Morti delle Tre Bocche
Cassandra is not suggesting you go to see this small but lovely ossuary in the middle of nowhere on purpose, but if you happen to be passing by on the SS 235 between Crema and Lodi stop to look. The gates will be shut but a new window may just open in your mind.
In 1700 Charles II of Spain died childless and named Philip of Anjou his heir. Philip’s grandfather, Louis XIV, was very pleased and said that one day France and Spain would be united under Philip. England, Holland, Prussian and Austria got nervous about the superpower prospect, formed the Grand Alliance and said that they were going to put their man, Archduke Charles of Austria on the Spanish throne instead. The War of the Spanish Succession began. Battles were fought all over Europe, including one on August 16th 1705 at Cassano d’Adda. Eugene of Savoy, representing the Grand Alliance, and his men had a huge battle with General Vendome who was fighting for France and Spain. Neither side had a clear victory and the only certainty at the end of the day was that it had been a bloodbath: 15,000 dead and thousands more wounded. The aftermath horrified the local people who buried the dead as best they could, separating officers from infantrymen, one side from the other. Nevertheless, fishermen were finding fingers and other tidbits in the stomachs of aquatic predators like pike for weeks afterwards.
Twenty days later and about twenty miles downstream the people of Crema found what was left of twenty-six officers in an irrigation canal called Le Tre Bocche. It seems they had been duped by the French into charging over a fake bridge that collapsed, plunging them into the water where they drowned. Moved to pity, the Cremaschi built a lovely ossuary for the remains and dedicated it to the Morti delle Tre Bocche as the twenty-six were now called. The ossuary is an oval structure in the midst of flat farmland and industrial parks, the middle of nowhere in other words. Inside, bones are displayed in glass cases while frescoed skeletons in tatters of elegant uniforms preside, gold braid against their bony chests and rapiers at their sides. Pilasters are frescoed with ribbons, crossbones and skulls in the place of tassels and bows.
Why bother? one might ask. Why dedicate time and expense to building and decorating such a lovely sanctuary for a bunch of total strangers, foreigners, mercenaries? The answer is in the inscriptions outside. Roughly translated:
We were struck by fire
And surrounded by water
You who have heart
From the eternal cold.
Your prayers for us are all the more
Because we are strangers
And will be all the more
Pleasing to God
Because we are abandoned
The Morti delle Tre Bocche were duped in war but now rest, respected in peace. After years of fighting the War of Spanish Succession ended in 1713 after the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I died and named Archduke Charles, the same man that the Grand Alliance was fighting to get on the throne of Spain, his heir. But if it was dangerous to have one man at the head of France and Spain wouldn’t it be equally dangerous to have one man at the head of the HRE and Spain? Charles II’s original heir Philip became King of Spain on the condition that France and Spain never be united. England received Gibraltar, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Hudson Bay Territories in the Treaty of Utrecht. They also got the rights to a monopoly on the slave trade in Latin America.