This statue of the lady is in her Calinzana chapel and leads processions round the village twice a year.
St Restitude is the patron saint of Calinzana, but rich as her story is, it is a bit fuzzy. That's hardly surprising given that this young virgin was decapitated in AD 303, though some say in 225.
She was born in Corsica and the grand-daughter of an ex-centurion of the Praetorian fleet of Ravenna. Called Caius Caninus Germanus and he had set himself up in Lurinum. He commanded a cohort recruited in the region of Olmia (Calinzana). Thus she was born into a pagan family, but became a Christian convert as a girl. She was very quickly denounced to Pyrrhus, the commander of Corsica and Sardinia.
Everything was tried to get her to renounce her faith: beating with a pizzle (bull's penis), stoning and finally being thrown into a furnace, but she wouldn't burn! She survived having her skin gouged with iron combs and her scars bled milk, not blood. The effect of this was the conversion of several of the torturing soldiers.
Next they tried to drown her at sea, but she was saved by a hunk of floating cork that brought her ashore, leaving her attackers to drown. In the end there was nothing left but to decapitate her - together with five other martyrs: Veranus, Dominisius, Parthée, Prathénopée and Pargoire on May 21 in whatever the year was.
A fragment of a C13 fresco showing St Restitude and her five companions with Calvi's citadel.
In yet another legend, the six martyrs picked up their heads and went off to Mara (near the present day Calvi airport), whence that night Christians came and collected their bodies to bury them at Loru in Olmia. Her sarcophagus in Carrera marble was found behind the altar of the Chapel of St Restitude on the edge of Calinzana in 1951, together with the remains of six people, and it can be seen in the vaults behind two lots of iron grilles.
The relics of St Restitude and her companions Veranus, Dominisius, Parthée, Prathénopée and Pargoire. They, together with her statue, have pride of place in the annual procession.
If the chapel is locked, you collect the key from the tobacconists in the village (behind the Casazza). It's well worth visiting this ancient site (and leaving a piece of identity as a guarantee of the key's safe return). The site is very peaceful, despite the forgoing. Even after her death several extravagant tales attach to her remains that were washed up amazingly on a beach near Calvi.
The relics were put in the sarcophagus in the C4 say some, the C6 say others. Many miracles were attributed to the shrine of the saint and thus the land surrounding became a burial ground so souls could be near to her. By the C16 there arose doubt about the presence of the relics and a bishop of the time chipped off a corner of the sarcophagus so he could slip his hand inside to verify. But oh dear, on withdrawing his hand he saw that it had become totally desiccated! It was he therefore who promised that the tomb would henceforth be protected.
The chapel of St Restitude is set in an olive grove; an excellent place for contemplation or picnics - or both.
The chapel is about half a mile from the village on the road to Zilia. It was not originally intended to be there, but when the building started, each night the materials were transported mysteriously to the present site (u Loru). One night people sat up to watch and saw two magnificent white oxen pulling a cart filled with stones. Another legend has it that it was the sarcophagus that they were transporting.
The Chapel of St Resitutde, Calinzana, by Marie Lestrade
St Restitude was the origin of the village miracle that rid the village of Black Death, now commemorated each 5th of August. Her saint's day, though is 21 May, with a procession round the village lanes by candle light and many of the houses and walls are decorated with flowers and garlands. the Confrères lead the procession and chant. There is also a procession involving her on Easter Monday when the confrèries take her from her chapel to the parish church of St Blaise and back. Some traditions have fallen away, such as the distribution of free milk by the shepherds on May 21, but there is still the annual picnic in the chapel grounds.
This of course has its religious significance, but it is a manifestation of Corsican culture. The rituals associated with the saint are also a way of recognising the solidarity of the village residents - a manifestation of community. The confrèrie which leads the procession also provides a focus and a connection between life today and the village heritage. There were pagan processions in villages throughout Europe to honour and to protect. here in Calinzana, many houses are decorated and the streets littered with rose petals.
The St Restitude bénitier (French) or pila (Corsican) - a holy water basin by a Calvi sculptor in 1514; it may have earlier served as a font.
The saint is claimed by many people in the Balagne and should probably be as venerated by Calvi as anywhere else, given her connections with the place, but it's the Calinzaninchi who are the most fervent claimants. St Restitude is venerated for many other miraculous happenings, like the repulse of the Genoese by the villagers in 1732. There were of course 1 500 Calinzana patriots, but they faced odds of 8 000 and even with boiling oil, beehives, rampaging bulls and other weapons launched by the villagers, it was an unlikely victory.
This is a martyr's resting place, after all!
This poor old thing sleeps high on the wall over the chapel door.
If you want any more pointers to enjoying a visit to Calinzana, you could do worse than asking us. If you'd like to visit more of Corsica, then go to Corsica Isula - a website with a vast coverage of all aspects of Corsica.
calinzana.corsica-isula.com © 2005 William Keyser