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visiting The place of My mother's family

Thanks a lot grandpa!

by John Kaye

Somewhere ‘twixt Naples & Foggia, or should I say between the rainbow’s end and beyond, lies the little village of Massa—or should I say, Shangri-La.

This little village in Italy, not far from Benevento, is home to around 600 people; about 500 of them are Cofrancescos or related to them, my mother’s family.  Two of her Uncles, Biagio & Giuseppe remained in Massa to head two prominent families living there today.

Photos by Pacifico Cofrancesco

John Kaye
John Kaye
1. Massa and its people

Growing up in Delaware, we knew little about our Italian relatives in Massa.  No more than “we have cousins in Italy”; “Grandpop’s brother (Giuseppe) was a cop”; “We have a cousin (Alfonse) who wanted to come to Delaware but ended up in Milan”.

On one visit to Italy, I even called a Giuseppe Cofrancesco in Naples, hoping it would be a relation, but no.

Then came  Thanks to Pacifico Cofrancesco, the Professor, the family now exists in virtual reality!  Who were these people and how closely were they related to me?  I wanted to know, I wanted to see the village where my grandfather was born, attend the church where he was baptized and visit the graves of his parents, my great-grandparents, Alfonso & Maria Carmina Cofrancesco.

Alfonso & Maria Carmina
Alfonso Cofrancesco and his wife Maria Carmina (nee Cofrancesco)
with the little grandchild Guido Cofrancesco, who died in 2010.

I didn’t know what to expect, I thought Massa would be some backwater and the people somewhat aloof, but quite the contrary, and on the 3rd day, after being pumped full of Cofrancesco wine, I joyfully proclaimed “I no longer feel like an orphan for I have found my home!”

Massa Today (click to enlarge)
Massa di Faicchio today
with the Titerno River in the background

It wasn’t as if I ever felt like an orphan in my life, I was so enraptured by touching and tasting history.  Apprehensive at first, I was quickly ensconced into the “Massa Scene” by Professor Pacifico & his warm welcoming wife Anna.  I soon felt like one of the family.

The people of Massa are interesting and entertaining, intelligent and enterprising, simple, yet rich in love.

In Biagio's wine cellar
In my cousin Biagio's wine cellar with a glass
of great home made wine and some "taralli"
From left to right: Rita, Biagio's wife, Robert, myself,
and Gaetano, Biagio's son.

John's Ancestors
    Alfonso Cofrancesco
(1848-1933) was born in Massa di Faicchio (Italy) and married with Maria Carmina Cofrancesco (1857-1931). They were the parents of Marco Cofrancesco, among many Cofrancescos who immigrated to Wilmington, Delaware from Massa di Faicchio at the beginning of the 20th century.
    Marco Cofrancesco
(1890-1966) was born in Massa (Italy) and immigrated to the US in 1906. He married Emily Bove in Wilmington, and he is the father of Martha Cofrancesco, who is John Kaye's mother.
    Martha Cofrancesco
(1924- ) is John's mother. John's father was Joseph Kempcyznski.

John Kaye & Pacifico Cofrancesco at Massa
  Me and Pacifico

Aunt Matilde
Aunt Matilde
my mother's first cousin

john-concetta-200.jpg Aunt Concetta
another first cousin  of my mother

Concetta's ancient wine cellar
Aunt Concetta's wine cellar
one the most ancient wine cellars existing in Massa, dating back to the 18th century.

2. "A te biondina - Wine Band"

I met cousin Biagio, the troubadour and leader of the “A te biondina - Wine Band". The men of Massa must serenade their fiancé much like my grandfather Marco did for my grandmother. If they cannot, then they hire Biagio and his band to do it for them. 

The "Wine Band"
The "A te biondina - Wine band" in concert...

Biagio, along with cousins Carlo & Gaetano performed live in concert for us.

The cousin Carlo
The cousin Carlo Lavorgna, son of Matilde Cofrancesco

Little Gaetano, Biagio’s son, even played the guitar with them.  Mr. Valerio Ciarlo, the lead singer, had the look of a Massa “Frank Sinatra” complete with the blue eyes as he crooned away.

Valerio Ciarlo
Valerio Ciarlo, the Massa "Frank Sinatra"
Wine Band
The "Wine Band"

Singing cousins
Singing all together...

Wine Band

Valerio Ciarlo

The four cousins
From left to right: Carlo Lavorgna, Biagio Cofrancesco, John Kaye, Gaetano Cofrancesco.
Another cousin, Giuseppe Lavorgna, Carlo's brother was not present.

Cousin Biagio
The cousin Biagio
3. The best wine in the world and the "scarrafun"

The Professor is a distant cousin, yet Anna’s great Uncle Sebastian Di Leone was “tricked” into marrying my mother’s Aunt Nancy (Nunzia) and Anna’s mother’s sister Angela is Biagio’s mother so it was like family when the Di Leones joined the Cofrancescos for Sunday dinner. I think this was the first time they had a "polacco" eat with them! Anna’s father ordered a special porchetta (pork roast) just for me from a special region of Italy.  Mr. Di Leone is a sommelier who, like the Cofrancescos makes some of the best wines in the world (& grappa too), but especially Mr. DiLeone makes magic.

