Dances with wolves

This is the tale of a holy man who led a life locked away in a bitter solitude whilst performing miracles, like the taming of a ferocious wolf which up until then had regularly devoured the poor inhabitants of the local village.

However, you would be mistaken if you thought this was the story about the famous events involving Francesco d’Assisi and the wild animal of Gubbio, in Umbria as it is actually about a solitary charcter from Tuscany called Torello who lived in the village of Poppi, located in the green area of Casentino.

According to his many biographers, Torello was born inPoppi, in around 1202, to a poor family who were said to be in exile from Ferrara. Orphaned by both his parents, he was raised by relatives of his family, who were equally poor.

Maybe it was all of these sad events which made the young Torello turn to a life of petty crime, violence and numerous vices, such as gambling and sex with prostitutes, and spending much of his time in bad company. Then one day, when he hadn’t even turned 20, whilst sat under a tree gambling with his friends as usual a rooster that was perched nearby flew over, landed on Torello’s shoulder and cried out the words chicchirichi 3 times. His friends all laughed, Torello immediatly had no doubt in his mind that those 3 deafening were the work of God. An order sent straight from heaven demanding him to: Awaken from your numb spirit and without a second thought he threw his dice on the floor and went immediately to the nearby San Fedele Abbey at the church of which he could confess all his sins and change into a uniform of monk’s clothing. Furthermore, in a bid to repent his sins further he decided retreat into the solitude in a wild area called Avellaneto, located about a mile from Poppi.

He remained in the isolation of this spot for the rest of his life, almost sixty years, leading an existence of prayer and great sacifice. When he ate, he fed himself only bread and water. He slept for only three hours each night, on the bare land, using a hard rock to support his head and lying on a mattress made of a prickly thorns. Also, as if all this wasn’t quite enough, he regularly tore hair from his beard and head in order to resist the many temptations that he faced in such difficult conditions. Furthermore, as clothing he used a type of bag made from pig skin, worn in such way that the bristles were turned inside in order to cause pain with every move of his body.

While Torello was trying his best to earn himself paradise, the inhabitants of Poppi and its surrounding areas were terrorised by a pack of wolves, led by a wild beast which, due to its habit of eating the poor Christians, was known as Lupo Humanino or Manino. It is said that one day, one of the poorer inhabitants of Poppi came down to the river to wash some clothes, like they used to in the olden days, carrying her 3 year old son on her back when suddenly the ferocious wolf Manino, who had been waiting to attack, took the baby between his jaws and ran away. The distressed mother let out desperate cry for help and started to chase the wild animal in the hope of following her only child into the stomach of the wolf as she knew that there was, by now, little hope of getting her son back alive (it was a well known fact that no human being had ever a survived an attack from Manino).

However the story took an unexpected twist when, the wolf, by now already in the forest eating his tender meal, bumped into the forlorn Torello who, without showing any fear, ordered him to stop eating the child and leave him on the ground. Miraculously, the wild animal became as docile as a small dog, obeying Torello’s command immediately and retreating sulkily into the bottom of the forest.

Soon after, the mother arrived at the scene believing that her son had been brutally killed and so it is easy to imagine her joy in finding her son alive and well, amazingly with not even a single mark of the wolf’s fangs on his body. Torello made her promise to keep this miraculous deed to himself, however the mother, who was was in a state of uncontrollable joy, could not resist retelling the story of Torello’s miracle to the whole village. Consequently, he was soon mobbed by crowds of people who had travelled miles to ask him, as is always the case, for some thanks or some kind of miraculous cure. However, Torello refused to modify his life style in any way.

The noblemen of Poppi were so inspired by these events that they sent Torello a basket full of every sort of meat and many different types of food. Strangely, he accepted this gift gladly and, believing them to be gifts from God, he stored the contents of the basket in his narrow cell and then returned the empty basket to stableman who had brought it to him. He asked him how he was planning to eat everything. Torello responded that his friend would be coming to help him after dark and it would be better if he went away.

However, his curiosity at Torello’s mysterious statement got the better of him and he did not go away. Instead he hid nearby and waited until it was dark. When darkness finally came, he was surprised to discover the infamous Manino wolf scraping at the door of the cell and when Torello opened the door, the wolf entered and they celebrated together, eating all the food brought to him by the stableboy.

According to some, it would seem that Torello and the wolf had come to the solemn agreement that Manino and the rest of his pack would not eat human meat, at least until they heard the sound of the bell of Poppi Abbey. In order for the animals to stick firmly to this agreement, they would have to put their killer instincts to one side. One day the wolves attacked a group of peasants, 4 of which were inhabitants of Poppi, who were in the process of harvesting wheat in the nearby town of Lucignano. However, incredibly, instead of biting them to death, they barely touched the group of countrymen, licking them joyfully instead.

Torello definitely led a long and holy life which was full of miracles. At the old age of 80 years old, he returned to the abbey where he first went to the confess his sins of his former life of crime. He then returned to his little cell in the woods, from which the bells of Poppi could not be heard. Tornello finally made his long-awaited rise to paradise on the 16th March 1282 and his body was then buried in “his” abbey of San Fedele where, even though he’s dead, it is believed that he has still continued to perform miracles.

For a long time, his figure has been sought after by Franciscan and Valombran monks, a competition that has never been won. Torello was blessed by Benedetto XIV, in the 700′s, however, he is waiting still today for a final sanctification. Despite this, the inhabitants of Casentino will still always call him Saint Torello; and they tell his story every year on the 16th March in honour of his death. In fact, many people still entrust their hopes and dreams to the humble hermit who managed to tame Manino, the ferocious wolf of Poppi.

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