2016 Central Italy earthquake. Wrath of God, scapegoats, miracles,and other ‘medieval’ aspects of a 21st century seismic disaster

When an earthquake occurs in a densely populated area like central Italy, reactions are mainly focused on the recovery and assistance of victims, removal of debris, assessment of the damage, reactivation of infrastructures and public services.

As nowadays, these actions also constituted the core of post-disaster recovery in the Middle Ages, when populations were far from passive when coping with natural disasters. In the medieval period, however, this phase was also accompanied by other aspects concerned with the religious interpretation of the seismic event. Among them, the perception of disasters as a divine punishment, the search for ‘scapegoats’ and the adoption of specific religious cult practices (for instance processions and flagellations) as mitigative strategies. Miracles or marvels were also recorded as noteworthy elements of a disaster by medieval societies.

Just to cite a few examples, earthquakes in 1202 (Syria), 1456 (Central Italy) and 1511 (Northeastern Italy and Slovenia) were interpreted by some commenters as divine punishment for the sin of sodomy, and the Jews and Marrani (converted Jews) were accused of being the cause of the earthquake which hit Ferrara in 1570 by Pope Pius II. The ‘Madonna dei terremoti’, i.e. the Virgin of Earthquakes, was worshipped in Venice in 1511 and  Mugello, Tuscany in 1542. Marvels such as the inexplicable survival of particular buildings were observed in Villach, 1348 (the house of a pious man) and Vera la Vieja, 1518 (the chapel of the Corpus Domini).

Far from being just ‘medieval’ reactions, it is perhaps surprising that these same aspects are recognisable in the ‘golden hours’ of the 2016 Central Italy earthquake, a seismic sequence affecting a developed country of the 21st century western world.

Here, I want to list some of them without adding any personal comment. This list will need to be updated during the following weeks, I presume.



Radio Maria, an Italian confessional radio, has broadcast (3rd of November 2016) a speech of the Dominican friar Giovanni Cavalcoli asserting that the earthquake in central Italy is a “divine retribution“. The cause of the Wrath of God would be due to the recent approval of so-called civil unions, providing both heterosexual and homosexual non-married couples with most of the legal protections granted to married couples. The speaker said that “there is the impression that the offences committed against the divine law, the dignity of the family, of the marriage, against the dignity of the sexual union, recall the idea of divine punishment. A recall to rediscover the principles of the natural law.” Here, the mention of the sin of sodomy -seen as a peccatum contra naturam- is quite evident, although not directly mentioned. Radio Maria is a radio known for its radical positions.  In many occasions, several catholic groups and the Vatican itself expressed criticism against the radio.You can listen the speeches by clicking here.

A day later, the Vatican, in the person of the Angelo Becciu, member of the State Secretariat and one of the closest Pope’s collaborators, clearly condemned Calvacoli’s statements. Becciu said that “this interpretation does not belong to the theology of the Church, as opposite to the vision of God offered by Christ, who revealed us the face of a loving God, not of a capricious and vengeful God“. He added: “who recalls the divine punishment, offends the name of the Virgin itself, who is seen as the merciful Mather bending over her crying sons and wiping their tears in terrible situations like those of an earthquake”.

The Dominican friar has immediately replied in a RAI (the Italian national broadcasting company) radio interview, clarifying his extreme position. “Are homosexual unions a sin? Of course, they are… An homosexual is a person sinning against nature. What are two men living together? Sinners. Have you read Sodom and Gomorrah? Why were they punished? Because of sins. The divine punishment exists. Simply, these are sins which deserve a divine punishment. I am not asserting something new”. And then: “What have earthquakes to do with theology? They are related with theology, no doubts.  Earthquakes are involved in the divine retribution as a consequence of the original sin. Sexual unions can induce divine punishment.” When informed that the Vatican has condemned his assertions, he replied: “This is the Bible”.

Don Rocco D’Ambrosio, professor at the Pontificia Università Gregoriana commented: “This sentences hurt as they represent a degeneration of the Christian faith into magic and superstition, a vision of God punishing for sins and affecting all for the sin of few. This is not absolutely Christian.”

Read here the Italian article published by Repubblica: http://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2016/11/04/news/terremoto_radio_maria_vaticano-151323845/?ref=HREC1-1



Also the Israeli Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara suggested that the massive earthquakes which have stricken Italy were a divine punishment in this case for the country’s failure to vote against the UNESCO decision denying Jewish ties to the Temple Mount. Such a statement quickly spurred a reaction from the Israeli government, which distanced itself from the comments. The ‘Breaking Israel News’ website, reporting the news, opens the article quoting the  book of Exodus (32:33): whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book.

Read more at http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/77744/minister-hints-italys-earthquakes-divine-punishment-unesco-decision/#9QXCoLmxyddSRs3P.99


pope socci.jpg

The Italian journalist, writer and anchorman Antonio Socci, member of Communion and Liberation (CL), a lay ecclesiastical movement within the Catholic Church, has recently commented (30th of October) on the destruction caused by the Italian seismic swarm criticising Pope Francis for attending the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Lund, Sweden. This is the translation of Socci’s Facebook post:

The earthquake devastates the land of Saint Benedict (and of Saint Francis), heart of Christian Europe. Instead of going and paying tribute to Luther who destroyed Christendom, Bergoglio (i.e. the Pope’s surname) should consecrate Italy putting the country under the protection of the Holy Virgin. It is necessary to intervene supporting the victims of the earthquake as well as to pray, pray, pray. But he  (the Pope) does not believe in these catholic things…

A photo is attached to the post, showing the basilica of Saint Benedict in Norcia before and after the earthquake.



DiPiù, an Italian gossip magazine,  published an article in September, 16th, entitled “In the earthquake, the miracle of the Virgin from Filetta“. Drone photographs show the almost completely ruined church of Saint Lorenz at Flaviano, a small hamlet of Amatrice, whose nave appears completely  filled by roof debris. Comments on the pictures quote that “the church was destroyed”, “only the statue of the Virgin from Filetta is still standing” and “safe among the rubble”. The Virgin is named ‘from Filetta’, another hamlet of Amatrice, after her apparition in this location in 1472. She is the protector of the whole municipality of Amatrice, the town worst affected by the earthquake. The priest of Amatrice,  commented: “it’s a small miracle. It is a divine sign, the demonstration that our Lady is here with us, to give us hope, and help us to recover”. 


2 thoughts on “2016 Central Italy earthquake. Wrath of God, scapegoats, miracles,and other ‘medieval’ aspects of a 21st century seismic disaster

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