Sunday 24 January 2021


If you have ever come to Casperia and visited for more than a couple of days you have likely discovered our beautiful hiking trails and other gorgeous routes for walks in the country. Right outside Casperia's back door, the Porta Reatina is Via Santa Maria which, if you follow it, will not only take you to the hamlet of Santa Maria in Legarano with its beautiful romanesque church built atop ancient Roman Villa ruins, but also connects to a number of other interesting walking routes in the countryside below Casperia. This road is actually the original road that connected Aspra (Casperia since 1947) with Rieti to the east and and Terni to the west. 

Crossroads shrine with directions to Terni on left and Rieti on right.

The picture above shows a fork in this ancient road. If you look carefully on either side of the shrine's arch you can see a terracotta panel. The one on the left, reads TERNI and the one on the right reads REATE 1632, the date the crossroads shrine was restored.

But before you reach this historic crossroads, just a five minutes walk from Casperia's back gate, you will come across this roadside fountain with its very interesting little shrine on top which houses a beautiful fresco.

The fresco is so faded and damaged that it is hard to make out who the figures are. You need a day with perfect light to be able to make out the figures. On the left stands a woman, while on the right sits a male figure his right hand raised in a gesture that seems more of an admonishment than a blessing. 

Every time I passed by I was struck by the beauty of the fountain and how sad it was to see that fresco cracked and fading. Could nothing be done? I wondered how much it would cost to repair the shrine and restore the enigmatic fresco.

It took a while before I learned the real name of the fountain and the identity of the figures represented in the ruined fresco. For years I heard some of our UK friends refer to it, rather irreverently, as the Fountain of Our Lady of the Salame. You may wonder why they referred to it that way. But if you look closely at the picture below, you can see a dark object suspended by a rope from a tree branch. It looks very much like a salame hung up to dry. But what is it really?

In reality, what looks to the untrained and irreverent eye like a salame is in fact a pulley for a rope suspending a bucket used to draw water from a well... because what we are seeing is actually Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. The scene is described in the fourth chapter of the ✚Gospel according to Saint John in verses 4 to 26. The actual name of the fountain is Fontana della Samaritana.

Here follows a translation of an explanation of the well and the fresco according to Casperia historian and archivist, Lorenzo Capanna:

The “Fontana della Samaritana” is called Fonte Meritana by the Aspresi. Thirteenth-century sources in the Municipal Historical Archive of Casperia names the fountain as "Fonte d’Aspra”. A parchment dated 8 December 1279 tells that the representatives of the castles of Aspra and Caprignano gathered on the border of the territories of the two communities "in loco qui dicitur supra source Aspre ", or "in the place called Sopra la fonte di Aspra ", in order to establish the rules concerning the purchase and sale of land.

A convincing clue concerning the correspondence between the medieval "Fonte d'Aspra" and the current Fonte Samaritana comes from the Statutes of Aspra, promulgated in the year 1397: Here the "Fonte d'Aspra" is cited together with the Fonte Vecchia (now disappeared) and the Fonte Nova (recently restored) as fountains near the town of Aspra to be kept in complete efficiency.

Certainly, the fountain, over the centuries, has undergone changes as regards the structure: for example, up until a few decades ago, it was flanked by an ancient laundry, which was later incorporated into a structure now used as a storehouse.

The fresco, housed in a small shrine that today surmounts the two arches of the fountain and depicts the Gospel episode of the Samaritan woman at the well, is attributed by the art historian Dr. Giuseppe Cassio of the Superintendence of Archeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the provinces of Frosinone, Latina and Rieti, to the Verona-born Torresani brothers, Lorenzo Torresani (d. circa 1564) and Bartolomeo di Cristoforo Torresani (d. circa 1567), Italian painters of the sixteenth century, mainly active in Sabina. There is documentation to attest to the presence of the Torresani in Aspra between 1560 and 1561, the year in which they made various works in the convent complex of Santa Maria in Legarano, including the monumental "Last Judgment” and the “Annunciation”, and some frescoes in the Montefiolo convent. The placement of the fresco, on a rural fountain, is rare in Sabina.

Photo of Sta. Maria in Legarano's Last Judgement courtesy of Enrico Galantini 

According to the Gospel account, Jesus had to cross Samaria on his way from Judea to Galilee. “So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there.” Stopping by the well to rest, Jesus saw a Samaritan woman coming to draw water and he asked her for a drink. The Samaritan woman, having recognized him as a Jew, was surprised and asked him why a Jew would address a Samaritan woman—the Samaritans were not well regarded by the Jews. To which Jesus offered the woman, in return, " water”, thanks to which “...whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” Jesus then asked the Samaritan woman: “Go, call your husband, and come here.”. When the woman answered that she had no husband, Jesus replied: “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” Amazed by the knowledge that Jesus showed about her life, the Samaritan woman returned to the city announcing that she had met perhaps the Messiah. Many Samaritans came to him and, the Evangelist says, “…many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman [...] they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word.”

The fountain is located in via Santa Maria, formerly part of the main route to reach the cities of Rieti and Terni, often travelled by foreigners. The fresco of the Samaritan woman could therefore have a welcoming value towards the stranger just as Christ offered the Good News even to those who were not considered pure Jews, like the Samaritans.

The great news is that finally the Pro Loco di Casperia Association is currently soliciting funds to be donated to the Municipality of Casperia in order to restore the mural painting depicting Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well on the Fontana della Samaritana. 

The spring that feeds the fountain, located on the ancient road connecting Casperia to Terni, was an important water resource and point of contention between the rival hill towns of Aspra (present day Casperia) and Caprignano, which makes the profound religious message of the fountain’s mural painting all the more interesting.

The mural painting is attributed to an artist of the Torresani brothers’ circle. Bartolomeo and Lorenzo Torresani were two 16th century Italian painters born in Verona and mainly active in Sabina. 

Fresco of the Annunciation by the Torresani brothers. Photo courtesy of L. Capanna

The Torresani Brothers are credited with the painting of the frescos of the Last Judgement and the Annunciation in the nearby Church of Santa Maria in Legarano, Aspra’s parish church until 1409. Alessandro Torresani, Lorenzo’s son, is credited with the execution of the fresco of the Marriage of the Virgin in the same church.

It is estimated that it will cost about €7000 to repair the shrine and restore the fresco of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at Fonte della Samaritana. 
Currently, donations are being accepted online at to raise this money and restore this precious piece of our town's history. 
If every visitor to Casperia over the past couple of decades even donated 10, 20 or 50 apiece, we could easily raise a significant portion of the necessary funds. Of course, if you can and want to contribute more, that would be wonderful. I hope everyone who reads this story will be inspired to make a contribution to help save this important piece of our local history.

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