Wonder  }  Folklore

The Golden Nail

A legend from the Maremma Park

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Where is


Via del Bersagliere, 2, 58100 Alberese GR, Italia (21m s.l.m.)


On a night many years ago, a young hunter, caught in a thunderstorm, set out for the ruins of San Rabano in search of shelter. He would build a good fire and warm himself while waiting for the storm to subside. "Just a wolf's night," he thought to himself. Then, seeing a big black cat coming out of a bush, he corrected himself, "In fact, cat-like!" But how strange that cat, that instead of seeking shelter it stood there in the middle of the path blocking his way and stared at him with those green eyes, icy and saturated with evil. "Go away or I'll give you a foot stomp," shouted the young man. The cat did not move. "Go away, in the name of God, or I'll shoot you," he exclaimed. At God's name the cat took a leap and disappeared into a bush.

The young man heartened himself with a sign of the cross and continued on his way. But here now came towards him a friar in a black cassock and a strange headdress. "What funny encounters this evening," muttered the young man. "Where would this friar go on a stormy night?" They were now close but the young man did not detect any sound of footsteps. The wind, which was also raging, did not move the black cassock and even the water seemed to slide over the friar without wetting him. He advanced straight and sure into the storm without even bending against the wind. "Bad night, father," stammered the boy. But there was no answer, and the air seemed to grow chill as a strange phosphorescence illuminated the dark figure for a moment. The young man turned to get a better look, but the friar was gone. All the stories of the ghosts inhabiting the towers scattered over the hills of Uccellina flashed into his mind, and he ran for his life.

He finally arrived at the tower of San Rabano. He was about to light the fire when, above the sound of rain and wind, he heard a chirping and clucking that amazed him. But to this, too, he found an answer: someone from the surrounding area must have made that abandoned place a henhouse, or perhaps some lost hen had taken her chicks to shelter there. He raised the match to the dark corner and stood motionless and breathless, as if electrocuted. This time his hair really stood on end: in the corner a big golden hen was calling out to her twelve chicks, also golden!

“maremma-leggenda-chioccia-d-oro”Franz Marc, Tiershicksale, 1913 (Public Domain)

You should know that according to an ancient Maremma legend, every hundred or more years, during a stormy night, an all-gold hen with her twelve golden chicks comes out of a mysterious hiding place near San Rabano: whoever, upon seeing her, has the courage to follow her and undergo the terrible trials that await him, will find the treasure hidden there. "To your grandfather's grandfather this fortune happened," his grandmother had narrated to him, "but he let it slip away because of four ghosts that got in his way. What's more, he returned home with his hair all white and his eyes as an old man."

Just beyond on the cliffs of Cala di Forno the sea was screaming as if mad. So that cat and friar were ghosts who wanted to prevent him from approaching the tower to protect the mysterious hen. As like flashes these thoughts crossed his mind, the hen, summoning the little ones, walked on slowly. Then, ever more determined, she ventured out into the open to the spur of a rock near thick bush. The young man followed her: he would not be overcome with fright like that "grandfather of his grandfather." He would recover the treasure.

Chickadee and chicks disappeared inside a hollow in the rock. The young man followed them into the narrow passage. He walked so long that he lost track of time. Suddenly an icy breath stopped him at the entrance to a deep, black cave. Strange noises came from within, and they grew closer. Suddenly something cold brushed against him, and a glow revealed an incredible scene: the cavern was huge and full of chests from which a glow emanated, illuminating the darkness: glittering diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and gold and silver coins.

Beside each chest was a devilish guardian: monks, knights in armor, pirates. Above one chest blew menacingly the black cat; the silhouette of the friar met on the lane was distinguished from the other friars by the strange headdress that rested on top of no head! In the center, surrounded by his chicks, was the golden hen. Then they all began to move toward the young man and surrounded him. The hen took to pecking him fiercely, the cat to scratching him while the ghosts kept him pinned down. With a tremendous effort the young man broke free and with a wild scream he launched himself toward the opening. He ran, ran down the long corridor until he emerged into the open, but here his strength failed him and he fell unconscious.

“maremma-leggenda-chioccia-d-oro”Franz Marc, Im Regen, 1012 (Public Domain)

When he regained his senses, the sun was high. The boy looked around in disbelief, but nothing resembled the hellish scenario of last night. Had he perhaps had a horrible dream? But the pile of wood prepared for the fire was a reality, and real were also the peckings of the hen and the scratches of the black cat, which still ached him. He recognized the corner from which he had seen the golden hen come out but could not find the hollow where he had followed her. And the treasure was true, too. He had seen it well and had also seen the fierce keepers who would kill him if he did not have the strength to escape the curse.

Still in disbelief and frightened, he set out again to return home. He was exhausted, but happy to be safe. When he arrived home, his grandmother let out a cry and burst into tears. The young man ran to look at himself in the mirror and was stunned-what had happened? His thick blond forelock was now a mound of white hair, and in his eyes, all youthful radiance gone, was the indelible mark of the terrible experience.

Every hundred and more years the golden hen embarks on her mysterious walk, and the treasure is still hidden there on the hillocks of Uccellina.

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Simone Fiderigo Franci

There was a time when forests were populated by myths and legends, and those who found themselves crossing them at night would surely have witnessed some prodigy, as here, in the surroundings of the monastery of San Rabano.


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