Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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Pietro Baillardo (Three Tales)



WHAT! Never heard of Pietro Bailliardo! Surely you must, if you ever heard anything at all. Why, everybody knows about Pietro Bailliardo! Why, he was here and there and everywhere in Rome; and turned everybody's head, and they have his books now, that they took away from him, locked up in the Holy Office. [2]

               Pietro Bailliardo was a scholar boy, and went to school like other boys. One day he found at a bookstall a book of divination; [3] with this he was able to do whatever he would, and wherever he was, there the Devil was in command.

               He fell in love with a girl, and she would have nothing to do with him; and one day afterwards they found her on Mont Cavallo with a great fire burning round her, and everyone who passed had to stir the fire whether he would or not.

               Whatever he wanted he ordered to come and it came to him, and nobody could resist him.

               As to putting him in prison it was no manner of use. One day when they had put him in prison he took a piece of charcoal and drew a boat on the white prison wall, then he jumped into it, and said to all the other prisoners, 'Get in too,' and they got in, and he rowed away, and next morning they were all loose about Rome. But there was an old man asleep in a corner of the prison, and the guards came to him and said, 'Where are all the prisoners gone?' And he told them about Pietro Bailliardo drawing the boat on the prison wall with the charcoal and their all getting away in it. 'And why didn't you go too?' asked the guards. 'Because I was asleep so comfortably I did not want to move,' said he. ('But then, how did he see it all unless Pietro Bailliardo had him put under a spell on purpose that he might tell the authorities how he had defied them?' added the narrator.)

               Another time again they shut him up in prison, and the next morning when they came to look for him they found nothing but an ass's head in his place, which he had left there just to show his contempt for them.

               One day a zealous friar met him and warned him to repent. 'What have I to repent of?' said he. 'I can hear mass better than you, for I can hear mass in three places at once.' Then he went away and made the Devil take him to Constantinople and Paris to hear mass at each while all at one and the same time he was hearing one at Rome too! Then he came and told the friar what a grand thing he had done. But the friar told him it was worse than not hearing mass at all to attempt to use diabolical arts in that way.

               After that one day he was going up past the church of SS. John and Paul [4] when the Devil met him.

               'Now,' said the Devil, 'you have had your swing long enough; I have come to fetch you!'

               When Pietro Bailliardo, who had set all the world at defiance all his life, saw the Devil and heard him say he had come to fetch him, he was seized with such terror that he began to repent, and ran inside the church. The Devil durst not follow him thither, but waited outside thinking he would soon be turned out.

               But Pietro Bailliardo took up a great stone and went and kneeled down before the crucifix and smote his bare breast with the big stone, saying the while, 'Behold! merciful Lord, I beat my breast with this stone till Thou bow Thy head in token that Thou forgive me.'

               And he went on beating his breast till the blood ran down, and at last our Lord had compassion on him and bowed His head from the cross to him, and he died there. So the Devil did not get him.


'YOU have told me so many stories, why have you never told me anything about Pietro Bailliardo--don't you know about him?'

               'Of course I know about him. Who in Rome doesn't know about him? but I can't remember it all. I know he had the book of divination, and could make the Devil do whatever he chose by its means. And then one day, I don't remember by what circumstance, he was led to do penance; but he would do it in his own way, not in the right way, and he made a vow to the Madonna that he would pay a visit to some shrine in Rome and to S. Giacomo di Galizia, [5] and to the Santa Casa di Loreto all in the same night. As devils can fly through the air at a wonderful pace he called upon a devil by his divining book and told him what he wanted; then he got on the back of the devil and rode away through the air and actually visited all three in one night.

               'But that sort of penance was no penance at all. After that he did penance in right earnest at some church, I forget which.'

               'Was it SS. John and Paul?' I asked.

               'Yes, to be sure; SS. John and Paul. And you knew it all the time, and yet have been asking me!'


'DO YOU want to know about Pietro Bailliardo too?' said the old man who had given me No. 2 of San Giovanni Bocca d'oro. 'Oh, yes; I did know a deal about him. This is what I can remember.

               'Pietro Bailliardo had a bond [6] with the Devil, by which he was as rich as he could be, and had whatever he wanted; but the day came when the compact came to an end, and Pietro Bailliardo quailed as that day approached, for he knew that after that time the Devil could take him and he could not resist.

               'Before noon on that day, therefore, he set out to go to St. Paul's.'

               'To SS. John and Paul?' asked I, full of the former versions.

