“Bread and Wine”

The first half of Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine follows Pietro Spina, an Italian socialist revolutionary who has returned to Italy after having been exiled.  In order to evade arrest, he disguises himself Don Paolo Spada, a priest who has been sent to live in a rural village in Southern Italy to regain his health.  This disguise is ironic, as Spina has abandoned the religious fervor he had in his adolescence.  Silone uses this plot line to explore the effects of fascism on Catholics and uneducated peasants.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this section of the novel for me is the villagers’ fixation on the greatness of the past.  In one scene, Cristina Colamartini is explaining why her family did not allow her brother, Alberto to marry Bianchina.  She says that “My grandmother and father would consider it not only a disgrace to themselves, but to their forefathers” (Silone 102).  The Colamartinis hold little respect within the village, and are more concerned with returning honor to their family than their son’s happiness.  It is also revealed that Cristina’s aunt never married because her mother refused to allow her a dowry, and didn’t want to create dishonor by not having one.  The Colamartini’s obsession with returning to a former glory after years of poverty and shame mirrors fascist Italy’s fixation on returning to the glory of the Roman Empire.

In his definition of Fascism, Mussolini writes that the Italy is “…rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude.”  This sense of a rebirth is also captured in Bread and Wine.  Many illusions are made throughout the novel to a devastating earthquake which left the villages of Southern Italy in a state of death and destruction.  The area is shown to still be in a state of rebuilding, and an allusion is even made to a new section of a town built after the earthquake, in which the streets “…recorded glorious dates in the history of the government party” (Silone 140).  In this case, there is both rebuilding from the earthquake and a rebuilding of Italy into a respected yet feared nation.

“Bread and Wine” by Ignazio Silone

Bread and Wine is a novel written by Italian author Ignazio Silone in 1935. It primarily deals with the betrayal of the Catholic Church in it’s agreement with Fascism, and the underground communist revolutionary movement in Italy at the time. The first half of the book follows the life of a recently returned socialist opponent of the regime, named Pietro Spina, but disguised as Don Paolo Spada. Spada is a priest and is sent to live in a small rural village, in order to regain his health. While in the village, he faces an internal battle between his adolescent religious feelings which return, and his current socialist revolutionary stance.

An interesting theme that runs throughout the text is the depiction of the Church’s persecution of those holy men who do not follow the party line. These men, most specifically portrayed by Don Benedetto, Spina’s childhood teacher and mentor, are shown to be dishonored by the official church but accepted by the peasants. In the scene where Spada is talking to Don Pasquale Colamartini, richest man in the small village, Colamartini states that Benedetto advised his daughter to not join the church, advice that was contradictory to the local pastor’s. While Colamartini does not wish to force his daughter to choose a path, he implies his agreement with Benedetto, who is not in favor with the Church, when he states that “there is no doubt that there have been very few saints [such as Benedetto] who have not been suspected and persecuted by the Church” (p.99).

This statement raises the interesting question on the beliefs of the Church on a rural level. While the Vatican’s deal with Fascism may have been criticized at the highest level, it is questionable whether rural societies, especially in Southern Italy, had developed to the extent that they would consider questions of faith. Rural societies in Europe have traditionally been depicted to have believe the words of the local pastor to be the truth of the gospel, especially since Catholic mass was usually conducted in Latin, which was not a common language. While this image had drastically changed by the early part of the 20th century, it must be remembered that Southern Italy was, and still is, one of the least developed regions in Western Europe. In conclusion, my query is regarding not only the ability of South Italian peasants ability to question and understand the Church’s compromise, but also their desire to question such a development in relation to their own lives. The latter is especially confusing as it must be acknowledged that Silone himself grew up in rural conditions, but he was also a dedicated communist and might have written with certain biases.