San Lorenzo makes an immediate impact on visitors thanks to its beautiful square, where the Renaissance-style, the mother Church and a gigantic elm play a leading role.
Three hamlets belong to the territory administered by San Lorenzo. They are Chorio, Pantaleone and Marina, the last of which, as time passes, assumes greater importance because people tend to move there from the hinterland.
From Melito di Porto Salvo the state highway, SS 183, follows the course of the Mélito river, passes by Chorio di San Lorenzo and the houses of the San Fantino neighbourhood. A little further on, where the valley opens out, one obtains a front view of the Monte S. Angelo ridge which separates the Pristeo and Mélito river valleys. From the village of Lànzena, the road leads to Roccaforte del Greco and Roghudi, then crosses the Mélito River and after a series of curves and breath-taking views of the Tucci Valley, it climbs up to San Lorenzo at 787 metres above sea level, a beautiful village set atop the ridge between the Mélito and Amendolea rivers. An agricultural and tourist town, it produces various handcrafted artefacts of centuries-old origin (some reported during the Angevin era). Upon arriving in the town we enter the main square with its enormous elm tree and its parish church dedicated to Saint Lawrence.
The name San Lorenzo is associated with the local people’s devotion to the saint who is the town’s patron.
TOWNLAND AND LOCALITIES
Cappella Vecchia, Chorio, Contrada Croce, Gomeno, Lànzina o Lànzena, Marina di San Lorenzo, Mulino di Luciano, San Fantino, San Pantaleone, Santa Maria.
San Lorenzo is a small town with an illustrious past. Home to the district court until the first half of the twentieth century, it is now sparsely populated, although, down through the centuries it played a significant role locally. It was the most important town in the area between Reggio Calabria and Locri and played a decisive role during Garibaldi’s landing in Melito Porto Salvo. Alberto Mario was one of the Garibaldi’s 250 volunteers, who having disembarked at Scylla and having failed to conquer the nearby Altafiumara fortress, were hounded by Bourbon forces throughout the Aspromonte range. He wrote about the expedition of the Mille [Garibaldi’s famous thousand soldiers] and in his book of memoirs, La Camicia Rossa [The Red Shirt], published in English in 1865 and in Italian in 1870. He provides a glowing, detailed account of how the heroically determined population of San Lorenzo sheltered the desperate, famished fugitives, who were being hunted down on the Aspromonte.
EXPLORING THE HISTORIC CENTRE
To reach San Lorenzo one passes close to the santuario della Madonna della Cappella, which houses an extremely rare and remarkably large icon that dates back, most probably, to the twelfth century. The original panel was painted over at the beginning of the sixteenth century in neo-Byzantine style, an event that shows that even in the modern age there were artists and patrons in the area still capable of painting and interpreting Greek-style icons. In this Madonna con il Bambino, the Christ child is holding an orange in one hand and the faces are in typically Cretan style, characterised by hooked noses and static physiognomies, though painted against a backdrop that clearly reflects the norms of modern western artistic perspective.
The panel’s setting is distinctive. It hangs against the backdrop of the pleated drape, used to hide the niche, and actually helps steady the rings running along a horizontal iron curtain-rail.
On the last Sunday of July every year, the icon [on the reverse side of which we can see a host of angels bearing a crown, painted during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries], leaves the church to head a procession to the church of Santa Maria ad Nives [Saint Mary of the Snow] situated in the heart of the town, where it is placed in the presence of an exquisite late-sixteenth-century statute of the Madonna della Neve [The Madonna of the Snow]. San Lorenzo’s faithful accompany the icon once again back to its own church on the 12th of August, for one day forsaking the centuries-old elm tree that provides the square with shade. It was beneath this same tree that the 200 Redshirts found shelter having sought refuge among the hills, after Garibaldi failed to disembark in Calabria on the 9th of August 1860. It fell to the lot of the inhabitants of San Lorenzo, led by their mayor Bruno Rossi, to prevent another Sapri [an ill-starred patriotic expedition led by another Italian hero, Carlo Pisacane, in 1857-58] when, ten days later, the Hero of the Two Worlds [Garibaldi] managed to set foot on the coast at Melito.
THE GRAND ELM TREE
The symbol of San Lorenzo is its grand elm tree. According the legend this tree was planted by the nobleman Ludovico Abenavoli, on his return from the famous Disfida di Barletta [the Challenge of Barletta, a famous tournament between French and Italian cavaliers, won by the Italians, in 1502]. Experts consider this elm a botanic rarity, as there are no other comparable examples to be found in all of southern Italy.