134. Government of Norcia.


It is curious that an institution should exist in the Papal territories, founded upon an anti-clerical feeling, not less inveterate than that of the bigotted Quakers, who always say steeple-house instead of 252church. The little town of Norcia had the privilege of making its own laws and chasing its own magistrates, and so jealous were the people of all priests, that in order to prevent the possibility of any one obtaining authority among them, one of their laws was, that all men who could read and write, should be incapable of bearing a share in their government. Their magistracy therefore, which consisted of four persons, were called, Gli quatre Illiterati, the four illiterates,.. and as a necessary consequence of this singular institution, all causes were examined without writings, and decided orally.

I know not when this brutalizing system was established, nor what circumstances occasioned it. It would be interesting to trace its history;…. a Jack Cade establishing a permanent order of things is a phenomenon, of which there is no other instance. The fact is mentioned in a volume of letters concerning the 253state of Italy, in 1687, written as a supplement to Gilbert Burnet’s Travels, p. 189. And as it is noticed by Busching also, as a still-existing custom, it was probably not abrogated till the general wreck of all the institutions in Italy under Buonaparte’s tyranny.

This strange institution is the more remarkable, because Norcia is the birthplace of St. Benedict, one of the most eminent of the Romish Church, from whose institution almost all the Apostles of the North of Europe proceeded.


Icon for the Public Domain licence

This work (Omniana by Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge) is free of known copyright restrictions.

Share This Book