St Agatha and Motor Cycling in Inferno

Procession of female saints leaving Classis (bottom left) behind the Three Kings heading to the Virgin Mary (bottom right between four angels). Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (pic. Wikipedia)

Today, I have revised February 5th’s entry on Saint Agatha (link below), whose Feast Day it was. My entry seemed quite comprehensive enough, but I decided to get an early image of Agatha because she is a martyr whose cult spread early on, and therefore, likely to be genuine.

As I started to track down her image I was led, with some joy, to one of the most amazing Churches in the wonderful town of Ravenna, a place I visited with some wonderment when working as an archaeologist at Ferrara, in Emilia-Romagna. As I found the picture of the wall upon which St Agatha appeared, I had to find out which one of the 22 female Saints was St. Agatha. I discovered a pretty comprehensive description and as I looked at it, I found the record was made by, or involved, Professor Bryan Ward-Perkins who was the Director of the site my friends and I worked on in Ferrara!

Medieval Excavation in Ferrara. The author is in the centre of the photo,

I’m guessing Bryan suggested we visit Ravenna on one of our trips to the beach at Rimini. Ravenna was just awesome because the City became the capital of the Roman Empire in the west for a while after Rome fell, then part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, then of the Byzantine Empire. And so, it was provided with some of the great glories of 5th and 6th Century Architecture. — the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neronian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe and spanned the period when the Arian heresy was in full flow. Its hard to overestimate the impact on a young British archaeologist of seeing 5th Century buildings with roofs and astonishingly detailed mosaics still intact. Please visit!

Detail showing the first four female saints behind the Three Kings. Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo wikipedia

Bryan Ward-Perkins description says All the saints are haloed, bear crowns and are dressed in elaborate court dress. Unlike the men …., all have essentially the same youthful features. The only saint with a distinguishing attribute is Agnes, who is accompanied by a lamb ‘ St Agatha, the list says, is the Saint next to Agnes with her lamb; the third in precedent.

St Agatha
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo wikipedia

Enough of the sublime! Now for the ridiculous. Whether on this visit or another, we decided to have a day at the beach at Rimini. After the day on the beach a collective decision to stay over was made so we could go to one of the big clubs (did we call them discos?) probably to dance to ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’.

Archaeologists, Italian and English, on the beach at Rimini

However, the hotels were all full up and so I decided, late at night to go back to Ferrara, on my own on my 175 cc Yamaha motor bike.

My Yamaha 175cc bike looked something like this but was red. A thing of underpowered beauty.

Thing was, I had started the day in Ferrara in the blazing Italian summer heat and hopped onto my bike dressed in shorts and t-shirt. Ferrara was 77 miles away (says google). One hour into the trip back I was getting pretty cold, and really not enjoying driving through the lonely countryside. So I decided to pull off the main road to see if I could find a rural hostelry to stay the rest of the night.

Now, I remember this very vividly – the only likely road I could find was signposted to ‘Inferno’. I shrugged my shoulders, wondering what that was about, and drove towards it on a very deserted road. Eventually, I came to a sign which told me I was about to enter ‘Inferno’.

There was something very surreal about the situation and my state of frozen mind and my courage failed me! I was not going to stay in a ‘motel’ in a place called ‘inferno’! I had seen too many horror films. So, I turned round and continued my cold journey to Ferrara.

Whenever I tell this story, I have some doubt about whether I really saw a place called ‘Inferno’ But I have, for the first time, checked Google which tells me that the road off the Rimini to Ferrara road on the way to Bologna goes through somewhere called: Vicolo Inferno, 40026 Imola BO, Italy. I have not heard of any serial killers based there.

Below is the updated page about St Agatha of Sicily who has a most interesting story.

Written in 2023 and updated in 2024

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