The distinction between legends, folk tales and ghost stories is a fine one. Perhaps a key distinction is that ghost stories don’t normally have quite the same fantastical, supernatural elements characteristic of legends and folk tales. Anyway, here are a few stories involving ghosts and apparitions that have been handed down over the years…
Restless apparitions in the ruins
There was a time when rich aristocrats liked to have perverted entertainments at court attended by young virgin slave girls. One of the worst culprits was Giovan Gasparo Malaspina, lord of the castle of Treschietto, who sexually abused and violated young women and then killed them in strange sacrificial rites. The Malaspinas feature in two similar episodes: Francesco Malaspina features in a story involving a young woman from Mulazzo who committed suicide to escape his abuse, whilst it’s said of the Marquis Malaspina di Iera that from the chapel of San Biagio one could hear the cries of his victims who were killed and thrown into a pit full of skeletons.
Legend tells us that the pure souls of all these girls, abused and sacrificed, still roam today in the castles and large buildings where they met their violent end. Their only chance of redemption is to relate without ceasing their story of abuse and the untimely end they suffered at the hands of the nobility.
The ghost of the Marquis of Fosdinovo’s daughter
The most famous Lunigiana story involves the castle of Fosdinovo and Bianca Maria Aloisia Malaspina. Bianca was the daughter of Marquis Giacomo Malaspina and Olivia Grimaldi, who ruled all the local area. She had fallen in love with a mild mannered young groom whom she often had occasion to meet in the court and in the stables of the castle. The young man was not indifferent to the charm of the girl; indeed he gave her bouquets of flowers every day and together they swore eternal love. They also met in secret thanks to the girl’s nurse, to whom Bianca had confided all the love she felt for the young stable boy.
When Bianca’s parents heard of the connection they were aghast at the prospect of their beloved daughter marrying beneath her and causing scandal. The two lovers, knowing that their love contravened the established conventions of the time, decided to flee together as soon as the girl had turned sixteen. The girl’s birthday party was a source of excitement for the community and the whole town turned up to admire her beauty. Among the guests, she particularly attracted the attention of a young man, the son of a duke from the Po Valley, but Bianca only had eyes for the young stable boy. Unfortunately, someone, perhaps a servant, betrayed the two young lovers and when the father learned of his daughter’s intentions, he threatened to lock her up on bread and water in the dungeons of the castle.
Faced with their daughter’s rebelliousness her parents took drastic action: the girl was transferred to a convent and the young man removed from the country. But Bianca didn’t want to give up her love, so she refused to take her vows and in consequence was sent back to the castle, locked up in a dungeon and tortured. Despite all, the girl refused to change her mind and so to avoid any kind of scandal, in 1636 her father had her bricked up alive in a cell of the castle, where the only link she had with the outside world was a trap door in the ceiling from which food and drinks were dropped daily.
Isolated from the rest of the world, in a cell without doors and windows, her only company was that of a dog and a boar, symbols respectively of loyalty to her beloved and her rebellious soul. After a few years of hardship Bianca died, but still today it is said that on nights when the full moon shines, her spirit wanders around the castle clothed in a white dress and revealing shoulder length hair. In confirmation of the veracity of the story, during excavations carried out to renovate the basement of the castle, bones were found in a secret room, most likely belonging to a girl and two animals.
The legend of the ghost of the Marquis’s daughter attracts the attention of many people every year: periodically television producers and scholars of paranormal phenomena visit the castle in search of a scoop. They are particularly interested in a white image in one of the rooms which seems to represent a female figure accompanied by a dog and a boar, and in a film where a dark figure seems to cross the room from wall to wall as if it were suspended by the wind.
The woman who died twice
A strange story circulates in Malgrate among the inhabitants of the village. Its central character is a peasant woman, who seems to have died twice. The woman, while she was eating alone in her house, choked on some food that she couldn’t swallow. When members of the family returned home, they realized that there was nothing that could be done for her, so they decided to lay her in a wooden coffin and then take it to the village’s burial ground in readiness for the funeral.
The next day, when they returned to the cemetery, they noticed that the lid of the coffin had been forced, but was not completely open. Frightened, the family members gingerly removed the coffin lid only to encounter a terrifying sight. They found the woman with her eyes wide open and sporting bloodied hands. Apparently the woman had managed to expel the food and regain consciousness. Finding herself in the coffin she had tried to free herself but unfortunately she could not and so she died of a broken heart.
It is said that the poor woman is still wandering around the cemetery with her hands raised as if trying to open a coffin.
In Monti there is a tale of witches who gathered around an oak called “Morian”. The witches met at night and then danced around the oak. Among locals, not many know exactly where the big tree is, and the few who do know keep the location a secret and spend their nights as far away as possible. In addition to witches, there were also spiteful goblins, who played tricks on men and animals.
Not far from this area, in the Taverone valley, was the city of Venelia, destroyed by the Saracens. In recent excavations, urns have been found, but according to tradition they are hidden treasures that the devil turned to ashes.
Near Pontremoli, there is a mysterious bridge called “The bridge of noises” that crosses a very deep channel. According to the legend, a demon was thrown from the bridge. It is said that from time to time, the sounds of the slamming of chains against the rocks are heard coming from below. Some claim that the man had tried to approach a treasure that was guarded by the devil near a fortress, on a cone-shaped mountain locally called Zucchetto.
In the Terrarossa area, it is claimed that a farmer intent on digging a well, found the skeleton of a gigantic being over two metres high. Also it is said that in the environs of Masero, a resident found a golden hen with a dozen chicks whilst he was demolishing a wall