Ancient Ties: Benevento Cardinal Astorgio Agnesi

Giovanni de Nicastro, Patrician of Benevento, Archdeacon of the Metropolitan in “Description of Trajan’s arch”1723 wrote: “This city shines in the same way for the nobility of its families, which flourishes in quality and number. Of quality because there are the largest families in the Kingdom of Naples, including the Great of Spain. In number because the aforementioned families are 79”.

The consultation of ancient local texts, and especially of the manuscript of Beneventan noble families by the famous Mario Della Vipera from 1632, helped me identify a Beneventan family of noble lineage, now extinct, of which a heraldic coat of arms engraved on a boulder of the bell tower and the Duomo.

Before I discover it, I remember what the lawyer wrote in this regard. Enrico Isernia, in his Istoria di Benevento (1883, volume II): “Some of these families, though extinct for centuries, are still known to have given their names to some districts of the city and to some large estates that make up the Benevento countryside, such as the families: Ruffina, Aulivola, Fragola and Mascambruno. The Patriciat of Benevento, with the exception of some families of ancient Roman nobility, was born and flourished during the long period of Lombard rule, but of the ancient families whose nobility rose to the Lombard era, only the Vipera and Morra, who’s on the way. “.

The love for my hometown and the sharp desire to contribute, albeit modestly, to enrich the roots of our culture, has pushed me to, with the help of our drone, reveal what lies behind an old sign (Photo), where two swords with pointed points downwards and with teeth around the field have been engraved in a stone block in the Cathedral’s bell cell for centuries.

I want to tell you the story of an archbishop and cardinal of the Benevento chair attached to the family Agnes.

The manuscript of Mons. Della Vipera well translated and interpreted by dr. Mario Chiavassa tells us in his book published in 1960, which is crucial for knowing the memory of the Agnesi family, that: “this noble house has its origins in Naples, where it came on the occasion of being promoted to the Archbishopric of Benevento, Astorgio Agnesi who deserved to be promoted to the bishopric of the garden “.

A further study shows that this family was of Norman origin and owned estates since the time of Charles I of Anjou (1226 – 1285).

A Mignanello was captain of Queen Giovanna I, a Giacomo was a knight at the court of Robert of Anjou, a Lancelot was governor of Gaeta. From the branch called Pomarici, which got its name from the county of the same name, Cardinal Astorgio (1391 – 1451) came out also called «sword in the face», from the two swords depicted in its coat of arms.

This heraldic coat of arms, engraved inside the bell tower at the top of the tower, on the west side, seems to confirm the importance of the diocese Astorgio Agnesiexercised from February 8, 1436 until his death – October 10, 1451 (the remains rest in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome).

It reads in a short description (The Priests of the Benevento Chair, 1969) that this Archbishop and Cardinal, having given evidence of wisdom and prudence in the churches of Malta, Ravello, Melfi, Ancona, and finally in Benevento, delicate tasks were entrusted.

Although more than 500 years have passed, my latest research has confirmed the importance of the power of Cardinal Astorgio Agnesi of Benevento. By consulting the archive and the Sforza memory registers, I was able to read the contents of seven missives written and addressed by Francesco Sforza (first Duke of Milan) both to Pope Niccolò V and to Cardinal of Benevento Astorgio Agnesi. Of the various calls and recommendations written by Francesco Sforza for the two highest offices of the time, I would like to highlight the brief content of some of them:

Francesco Sforza recommends Raffaele Caimi to Benevento Cardinal Astorgio Agnese so he can be put in the Pope’s service Nicholas V. (Letter No. 126 of October 24, 1450 – Milan)

Francesco Sforza asks the Pope and Benevento Cardinal Astorgio Agnesi to promote Benedetto de Dovaria as titular bishop at the request of the citizens of Parma. (letter n.102 of 21 January 1451 – Lodi)

Francesco Sforza recommends to the Pope Nicholas V and to Cardinal Astorgio Agnesi of Benevento, Giovanni Santo Spinari of Arezzo for a prebend in the Diocese of Arezzo. (Letter No. 277 of February 11, 1451 – Lodi)

Francesco Sforza asks Pope Niccolò V and to Cardinal of Benevento Astorgio Agnesi to grant that the brothers Giovanni da Carnago and Paolo Lampugnani, Dominicans and dukes, have dispensation to live in the convent and outside the convent and may have benefits both of pastoral care and other.. (Letter No 465 of 19 March 1451 – Milan)

What binds Sforza to Cardinal Agnesi? In Benevento, if there is one story to be rediscovered, it is certainly the story of the Sforza family that dominated the city of Benevento from 1418 to well after 1424. The ancestor of the glorious dynasty, as well as a fighter for a happy company, Giacomuccio Attendere, said later Sforza 1369 – 1424, obtained the dominion of Benevento from Queen Giovanna II of Anjou – Durazzo. Among the many children brought into the world (including Francesco Sforza) at least three were born and documented in Benevento (Bartolo, Leonardo and Pietro). Pietro, also remembered by Benevento Governor Stefano Borgia, was born from his second marriage to Caterina Alopo, who died in Rocca dei Rettore in 1418.

In Benevento’s provincial historical archive is an original document in which Pope Martin V, after the sudden death of Giacomuccio Sforza, he writes a letter to the Municipality and also to the people to beg Francesco Sforza to stay in Benevento to manage it. Encouraged by these writings of the Pope, Francesco Sforza did not hesitate and thus established his command in Benevento, although for a short period he only later chose to go to Milan and thus see his duchy be born.

For more information on a possible lineage of Sforza still living in our city, read a recent article published on “The Commonwealth Province n. 1/2020 entitled “The Lion of Sforza Guarding the Fortress”, which can also be consulted online at the institutional website of the Province of Benevento.


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