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Our Trip to San Lorenzello
by Phyllis Masotta Cofrancesco

When I married my husband my name changed from Phyllis Masotta to Phyllis Cofrancesco.  I have always loved my marriage name but thanks to John Cofrancesco, Ivan Cofrancesco and others, I knew a lot about the Cofrancesco ancestors and little about my Masotta ancestors.  So my goal was not only to learn about the Cofrancescos but also to walk where my ancestors had walked and learn something about the Masotta family while in San Lorenzello.

I started planning my trip to Italy as a 12 year old

I started planning my trip to Italy as a 12 year old.  I had a teacher, Miss Sagnella, who had just visited Italy and Benevento province. This was the province of her ancestors, my ancestors, and the ancestors of many Italians residing in Hamden, Connecticut, and the surrounding cities.  She told our class some wonderful stories of her visit to Italy that summer.  When I had to do a school project that year, I chose to do it on Italy.  I read a lot about the country for this project and through the years I kept an interest in Italy as I listened to family and paesani tell stories of the old country.   I knew I would visit there some day.

Phyllis and Al in Rome
      Phyllis and Al in Rome
It was 54 years later, when my husband Al and I boarded the plane to Italy.  Like all tourists, I had to see the places and art of which I had read and dreamed about all those many years.  They were all that I had imagined and more.  Rome, Florence, Pompei, Naples, Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi were all spectacular. 

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the major cities I visited, I really wanted to see the home of my ancestors above all else. We contacted Ryan Cofrancesco, a third cousin living in Rome via the Internet.  He agreed to be our guide to San Lorenzello. We met Ryan, our tour guide, translator, chauffeur, and fellow traveler, in Pompei.  As we left Pompei I was disheartened to see the garbage lined up on the highway.  Would San Lorenzello be like this or would it be the pristine, green farmland that I always imagined it to be?  My mind was full of questions.   Is this the road my grandmother took on her way to Naples and America?  How long must it have taken her to travel to Naples to board the ship for America?  My grandmother was traveling with her 4 children, none older than 13.   What were their feelings as they left their village?  How did they feel as they boarded the ocean liner that would take them to the unknown?

The country roadside was beautiful

Once passed the larger cities, the garbage disappeared and the country roadside was beautiful.   It was dark when we got into San Lorenzello and the Azienda Agritutistica Marchese.  After a warm welcome by Anna Marchese, the proprietor, I had a feeling that I was home.  I couldn’t wait for the next day to begin. 

Upon awakening the next morning we saw Mount Acero in the distance.  At the Marchese we were surrounded by a lush area of grape vines and olive trees.   After breakfast we got into the car with the thought of exploring the area.  As we were driving into the town something guided us to the ceramic studio of Ceramista Guido Barbieri.  Mr. Barbieri greeted us warmly.  Ryan explained our purpose in town was to visit with unknown relatives.  We exchanged names.  I told Mr. Barbieri my Dad’s name was Philip Masotta. He said Philip was the name of the founder of San Lorenzello.  I told him my Paternal Grandfather was a Masotta and my grandmother a Lavorgna.  He said he knew a couple in town that had the same names.  After selecting our souvenirs from his wonderful artistic reproductions of 17th century ceramics, he took us to meet them.  They were not home so he took us on a tour of the town. 

A tour of the town

Phyllis and Al at the town Pump
Phyllis and Al at the town Pump   
The first place he took us to was the cemetery.  We saw the gravesites of many Cofrancesco, Masotta and Lavorgna families.  All were in the past century, however.  When I asked to see earlier plots, I was told that they were all bones on the mountaintop.   Unlike cemeteries in the United States where one may find grave markers from the 17th century, there were no grave markers on the mountain. 

Mr. Barbieri then took us to town where we made a stop at the town pump.  I had purchased a plate at his studio which had the motif of the pump painted on it. I was so excited to be here.  I knew I was certainly stepping on stones, which were stepped on by my Dad, and his family.  I had seen magnificent fountains in Italy, but none moved me the way this simple town pump did.

Next we went to the church of San Lorenzello.  There was a painter sanding the large plank doors of the church.  From the outside the church appeared to need much restoration.  When we entered, however, my breath was taken away.  I felt the presence of all my ancestors immediately. I walked around in awe of the white pristine church with the huge statues and the golden altar.  In my mind I could see my father’s baptism. I knelt down and prayed for my ancestors and thanked God for making it possible for me to be here.

After my prayers I was summoned to the side of the church by Mr. Barbieri who was pointing to a very large painting of Jesus on the Cross.  The signature on the painting read Tomaso Masotta.    Could Tomaso be a direct relative of mine? Was there a connection to this painter and to the Masottas who appreciated all things artistic?  I needed to go to the town offices to try to get some information.  We thanked Mr. Barbieri for so generously giving his time to help me find my roots and went to the town offices. To my disappointment we found the offices closed.  I realized that it would be impossible to get the information I wanted in the few days I was in San Lorenzello.

Al and Ryan at the Church Painting by Tomaso Masotta
Al and Ryan at the Church  
Painting by Tomaso Masotta

We then drove to Alessandro Cofrancesco’s home.  We unfortunately did not get to meet him, but spent some time with his lovely mother and bright children.  We saw the old Cofrancesco homestead which was attached to their new home.  Mrs. Cofrancesco and her grandchildren were very gracious.  Here is where I learned of the deep devotion the people of Benevento Province have for Padre Pio. 

We couldn’t leave without meeting them

The next day we had to leave for our drive to Florence.  I was despondent.  I did not want to leave, but knew my accommodations in Florence awaited me. On our way out of town we made one last stop to Mr. Barbieri’s Ceramic shop, to thank him and to buy more beautiful ceramics to bring home.  He told me that Raffaela Masotta Lavorgna and her husband Pasquale Lavorgna wanted to meet us.  He said we couldn’t leave without meeting them.  My despondency lessened as I thought of these wonderful strangers who wanted to meet us.  In no time we were at their beautiful modern home that Pasquale Lavorgna, an architect, had built.  Again the art connection.  My dad was a builder as well.  This was man who Ivan Cofrancesco told me we were related to.  They took out photos of the family and there certainly was a resemblance on the Masotta side and on the Lavorgna as well. To intertwine things even more, they told me Raffaela’s mother was a Cofrancesco.  We were definitely in the home of our ancestors. 

I guess it was fate that Al and I got together and formed a Masotta/Cofrancesco bond.  We weren’t the first to do so, however.  In the 16th century there was a marriage of same surnames and now Raffaela’s mother informed us, that her mother was a Cofrancesco and had married a Masotta. We were honored to have met so many fine people in San Lorenzello.  My wish is to one-day return to San Lorenzello. 

Guido Barbieri and the Lavorgnas have both asked me to look for their relatives here in Connecticut.  If anyone who knows them reads this, please tell them I continue to search for them, but have had no luck finding them to date.

Phyllis Masotta Cofrancesco

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 11 December 2008 )
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