Sunday dinner
"Linguine al forno"... and Michele Di Leone serving his great red wine

Anna’s mom and twin sister Ada helped her to make a meal Robert and I will never forget. Cousin Angela’s “scarrafun” (pr. scurrufoon) were a real treat as was the desert wine of the cousin Rita’s brother-in-law’s winery!

Sunday dinner
...more wine!

With Biagio's Family
With cousin Biagio's family
From left to right: Rita (Biagio's wife), myself, Biagio, Angela
(Biagio's daughter), Robert, Gaetano (Biagio's son),
and Angelina (Biagio's mother)

With Anna & Pacifico
Anna & Pacifico
our hosts for the Sunday dinner

Angelina Tacinelli
Angelina Tacinelli
Gaetano Cofrancesco's wife
and Biagio' mother

She made the wonderful "scarrafun" in the picture below.

The mitical "scarrafun"
Robert and I will never foget them!

Preparing lamb-chops
Michele Di Leone
preparing lamb chops

Grilling lamb chops
Grilling lamb chops...

Grilling... and drinking!
...and drinking!

The "Gianduia" cake
The "Gianduia" cake!
4. Our pilgrimage... continues

My friend Robert and I had come to Italy to attend a Mass for my godmother, my mother’s sister Mary, in Rome.  Then we travelled to Ravenna to see the ancient Christian mosaics, and from there to Salerno to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Matthew as Rob has a quest to visit the tombs of all the 12 Apostles.  We had no idea our visit to Massa would continue our pilgrimage.

Located on the road between Rome & Bari where Saint Nicholas is entombed, Massa’s church is dedicated to San Nicola, the most common name in our family.  Here, I was able to attend Mass and obtain special holy water from Saint Nicholas Church in Bari, known as the “manna of Saint Nicholas”.
Saint Nicholas of Massa

Saint Nicholas, the Saint of the people of Massa

5. The shrine of Saint Michael in Gargano      [^][<][>]

Pacifico and Anna took us to the shrine of Saint Michael’s in Gargano, where the Archangel appeared many centuries ago and where the people of Massa make pilgrimage.

The shrine of Saint Michael in Gargano
At the shrine of Saint Michael in Gargano
one of the most popular places of prigrimage from the medieval age

Saint Michael's shrine
Saint Michael's shrine
    Towards the grotto of Saint Michael
The stairs to Saint Michael's grotto

Descending the stairs...

Pilgrim's hand
A pilgrim's hand engraved on the column near the entrance of Saint Michael's shrine
6. Saint Pio in S. Giovanni Rotondo      [^][<][>]

I was also surprised to see how close we were to Pietralcina, the home of Padre Pio.  After Saint Michael’s we visited the new Church of San Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, a few hours away near Foggia.  The 21st Century golden mosaics wrapping around the circular vestibule in the round church depicting the life of Saint Francis on one side and Saint Pio on the other were truly amazing!  I did not think I could ever come to admire a 21st century mosaic, especially after visiting Ravenna!  Tears of joy filled my face!

The new church of Saint Pio in S. Giovanni Rotondo
The modern church of Saint Pio in S. Giovanni Rotondo

I was caught off guard on this pilgrimage, usually I go to pray for someone or something but here I decided just to give thanks. Thanks for my life, my family, my friends, my church, my business, my home, just for everything.  And then, I got zapped! An uncontrollable laughter overtook me, I attributed it to the Saint, Robert says I was just having a fit. Embarrassed to turn and look at my cousins who obviously heard me, I apologized to the nun at the counter where the laughter struck me. (I was having perpetual masses put in for my grandfather & great-grandparents). The nun just shook her head and said, “You are getting a miracle”. Padre Pio was a jokester and already one of my favorite saints.  Now I can say he is a real "compare"!

The new Saint Pio's Church
The new Saint Pio's Church

Robert and me in Saint Pio's church

Near Saint Pio's body
  Near Saint Pio's body
7. ...thanks a lot grandpa!      [^][<]

“Did you tell them how bad my father was?” asked my mother when calling her from Massa. (My grandparents divorced when my mother was a child).  Here was this man, Marco Cofrancesco, who had never given me anything in life (I think I met him once, he died when I was 7), reaching beyond the grave and giving to me the greatest gift of all---family!!!   If anything, I came to Massa to redeem my grandfather’s soul and brought back a nice souvenir, a big black and blue mark on my left hip. I fell on my assa in Massa where I had too much wine! As the nuns taught me to “offer it up”, I do for my grandfather, may his memory be eternal!, and thanks a lot, grandpa!

Marco Cofrancesco
My granpa Marco Cofrancesco
in a photo kept by aunt Concetta in Massa

Last Updated ( Saturday, 12 March 2011 )
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