Via Francigena – Montefiascone and a legend

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St Flavians Montefiascone

We were on the Via francigena and had arrived in the small Italian city of Montefiascone, built on an old volcanic ridge, a wonderful place to rest after the walk from Bolsena.

We walked up the main road to a secondary winding road that led to the very top of the volcanic rim and to the remains of the Rocca de Papes, the Papal Palace.

The view from the ramparts was magnificent. I could just see San Lorenzo Nuevo on the far shores of Lake Bolsena. There was an antiques market in the Papal Palace where dealers from around the region had gathered to sell and trade their wares.

Around the other side of the Papal Palace was a peaceful park with a small chapel. In 1215 Pope Innocent III commissioned the chapel because he felt that the clergy of Montefiascone required a contemplative place near the palace.

Just outside the chapel, through a gap in the trees, was a superb view to the south. Viterbo, our next stop lay sprawled out across the foothills of the Cimini Mountains.

Looking at the terrain ahead, we decided to take the bus tomorrow so that we could spend the day exploring historic Viterbo rather than walking to it.

From the park we walked down Via Cavour making way for occasional cars and saw signs advertising a wine named Est! I had read of this wine before and wanted to sample it. There was a small wine shop lined with shelves of wine so I asked the shopkeeper about the origin of the name Est! The elegantly dressed woman was only too pleased to share the tale, which she must have told a thousand times before.

THE STORY: Johannes Defuk, an Austrian abbot from a noble family was traveling to Rome with his manservant Martino. Johannes was on his way to Rome to take up a position in the Pope’s court and was enjoying the epicurean delights of the journey. It was Martino’s job to ride a day ahead and find accommodations with the best wines.

When Martino found an inn which served excellent wine he would write “Est!” above the door to indicate such a place. Roughly translated “Est!” means “Here it is!”

Martino reached Montefiascone and began his search. Soon enough he found one inn which served a superb wine and was so impressed with the quality of the wine that he wrote “Est! Est! Est!” above the doorway. Johannes arrived the following day, found the inn and fully agreed with Martino’s estimation of the wine.

Legend states that Johannes Defuk did not continue to Rome, but remained at Montefiascone enjoying the wine for the rest of his life. He died in Montefiascone and the town now celebrates his sojourn there every September by pouring a ceremonial barrel of “Est! Est! Est!” over his grave in his honour. I bought a bottle of Est! and put it in my daypack.

We continued down Via Cavour, left the walled town and followed the road down to St. Flavian’s Church, an austere, grey-stoned basilica. But what an interesting interior.

We quietly entered through the side door and stood at the back of the church while mass was in progress. Italians loved singing and did the hymns great credit. After mass had finished we visited the chapel dedicated to Abbot Defuk and saw his headstone. Did they really empty a barrel of wine over his headstone every year?

We left St. Flavian’s church and walked to the bus stop just outside the city gates. Yes, being foot travelers, we had decided to take public transport to Viterbo to maximize our time there.

Foot travelers can do this, as they can set their own pace, and thus get to see and visit the places they want to.

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