               'No, no! to the great St. Paul's outside the walls, where the monks of St. Benedict are; and he waited there all day, for before the time was out the Devil couldn't take him. At last evening came on, and the chierico [7] wanted to shut the church up; so he told Pietro Bailliardo he must go, and showed him to the door. But when he came to the door, he found the Devil there waiting for him dressed like a paino. [8] When he saw that, no power of the chierico could make him go; so the chierico was obliged to call the Father Abbot.

               'To the Father Abbot Pietro Bailliardo told his whole story, and the Father Abbot said, "If that is so, come with me to the Inquisition, and tell your story there and receive absolution." Then he sent for a carriage, and said to the driver, "Be of good heart, for I have many relics of saints with me, and whatever strange thing you may see or hear by the way, have no fear, it shall not harm you."

               'The Devil saw all this, and was in a great fury, for he has no power to alter future events, and so he couldn't help Pietro Bailliardo going into the church for sanctuary before the time was up. He got a number of devils together, therefore, and made unearthly and terrible noises all the way. But the driver had confidence in the word of the Abbot, and drove on without heeding. Only when they got to the bridge of St. Angelo the noise was so tremendous he got quite bewildered; moreover the bridge heaved and rocked as though it were going to break in twain.

               '"Fear nothing, fear nothing! Nothing will harm you," said the Father Abbot; and the driver, having confidence in his words, drove on without heeding, and they arrived safely at the Palace of the Inquisition.

               'The Father Abbot now delivered Pietro Bailliardo over to the Penitentiary, to whom, moreover, he made confession of his terrible crimes, and begged to remain to perform his penance and obtain reconciliation with God.

               'But as Pietro Bailliardo had been used to follow his own strange ways all his life, he must needs now perform his penance too in his own strange way. Therefore he made a vow that he would perform such a penance as man never performed before; and this penance was to visit, all in one night, the SS. Crocifisso in the Chapel of the Holy Office, S. Giacomo di Galizia, and the sanctuary of Cirollo. All in one night!'

               'Stop! S. Giacomo di Galizia I know; we call it S. James of Compostella; but the sanctuary of Cirollo! I never heard of that; where is it?'

               'Oh, Cirollo is all the same as if you said Loreto; the Madonna di Loreto; it is all one.'

               I appealed to one sitting there who, I knew, had been brought up at Loreto.

               'Yes, yes,' she said. 'That is all right; Cirollo is just a walk from Loreto. Noi altri when living at Loreto often go there, but those who come from far, most often don't; so we have a saying, "Who goes to Loreto and not to Cirollo, he sees the mother, but not the son." [9] 'It is a saying, and nothing more.'

               'Basta!' interposed the old man, who, like other old people, was apt to forget the thread of his story if interrupted. 'Basta! it doesn't matter: they were anyhow three places very far apart. [10] So Pietro Bailliardo, who couldn't get out of his habit of commanding the devils, called up a number of them, and said, "Which of all you fiends can go the fastest?" and the devils, accustomed to obey him, answered the one before the other, some one way some another, each anxious to content him: "I, like lightning," said one; "I, like the wind," said another; but "I--I can go as fast as thought," [11] said another. "Ho! Here! You fiend. You, who can travel as fast as thought. You come here, and take me to-night to St. James of Compostella, and to the sanctuary of Cirollo, and bring me back here to the Chapel of the Holy Office before morning breaks."

               'He spoke imperiously, and sprang on to the devil's back, and all was done so quickly the devil had no time for thought or hesitation.

               'Away flew the devil, and Pietro Bailliardo on his back, all the way to St. James of Compostella, and, whr-r-r-r all the way to the sanctuary of Cirollo, fast, fast as thought. Then suddenly the devil stopped midway. An idea had struck him. "What had a devil to do with going about visiting shrines in this way; no harm had been done to the sacred place; not a stone had been injured; [12] why then had they gone to S. Giacomo; why were they going to Cirollo?"

               '"Tell me, Ser Bailliardo," said he, "on whose account am I sweating like this? is it for your private account, or for my master's; because I only obey you so long as you command in his name, and how can it serve him to be doing pilgrim's work?"

               '"Go on, ugly monster! don't prate," [13] answered Pietro Bailliardo, and gave him at the same time a kick in each flank; and such was his empire over him that the devil durst say no more, and completed the strange pilgrimage even as he had commanded. [14]

               'Thus even in his penitence Pietro Bailliardo had the devils subject to him. But after that he did penance in right good earnest, only he chose a strange way of his own again.

               'He knelt before the Crucifix in the Chapel of the Inquisition, and he took a great stone and beat his breast with it and said, "Lord, behold my repentance; I smite my breast thus till Thou forgive me." And when the blood flowed down the Lord had compassion on him and bowed His head upon the cross and said, "I have forgiven thee!"

