Veronica Cybo

A dreadful crime, a passionate woman and a ghost: this is only the beginning of the fascinating events of Veronica Cybo which took place between Florence and Figine Valdarno.

A very dark and mysterious character, Veronica Cybo was the descendent of one of the more famous and stronger families of North-western Tuscany: the Cybo-Malaspina family from Massa. The name Cybo-Malaspina is a name which used to send shivers down the spine of anyone who heard it and as it immediately made them think of the countless castles of Lunigiana, so mysterious and threatening, and their lords, who were strong, arrogant and voluntarily cruel and violent, as seen through their strictly controlled access to Via Francigenawhich allowed them in this way to control the majority of traffic travelling between the north of Italy and the rest of the peninsula.

Veronica, as you would expect of the daughter of a duke, was a very arrogant and conceited lady. That in mind, how else could a woman of such character be expected to react to the discovery of a love affair between her husband and a pretty young woman?

In such a situation, most other women of this era (the 17th century) would have ran away, pretending as if nothing had ever happened. They would have perhaps found another lover. In a way, this used to be an almost inevitable part of relationships, in a world where many marriages were arranged and so love was not considered as a paramount reason for getting married or not. That said, it was definately the interests of her family which determined Veronica’s marriage to Jacopo Salviati, a noble and attractive young man coming from a family very closely related to the Medici family. Jacopo was in fact advisor to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando II. The family owned a splendid palace in Via del Corso that still goes by the family name, even though it has been renovated.

Jacopo was a man who had always had a weakness for women and thanks to his kind ways and his undeniable charms he was able to capture the heart of the 23 year old blonde, Caterina Brogi, who was, at the time, married to a 70 year old rich man who was, according to many, extremely ugly and smelly.

In a society where love and marriage are not necessarily connected, many other women, as we have already said, would not have reacted with much surprise at the news of such a betrayal. However, Veronica, being a Dutchess and a member of the Cybo-Malaspina family, was unable to tolerate such damage to her immense pride, a pride which, seeing as Veronica was a woman who was not particularly beautiful and was a very bitter character, was not particularly justified. Also, many say that, as she was not happy to oblige her husband in the bedroom department herself, then she actually had no right to react in such an extreme way.

The first signs of her anger were released inside the San Pier Maggiore Church, of which today little trace remains. During church service, Veronica approached her young rival and subtly whispered a few sentences in her ear quietly enough so as not to let anyone hear but just enough to upset the pretty young woman making her blush with shame. Salviati immediately heard of this incident and, afraid of what his reckless partner would do next, asked two of his dearest friend to stand watch at the house of his beloved Caterina. However, he had greatly underestimated just how far his scorned wife would go to take her revenge. She had actually already hired two hitmen, who were from Massa, to kill Caterina, and had enlisted the help of her rival’s stepsons, who were more than willing to help get rid of their despised stepmother. So, the four of them carried out the deadly deed on the New Year’s Eve of 1634. They easily overcame the feeble attempts of Salviati’s fearless friends at standing guard Caterina’s house, who, in order to save their lives, quickly hid themselves away in a nearby house where they use to take prostitutes, keeping a close watch from the window.

To the guilt of the two stepsons, the hitmen entered the house and literally chopped Caterina and her young maid into pieces. They then went on to splatter the cut up pieces of flesh all over the city, parts of which finished up in the sewage system and down the city well. Only the head of Jacopo’s beautiful lover was saved. The next day, as was traditional at that time, one of Veronica’s servants delivered a traditional and glorious gift to Jacopo which wives usually give to their husbands on New Year’s Day: a chest containing an embroidered shirt. We can only immagine the horrified expression on his face upon discovering that, under the garment was the chopped off head off his former lover.

We do not know exactly what his attitude was towards his murderous wife following these events. What we do know is that the stepsons of the victim were, by order of the Grand Duke, immediately arrested and were interrogated through torture. In the end, the oldest of the two, Bartolomeo, was put to death. Veronica, daughter of a Duke, was instead exiled to her San Cerbone villa, which still dominates the 14th century town walls and towers of Figline Valdarno; a beautiful building which in time became the Serristori Hospital’s headquarters.

A walled in headstone at the entrance which leads to the elegant 15th century courtyard, is a testiment to these events. It seems that following her murderous actions Jacopo actually reconciled with her and returned to live with his jealous wife. Perhaps the hard-hearted Veronica used her time in exile to truly reflect upon her actions. So much so that, despite the blood shed so cruelly over her former rival, she went on to become incredibly famous for being very religious. Consequently, following her death at the age of 86 years old, her tomb, which is located in the Duomo of Massa, became a well-frequented place of worship and she was bizarrely considered as a person who had lived her life like a saint.

The strange and contradictory story of Veronica Cybo reflects perfectly the many contrasts of her time. However, she has not ceased to fascinate people and to make her presence felt. Many people, also in recent years, have witnessed her presence in the San Cerbone Villa, the place where she reformed her character and took to a peaceful life of reflection and meditation. It is however a presence which people speak of without fear describing incidents where she has even chatted away happily to unsuspecting visitors inside the building which is now a hospital. There has even been an occasion where a strange character described as wearing a huge shirt which goes right down to her feet actually reassured the father of a patient undergoing an operation, and also of her tugging at the jacket of a doctor. However, mostly she is just described as a strange presence, or sometimes even a sudden gust of wind, a strange sound or a bizarre smell. Nonetheless, those who have seen her or who have been lucky enough to speak to her (and there are several), always state that she is an completely harmless and good-natured entity, so much so that she has been welcomed as an integral part of the hospital. At times she is even quite playful and humorous, like when she left the footprints of her shoes on the walls of a locked room that had only just been whitewashed. Are these just figments of people’s imagination? Maybe. But we prefer to think that Veronica, repentant of her sins, still roams the surrounding walls of her countryside villa even today and, finally at peace with herself, continues to smile at us even when she is invisible.


Commenti (1) | March 15, 2010

One Response to “Veronica Cybo”

  1. Dusty Says:
    October 12th, 2012 at 19:34

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