Crowned Plague

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by Phil Neel (Brooklyn Rail, Field Notes, July 2020)

(see also: Prelude to a Hot American Summer, Normality is Death)

The Saint of Crowns

In spring the winter weight of snow trickles off the stone steps of the basilica in small, shimmering rivulets, a microcosm of the many streams glittering through the foothills of the unyielding Dolomites, or maybe more a mirror of the intricate alpine network of alte vie and vie ferrate, narrow, high walking and climbing paths hewn into the mountains during the first world war when other routes were made impassable by mines. The winter rarely clears quickly through these foothills where Fèltre and its basilica lie, the town’s most famous rendition given by a few lines from an anonymous Roman author: “Feltria, condemned to the rigor of eternal snows / from me too, who henceforth will scarcely approach you, farewell!”1 The words are often attributed to Caesar himself, though of course this might be apocryphal. But the apocryphal is also somehow natural to this place: the basilica which contains the relics of Saint Corona, whose historical reality is itself an open question.2

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