Umbria’s Dragon

February 7, 2011 / Art & Archaeology
Valnerina, Umbria
The dramatic Valnerina–where the crystalline Nera river runs under steep rocky slopes, upon which tiny creche-like stone villages perch precariously–is stunningly beautiful yet foreboding. The unsettling scenery reminds visitors that this area of southern Umbria was once the stomping grounds of a troublesome dragon.

Everyone in Umbria knows the story of Mauro and his son Felice, two Syrian pilgrims who arrived in the Naarte region (from the ancient Nare or Naarco River, from which the modern Nera derives) roughly six centuries after Christ’s death to proselytize to the recalcitrant locals. As fate would have it, they were having a bit of trouble with a nearby dragon and, in what must have seemed like a serendipitous means of killing two birds with one stone, called on Mauro to prove his faith by taking care of business. When he reached the general area where the locals had indicated the dragon might be found, Mauro stuck his stick in the ground for safe-keeping while he set about building a stone hut for shelter. The stick immediately sent out roots and shoots, and Mauro took it as a sign that God was covering his back in this dragon thing. He returned to his masonry work and after a short time caught the unmistakable sulfuric odor of dragon-breath.

Though he feared his end was near, Mauro took his mason’s hammer and somehow managed to skirt the flames, avoid the sulfur, and overcome the height difference to bonk the monster on the head (accounts speak of a good 27 meters worth of dragon). While the unconscious beast lay motionless on the ground, Mauro used his hammer to detach large pieces of rock from the cliff above, which continued falling on the dragon until it died (apparently of blood loss, as the river ran with dragon’s blood for three days and three nights). The locals needed no further proof of Mauro’s holiness, so they promptly converted. Mauro and Felice lived out their lives in prayer and service (Felice died in 535 AD and Mauro in 555 AD) in the Valnerina.

Some of the details of the story remain unclear. There may or may not have been an angel involved. The dragon may have actually been slain by Felice. There is a nurse who pops up now and then and seems to have died of fever with Felice. But the legend holds, and the area still bears testimony of it on the facade of the lovely Romanesque Church of San Felice di Narco near Castel San Felice. If you look carefully at the frieze under the intricately carved rose window, you will see a detail of depicting the slaying of the dragon and, inside the crypt, the sarcophagus of the Saints Mauro and Felice.

Rebecca Winke

by Rebecca Winke

Owner of Brigolante Apartments, a restored 16th century stone farmhouse / guesthouse in the heart of Umbria near Assisi, and blogger of life in Umbria. For tips and insider information about visiting Umbria, download her Umbria Slow App and see her writings on her personal website!

9 Responses to “Umbria’s Dragon”

  1. Claudia McCadden

    Thank you Rebecca for the beautiful pictures and of course the article. Please continue to send articles, they make my day so wonderful. I feel like I am living in Italy. Perhaps some day, my husband and I could do that. We have been to different regions of Italy 3 time so far. Each time we visit Italy it is such a wonderful and meaningful visit.
    Thanks again,

  2. Gian Banchero

    Rarely does a photograph convey as much as the bottom photo where it’s possible to feel the crisp air, the sounds of the wind, the scent of the grasses; I can’t stop looking at it. We all thank you Rebecca .

  3. I love the way you described the slaying part! I hope you are/were a history teacher; you’d have brought it alive for the students.

  4. Carol Burke

    Rebecca, you have great skill in writing what might otherwise have been an ordinary story but you have turned it into an amusing, but still ‘fact filled’ ItalianNotebook submission. Amusing to read. I made a copy for my own notebook of ‘favorites’ from the Italian Notenook . Thank you very much.

  5. Very interesting story, Rebecca! Marvellous pictures! So very dramatic scenery.
    Next time I’ll come in the neighbourhood I certainly make a stop at the church of San Felice di Narco.


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