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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Spotlight on Trani

Updated: Jan 5

PART 74: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter, but soon, we will switch to spring and fall.

Step 1: As we explore towns in Puglia, we discover some fascinating stories behind what we see. Sometimes, it is a building; other times, it is a piece of art.

This week, we will travel to Trani.

Come with us.

Step 2: Reputation. Our first introduction to Trani was a road trip with some local friends. As we approached the town, the local stories emerged and piqued our interest.

Our Puglian friend recounted the reputation that Trani had in the past in the area of sexuality. According to our local friend, the distinction between gay and straight was more blurred, and Trani was known for being an area of tolerance. "There is even a legend that the fishermen of Trani were very popular with visitors," he added.

Of course, we wanted to know more; in fact, we told our friend to drive us down to the marina so we could see for ourselves! He laughed and said that this is history and Trani was popular when being gay was taboo decades ago.

We sank back in our seats.

But there was a different reason we journeyed to Trani. Our friend promised we would see something that would blow our socks off.

Step 3: The sight. We parked, walked down a street, turned a corner, and looked up.

My breath stopped, my heart missed a beat, and my mouth hung open.

We were gazing at Trani Cathedral.

I don't know what was more beautiful: the Romanesque church, begun in 1099, or its juxtaposition to the sea. The combination of the architecture and the grandeur of nature made it a breathtaking sight.

Step 4: The story. Before entering the church, our friend sat us down to recount the tale of St. Nicholas the Pilgrim, to whom the church is dedicated. I capture this story in my book on Puglia but here I will share some elements.

The intriguing part for me is that Nicholas the Pilgrim was a homeless man with many family and personal problems. He probably suffered from Tourette syndrome, which can compel one to either repeat a word or phrase over and over or result in an uncontrollable twitch.

Misunderstood, persecuted, and beaten, Nicholas was eventually turned out by his family and wandered the roads of Magna Grecia. At a certain point, he decided that he must go to Rome on a pilgrimage, but on the way, Nicholas was persecuted and beaten by some church leaders to the extent that he was bleeding and losing strength. He made it as far as Trani, and then, on the steps of a church previously on that spot, he collapsed. The bishop came out to help him, but Nicholas died in his arms.

Besides the tragic circumstances of his life, Nicholas became known for his lively faith, compassion, empathy, and outspokenness.

Step 5: Why the story is important. The story of Nicholas brought Trani alive for me because the town chose to honor this man, whom others may have seen as a loser, as their patron saint. The church in his honor gives meaning to his life and shows that the citizens of Trani saw greatness where others saw only weakness; they saw that human dignity is not measured by what one may or may not accomplish but rather by the person that one is, by one’s character.

Insights: Visiting Trani helped us understand Puglia in a new way because the church's greatness compared with the humble man it honors reveals something of the character of this land and people.

More next time.

Now on sale for $2.99: Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy

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