poor people hope in the Lord by doing so. May the Lord have mercy on my sinfulness.

Here we have no Duke, no officials, no finance and things are going from bad to worse. 1700 died in the month of April. Without doubt this number could reach 2000 not counting those who will die this month.[10] The people exclaim that the scourge will not cease unless the bishop is recalled.[11] Now we are all prepared to die. Ask God to help us and this poor city. Let us depart in the same way that all these friars departed. We offer you our respect and ask God to grant you all his favours.

Parma 7th May 1630

Your most paternal Reverence.

Your most devoted servant and son in the Lord
Fr Antonio da Parma, unworthy Capuchin.[12]

  1. Father Feliciano Lampugnani da Piacenza (+ 1644) was Provincial and he lived in Bologna. Cf Felice da Mareto, Tavole dei capitoli generali. Parma 1940, 136s.
  2. Girolamo Zanani da Casalmaggiore.
  3. Giovanni da Cassoli da Parma.
  4. Francesco Mazzini da Imola.
  5. In a decree by the Sacred Congregation on 17th April 1630 three Capuchin priests were assigned to the hospital at S. Lazzaro. It also gave them the rules that were to be followed in the hospital. They were to be involved in all the running of the hospital including the supply of medicine, the administration of the Sacraments was assigned to a Theatine priest. Since those who died in the city were also taken to the hospital cemetery the Capuchins had to take care of them and always have fifty graves ready. Cf. Memorie riguardanti li padri cappuccino ospitalieri nell’Ospitale della Misericordia di Parma dall’ anno 1630 al 1767, p. 15 (ms. In Apc fi Parma: A. VI 32).
  6. Romualdo Ugolini Castellina da Parma was a lecturer at Ferrara, Parma and a preacher in Bologna, Provincial, Definitor General in 1656 and the ambassador of Duke Ramuccio II. Cf., Felice da Mareto, Nuova informazione cit., 4.
  7. Together with the Capuchins the Jesuits were the ones who suffered the most losses. Thirty–two of them died of the plague in which twenty-two Capuchins died.
  8. Angelo Bravi da Parma.
  9. The cleric was Br Michelangelo dei marchesi Rangoni da Mantova.
  10. The plague of 1629-31 reduced the population of Parma from 46,000 to less than 29,000. Cf., T. Bazzi – U. Bernassi, Storia di Parma, Parma 1908, 215.
  11. The bishop was Pompeo Cornazzani, a Cistercian, who was elected in 1515 and died in 1647. He was not there because the control of the Diocese was being carried out by a Vicar Apostolic, who functioned from 14th July 1629. He was Mario Antonini. Cf. G.M. Allodi, Serie cronologigca dei vescovi di Parma, II, Parma 1856, 178-219.
  12. Fr Antonio was guardian, definitor and vicar provincial (1632), general commissioner in the province of Picena; he died at Modena on 29 April 1642.