THE PLACE-NAME DELO OF MIZZOLE
The following summary is based on the historical and linguistic study by Dr. Gioal Canestrelli, President of the Institute of Experimental Archaeology Fianna ap Paalug.
The name ”Delo” is thought to come from the Greek word “delos” meaning ”bright”. Wherever this name is found in Italy, though rare, it is usually associated with the Greek (1).
However, in the specific case of Delo Mizzole, the link with the Greek root is much clearer because of a number of historical factors.
As an early Neolithic site, we know that the area of Mizzole and Novaglie was densely populated in the Bronze Age. The excavations of Monte and Monte Tesoro Pipaldolo have revealed evidence of two raetian “castellieri”: fortified settlements with dry stone walls, dating from 1500 and 1200 BC (2). Both settlements, in particular that of Monte Tesoro – where the monastery of San Fidenzio now stands – seem closely linked to the sacred geometry of ancient foundations tipical of ancient Italy (3). This supports the popular legend that San Fidenzio was built near or on top of a pagan temple dedicated to the “Sun God” (4).
This is not too surprising if we consider the mode of settlement of Christian churches since the early days, where it was common to build churches and monasteries on the sites that pagans used to worship their gods, often on the ruins of temples recently destroyed. The practice of going to a place already perceived as sacred would have helped push the pagans to conversion: in the only year 542 AD ninety-nine churches and twelve monasteries were built on the ruins of previous houses of worship (5).
Other phenomena support the suggestion that Monte Tesoro was a place of worship. There is a Roman altar, found on site, which today supports the altar of the antique church of S. Fidenzio (6).
In the “Versus de Verona” or “Rhythm Pipiniano” (796 AD) the anonymous writer – who probably belonged to the ecclesiastical circle – notes that near Verona “There are ancient shrines dedicated to the gods, the Moon, Mars and Minerva, Jupiter and Venus, and Saturn, and the Sun shining on everything”. Also, Grancelli was able to identify with Castel San Pietro a place sacred to Saturn and that of Hecate or Selene, the Moon, at the place where St. Giovanni in Valle church now stands (7).
Significantly, however, there is no evidence of any place actually in the current city of Verona that corresponds to the sacred place dedicated to the Sun mentioned in Rhythm Pipiniano.
This could be explained by the archaeological evidence that the main site of pre-Roman Verona, and of its primeval sacred places that were customarily adopted and endorsed by the Romans, was not where the city now stands, but had its centre in what is now the village of Montorio (8).
There are several clues in support of the popular legend of Delo. The pre-Roman “betile” (stone column) known as “Pilotòn”, marks the way to the monastery of San Fidenzio and, during the Winter Solstice, it is also in line with the aforementioned church of San Giovanni in Valle (9).
In the Rhythm Pipiniano, the term ”templum” (to indicate the Roman temple par excellence) is not used. ”Fanum“ is used instead and this word indicates an archaic shrine in the heart of a sacred place, whose antiquity is reinforced by the word ”temporary”. While ”templum” is the civic place of worship within the city walls, ”fanum” often refers to the ancient pre-Roman rural shrine, for example the Etruscan temple of Veltune in Tuscia, or the wood of Diana at Nemi, the sacred center of the Latin League.
The reference to ”Sun God” in an early medieval text like the Rhythm Pipiniano needs to be made more specific when considering its ancient origin, especially in Roman and pre-Roman times. Throughout the pre-Roman Iron Age, Veneto (to quote famous examples of Altino, Este, Vicenza and Lagole) there is evidence of the cult of the Celtic god Belenos or Belatucadros (10).
The Celts, or Gauls, arrived in the Veneto region in the fourth century BC and strongly influenced local communities, the Raetians and the Venetians, with their culture. In some cases their penetration into the territory took on important and almost exclusive forms. Verona (or Montorio, as it was at that time) is a good example of this (11).
The meanings of Belenos and Belatucadros are ”Bel Resplendent” and ” Bright Right”, and can easily be associated with the Roman assimilation of this Sun God as Apollo (12), who, in Italic mythology drove the Chariot of the Sun. After the Roman annexation almost all the temples and shrines dedicated to Celtic and Venetici solar deities were therefore attributed to Apollo.
Apollo is also referred to by the Romans as ”Delius” (13), the one who comes from the island of Delos, ”The Light”, so as the laurel, the plant sacred to Apollo, is referred to as the ”Folia Delia” (14).
These associations might seem to be no more than a semantic game. However, historical and archaeological evidence leads us to conclusions that are almost self-evident: near a hill where Belatucadros, ”The Shining”, ”The Light”, who the Romans called Apollo Delio, there is a place called Delo, which always means “Bright” in Greek etymology.
It appears, therefore, impossible not to relate the place of worship of the Roman and Celtic ”Bright” deities with the name of the place facing it, according to a methodology of sacred topography quite common in Italy (15). Just think of Genoa named in honour of Janus Bifronte (16), the Eraclea and Erchie sanctuary in memory of Heracles, Gioi and Jupiter in memory of the temples of Jupiter, and so on (17).
1 John Gaetano , Historical News on Casteltermini and territory, 1869-1880
2 Umberto Grancelli , the Plan of Roman Verona Foundation 1964
3 Adriano Gaspani , Which Cardo and which Decuman in Verona , 2007
4 Antonio Zieger , Legends of the Veneto 1924
5 Vlasis Rasias , the demolition of temples, 1994
6 Marisa Venturi, The Valpantena Ci.Vi.Vi.
7 Umberto Grancelli , the Plan of Roman Verona Foundation 1964
8 Luciano Salzani , Settlement of the Iron Age to the Castle of Montorio , 1991, but also Alberto Solinas reported by Angelo Cipriani, A History Montorio takes a step back , the Arena May 25, 1999
9 Alberto Solinas , History of Pilotòn
10 Anna Marinetti, Epigrafio and language of the pre-Roman Altino , in The Early History of the Sile and Tagliamento . Ancient people between Veneto and Friuli, 1996
11 Mario Patuzzo , Verona Roman, Medieval and Scaliger , 2008
12 Michael Torribolani , Veneto in the Roman lI , 1987, but Monika Verzar -Bass , ideas for research on religious policy in the Republican era in Gaul 1996
13 Virgil, Aeneid 6
14 Horace, Odes
15 Giovan Battista Pellegrini, Italian Toponamastica 1990
16 Jacobus de Voragine , Golden Legend
17 Alberto Nocentini , place names Italian , History and Evolution . 2004