AUGUSTINE AND THE RUS CASSICIACUM
Augustine and Monica in Cassago
AUGUSTINE AND THE RUS CASSICIACUMá
Between the summer 386 and the spring 387 A.D., Augustine stayed in a country house in the village of Cassiciaco. He was a guest of his friend Verecondo, a grammarian from Milan. Augustine himself had a passionate recollection of this place in the following extract from the IX book of "The Confessions": ź ... Thanks be unto thee, our God; we are thine. Thy exhortations, consolations, and faithful promises assure us that Thou wilt repay Verecundus for that country house at Cassiciacum, where we found rest in thee from the fever of the world, with the perpetual freshness of Thy paradise in which thou hast forgiven him his earthly sins, in that mountain flowing with milk, that fruitful mountain, thine own ... ╗
He was accompanied by relatives, friends and disciples: Monica, his mother, Adeodato, his son, Navigio, his brother, Alipio, his closest friend, Rustico and Lastidiano, his cousins, Licenzio and Trigezio, his disciples and a shorthand writer. It's believed that Romaniano, Manlio Teodoro and Verecondo may have paid him a visit. In the surrounding countryside of Cassiciaco he wrote his "Dialoghi", in which he recalled the events and the discussions of the days spent at Verecondo's villa (Contra Academicos, De beata vita, De Ordine, Soliloquia, De immortalitate animae, De quantitate animae).
Cassago Brianza, or rus Cassiciacum as it was called by St. Augustine, is today a green village in the centre of Brianza. Inhabited by Gallic tribes, the village experienced the presence of the Romans. In the Middle Ages it also experienced the Longobards and some monks who founded the church of S. Brigida d’Irlanda. During that period the village and the surrounding countryside were owned by the monasteries of Civate, Pontida and Cremella and by the Church of S. Giovanni in Monza. Since 1500 A.D. the noble family Pirovano occupied the medieval fort and the castle; in the 1700s they were followed by the Modroni family and the Visconti Dukes.
ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE RUS CASSICIACUM
The Gallic and Roman archaeological treasures of Cassago had already been reknown since the late 1500s, but the 3000-year-old history of this village where St. Augustine lived is mainly due to the 20th century excavations and some occasional discoveries. The oldest archaeological findings (macroliths and microliths) date back to the Neolithic Era and demonstrate the passage through or the settlement of people able to work with flint. Stable settlements, dating back to the final age of La TŔne period, were mainly found in the area of Pieguzza where a forge might have been. Pieguzza unveiled a lot of items such as pottery, buckles, bracelets, knives. Since 200 B.C. Rome succeeded in dominating the regions beyond the river Po and conquered the majority of the hills and mountains north of Milan. The Gallo-Celtic settlement of Cassago was also absorbed by the Roman influence: this is proved by the Crotto tomb and by the findings in Pieguzza, where pottery from the Republican and Imperial Age add to handmade objects belonging to the La TŔne period. The tombs of Crotto and of via San Marco date back to the 3rd - 2nd century B.C. The presence here of a Roman built-up area was certainly in existence from the 1st century B.C. to the 5th - 6th century A.D., when the village was invaded by the Longobards. The discovery of two Roman cisterns in Pieguzza testifies the existence nearby of a high rank country house to which the water was conveyed through ceramic pipes. This villa might have been in Cassago, where gravestones, inscriptions, tombs and Imperial Roman architecture have been found. Pottery of a refined style, different objects, inscriptions and tombs witnessing a constant and long lasting presence of a high-class status area date back to this long period.
The Romans or the romanised natives, amongst whom there may have been someone called either Cassius or Cassicius from whom the present place name is derived, probably occupied Cassago. Here also is the site of the rus Cassiciacum of Verecundus, who gave hospitality to St. Augustin during 386-387 A. D. It is here too that a certain MARILLA lived, while another inscription mentions an unknown person.
After the Romans, came the Lombards, and Cassago came into the possession of some warriors and their descendants were still present in the area in 854. With the Carolingian Age and the arrival of feudalism the unity of the village was disrupted and divided amongst several estates: Oriano and Zizzanorre belonged to the Basilica of St. John in Monza and to the Monastery of Civate, whilst the castle of Caxago was ruled by the Monastery of Pontida until the XV century. Thus the castle with its tower passed to Rainerio de Scachabarociis and to the Benedictis brothers of Parma, and later they ceded it to the Pirovanos through the Delfinoni family. During the XVIII century the castle's vast property or “the estates of the tower” were inherited by the Viscontis of Modrone. On the Unification of Italy, two separate municipalities were formed: Cassago and Oriano remained autonomous until 1929, when they were put together again to create the original territorial unit.
In the 1600s Federigo Borromeo, archbishop of Milan (1595 - 1631), already maintained that Cassago retained some remains of the ancient times. Mommsen also talked about this, mentioning an inscription dedicated to Marilla and besides him Carlo Sangalli and mons. Luigi Biraghi. Among the historians who spoke of this topic are to be mentioned Petrarch, Tristano Calchi, Giuseppe Ripamonti, Alessandro Manzoni, dom Morin, don Rinaldo Beretta, Othmar Perler, Filippo Meda and Pasquale Cattaneo mainly regarding St. Augustine's stay in Cassago. St. Augustine the Patron Saint of the village has been celebrated every year since 1631.á
THE PLAGUE OF 1630
A passage from the Chronicon of the parish of Cassago says that in 1630 the village was not touched by the plague. This was attributed to St. Augustine’s intercession. This was the reason why the people proclaimed him their Patron Saint and since 1631 onwards he’s been celebrated every year. The text states: "Et cum moris christiani sit memoriam habere beneficiorum acceptorum, illaque attribuere alicui Sancto protectori, ideo Communitas ista Casagi non immemor tantae gratiae ultra predictos, ut supra Patronos, adjungit sibi et supplicat auxilium beatissimi AUGUSTINI Pontificis Hipon. Et Doctoris Sanctae Ecclesiae eximii; eoque magis cum memoriae proditum sit ipsum Sanctum patrios lares habitasse". In 1700 a chapel dedicated to the Saint was built inside the parish church. Since 1800 a folk devotion has been known, developed near the fountain of St. Augustine.
In 1967 the St. Augustine Historical-Cultural Association was born, whose task is that of increasing the value of the Augustinian tradition through publications, exhibitions, meetings. A historical-archaeological park was created in 1986; here is a beautiful monument dedicated to Augustine and Monica, a work of art of the Master Enrico Manfrini.
A collection of all the Augustinian evidences in Cassago can be found in the seat-museum of the St. Augustine Association.
Since 2002 the website www.cassiciaco.it has been giving a lot of information about Cassiciaco, Augustine and the history of the Augustinian Order.