Notary wills in Pescocostanzo in the year of the Plague 1657

The plague epidemic of 1656 also affected the Italian peninsula, especially the Kingdom of Naples; the contagion came from Sardinia, where it had come from Spain in 1652, and caused about 200,000 deaths out of a total of 450,000 inhabitants in the city of Naples alone.
«The terrible scourge with its one hundred and fifty thousand corpses really brought the capital to its knees. Where Vesuvius and the year of revolt had not succeeded, the plague succeeded... » (from Nino Leone, Daily life in Naples in the time of Masaniello). Also in the rest of the kingdom the mortality rate ranged between 50 and 60% of the population. In Pescocostanzo the plague arrived much later than in other places, and in a couple of months disappeared, taking away whole families. Those making a will often were the last of their family alive, and appointed cousins, uncles or churches as heirs.

Pescocostanzo, summer 1657

From 15 May to 11 August Notary Giovan Tomaso Colecchi, after sunset and when the heat of the day gave way to lower temperatures, with seven witnesses and in the company of the local judge, almost every night walked through the desert streets of the town, to stop in front of a half-closed door where some poor souls, facing untimely death because of the plague, would dictate their last will.

The death toll was surely much higher than the 55 wills he recorded. Some people did not have the time, or did not believe they were going to die. Children died without leaving any trace in documents, those who were too poor would not call a notary... but, as many declared in their wills, since there is no place for wealth and property in the other world, they wanted to leave things in order, and avoid enmity among their heirs.

Each deed takes two or three pages. The great majority of those affected by the plague, at least as derived from the wills, was made of women; the disease, as history books record, was brought to Pescocostanzo, that thanks to its administrators and isolated position had almost escaped the contagion throughout the year 1656, from a merchandise seller of cloths and ribbons coming from Naples. Below appear the name of the person making the deed, the description and heirs are available in the reserved directory.

The Names of the Testators

Names are in chronological order, as they appear in the records; ehen a name appears twice, a second will was made.
Agata de Massis, Angela de Cocco, Carabilia Ranalli, Angelo Zolletta, Eramo di Giuseppe d'Eramo, Fisdea Galli, Elfenice, Angela Manso, Maria de Muzio Pitasso, Albenzia fu Tarquinio Pitassi, Angela di Giovan Berardino di Nicola Melone, Maria Nunzia di Giuseppe Colecchia, Giulio de Petris, Vittoria, vedova di mastro Giovan Donato di Nicola Ianni, Giuseppe Tomassone, Donata Ciardone, Cecilia Cocco, Geneura de Alesandro Ramundo, Rabbenta Zurlo, Loreta Perrazzino, Bernardino Cannone, Nunzio Nicola Presio, Lucidonia Cacchione, Eramo di Giuseppe d'Eramo, Donata Carnicella, Tomaso d'Amata, Catarina fu Antonio Fantasia, Maria Loreta Monacello, Catarina Sgaraglia fu Silvestro, Maria Mosca, Donata di Tomaso Ranallo, Angela Fantini, Angela Vulpis, Beatrice de Sanctoris, Preziosa Ciandella, Gregorio di Giulo Cesare de Abbate, Livia Pupella, Finisdea di Loreto Pitasso, Alfidea di Giovanni Antonio Iacovetta, Iulio de Iulis, Pascale Monacello, Leonardo de Nigro Falcone, Finisdea Alimonte de Alesandro, Lucidonia Ricciardella, Giuditta Sciamanda, Agata di Nicola Colecchia, Leonardo, Catarina de Amicis, Maria de Donato de Tollis, Giovanni Battista Ferrante, Caterina de Buccio De Cristofano, Donat'Angela Pitassi, Diana Schieda, Berardino di Sante di Rocco; Alfonso Pitassi, Giuseppe Fantino e Carabilia di Nicola de Pizzoferrato, Eramo fu Giuseppe d'Eramo.