               'After that he died in peace.'



[1] Unquestionably a very exaggerated tradition of the aberrations and final submission to the Church of Abelard (Pietro Abelardo in Italian), some of whose writings were publicly burnt in Rome by the Inquisition in 1140.

[2] The Office of the Inquisition behind the Colonnade of St. Peter's.

[3] 'Libro di comando.' A book of divination.

[4] St. John and Paul. The Church of the Passionists on the Coelian.

[5] I.e. St. Iago di Compostella.

[6] 'Scrittura,' a written compact.

[7] 'Chierico' of course means a cleric, but in common parlance it is reserved for the boy who, though lay, wears a clerical dress for the time he is serving mass, or attending to the church generally. In the present instance it would probably be a youth in minor orders.

[8] 'Paino' and 'paina' mean one, who, according to his or her condition, ought to be dressed in the national style, but who does affect to dress like a gentleman or lady.

[9]   'Chi va a Loreto         
E non va a Cirollo,         
Vede la Madre         
E non vede il figliuolo.'

[10] I took another opportunity of asking the one who was familiar with Loreto, about Cirollo, and she explained its introduction into the story to mean that he was not to pay a hasty visit, but a thorough one, even though it was done so rapidly. 'Cirollo,' she said, 'is a poor village with few houses, but the church is fine, and the Crucifix is reckoned miracolosissimo.' In Murray's map it is marked as Sirollo, close by the sea, without even a pathway from Loreto, about five miles to the north; and he does not mention the place at all in his text.

               Subsequently I was talking with another who called herself a Marchegiana, i.e. from the March of Ancona, in which Loreto is situated, and boasted of having been born at Sinigallia, the birthplace of Pio Nono. 'Have you ever been to Loreto?' I asked by way of beginning inquiry about Cirollo.

               'Yes; six times I have made the pilgrimage from Sinigallia, and always on foot.' she replied with something of enthusiasm. 'And you who have travelled so far, you have been there too, of course?'

               'Not yet,' I replied; 'but I mean to go one day;' and just as I was coming to my question about Cirollo, she added of her own accord:

               'Mind you do, and mind when you go you go to Sirollo too (she pronounced it Sirollo like the spelling in the map). 'Everyone who goes to Loreto ought to go to Sirollo. There is a Crucifix there which is miracolosissimo.'

[11] 'Quanto la mente dell' uomo.'

[12] 'Dispetto,' an affront, rather than an injury.

[13] 'Tira via, brutta bestia,' literally 'fire away'--is used in all senses the same as in English.

[14] The question of night flights through the air, and more, whether in the body or out of the body, than whether they were ever effected at all, was one of the most hotly contested questions of demonographers. Tartarotti, lib. I. cap. viii. § vi., winds up a long account of the subject with the following:--'... So divided was opinion on the subject, not only of Catholics as against heterodox, but between Catholics and Catholics, that after reading in Delrio 'qui hæc asserunt somnia esse et ludibrio certe peccant contra reverentiam Ecclesiæ matri debitam,' and 'Hæc opinio (somnia hæc esse) tanquam hæretica est reprobanda;' and in Bartolomeo Spina, 'Negare quod diabolus possit portare homines de loco in locum est hæreticum;' you may see in Emmanuel Rodriguez, a great theologian and canonist, 'Peccat mortaliter qui credit veneficos aut veneficas vel striges corporaliter per aëra vehi ad diversa loca, ut illi existimant;' while Navarro mildly says, 'Credere quod aliquando, licet raro, dæmon aliquis de loco in locum, Deo permittente, transportet non est peccatum.'

               Tartarotti supplies a long list of writers who, in the course of the sixteenth and two following centuries, took the opposite sides on this question, and quotes from Dr. John Weir, (Protestant) physician to the Duke of Cleves (In Apol. sec. iv. p. 582), that the Protestants were most numerous on the side which maintained that it was an actual and corporeal and not a mental or imaginative transaction. Cesare Cantù has likewise given an exposition of the treatment of the question in 'Gli Eretici d'ltalia,' discorso xxxiii., and 'Storia Universale,' epoca xv. cap. 14, p. 488. In note 1 he gives a list of a dozen of the most celebrated Protestant writers who upheld the actuality of the witches' congress.

APPENDIX C. p. 195.

               It ought to have been remarked under Note 1, that Abelard's name is spelt Abailard in old French, which brings it nearer the name in the legend.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Pietro Baillardo (Three Tales)
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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