The true story of the "White Lady" of Padernello
The true story of the white lady
It was 15th century. One of those years, as it was flowing away, had given birth to a sweet creature. She was the daughter of Count Gaspare Martinengo, one of the two heirs of that Antonio I Martinengo who was enfeoffed of the lands of Gabbiano on March 7, 1443. This was the reward that the Venetian Republic benevolently offered to the leader for his services and military successes. Also Gaspare, son of the first marriage of Antonio and the noble Nostra Boni, became a brave and feared leader. Known was his physical strength and the undisputed charisma of a great captain of arms. Antonio Martinengo, who certainly died on September 14, 1473, left to his son Gaspare - who actually protested quite a bit about the will drawn up by his inflexible father who, according to him, had favoured his brother Bernardino, born of the Venetian noblewoman Lelia di Andrea Quirino - a beautiful palace in Brescia where the soldier lived with the four sons that history officially records: Lodovico, Scipione Maria and his two daughters Cecilia and Chiara. But it seems that the soldier also had another daughter, who died very young and a year before the demise of her father. Bianca Maria was born in this palace, now disappeared, located in Via Palazzo Vecchio.
The little girl was as delightful as nature rarely enjoys shaping its creatures. Her skin was as white as jasmine petals and her eyes were the colour of the deepest glacier in the Alps. She grew so beautiful that, on the threshold of youth, she had already been asked to marry a host of noble and enchanted suitors. But Bianca didn't seem to care. In the city of Brescia everybody talked about but the "strange" and mysterious charm of the "pale child". But Biancamaria seemed to ignore this too. Of the power and influence of her father, of the wealth of her family, of the burdensome facts that history was consuming around her towards the end of that tormented century that had seen her birth, Bianca didn't seem to notice. To tell the truth, the noble girl hid the impatience she felt towards her time: so rude, often gloomy, always brutal. Bianca would have preferred to be born at a different time, far from that period that fate had chosen for her. Of her time she appreciated only the immaculate beauty of nature, but she had only intuited it by letting herself be guided by her unusual sensitivity and imagined beyond those "impassable" splayed windows of the building she lived in. She had had an inkling of the beauty of nature while eavesdropping on certain speeches made in the "red room" by some foreigners who had told of fantastic Florentine artists who tried to imitate the "Mother Goddess" using a new painting technique learned from the other side of the Alps, in the north, with brilliant colours...
Biancamaria could not stand even the life of that fortified city, with its thousand archaic towers, soaked in violence, fears, harassment, rich in armor too shiny not infrequently pierced by frequent flashes of murderous blades. Bianca's charm was as great as her health was poor, and towards the end of that spring she seemed to lose it. At that time her thick pitch black hair that, it is said, Bianca was able to comb now in curls now smoothing it and making them as glossy as the precious marbles chosen for that mausoleum that her uncle Bernardino was having built to achieve immortality among men, hid an increasingly pale face, an expression that was more and more sad and disconsolate. The most famous surgeons of the city toiled and were replaced under the main gate of the great Martinengo house. Even talented scientists skilful in the art of curing the evils of the body were summoned from the distant, but now ruling, Serenissima Venezia.
But Biancamaria was suffering in spirit and if the body declined, it was only because it was indulging and in a certain way suffering the will of the best and strongest part of that being: so fragile, so kind that the contrast with her time was so manifest and high that you could not help falling in love with her! Bianca, with that harmonious and minute graceful body that knew sweet gestures and possessed thin hands, always cold, furrowed by a thick weave of veins throbbing with sensitivity, seemed a creature out of time, something abstruse from her time so as to grasp all its contradictions. She, the young lady, was out of context, out of the usual, out of the known, out of the plausible. She seemed a creature forever born and to eternity, for that world of the positive that exists and that for this very reason collides and clashes with all the times of history. The poor health of that "flower" whose best part of the corolla remained hidden from most people, began to worry her father too. Count Gaspare, who had retired from military life a few years back and lived in his palace in Orzinuovi, near the Mignaniga Gate, given the impotence of medicine and the futility of the prescribed treatments, resolved to send his daughter from the city, where she still lived, to the countryside, at the beautiful castle-house that his brother, Bernardino Martinengo, had just finished building in the centre of his feud, down there in the woods of the countryside where at the time, and not infrequently, sacrifices were still held for the fertility of the soil. The county stretched north until you see the gate of San Giorgio placed to defend the Orceana fortress. To the south it lapped the wild banks of the river Oglio.
The village was called Padernello and the castle reflected in the waters of the moat was a true fairy tale. Immaculate woods, and in some places so thick as to intimidate, surrounded it as in a siege, oaks of enormous size and great "wisdom" accumulated between the wrinkled folds of the bark protected it. The richness of the water in the area then favoured the unknown architect who designed the manor, when he conceived it as emerging from the water and resting on a mighty shoe foundation. The moat took water from the Fiumara irrigation ditch and then forced it into the gora to move the blades of three mill wheels that the head of the family of the Martinengo of Padernello, Bernardino, had wanted to build at a arquebus throw. The water a little further on fell "svegher" along a steep shady slope to form a marsh populated with voices in concert.
Around the castle there was also the village with the church, the peasants' houses, the oven perched on a ditch, the grocery store, the vineyard... a pleasant, prosperous, self-sufficient village that lived in the shadow of the castle and for the castle.
Biancamaria arrives in Padernello on a cold day in late November 1479.
She must have been, if history does not deceive us, thirteen years old. But Bianca's stay within the young walls of her uncle Bernardino's house will be short, very short...
Even before the end of the summer, Bianca's life was waning. In fact, there is a legend born around those facts that the young ghost of the girl reappears in the castle. The Lady appears every ten years, on the same night of her death in the sultry month of July 1480. She shows herself dressed in white and holding an open book, all in gold. The book seems really precious, but not because it is made with yellow metal, but because among its pages is written the secret of the charm of the "White Lady" ... an irresistible spell, created by a particularly complacent nature, but built day after day, without wasting anything. On those pages is the secret of a rare, unconventional life: a creed unknown to the so-called "ordinary" men, a philosophy that only a few people are able to guess, to seek and then, in part, to experience and enjoy. The others, all the others, limit themselves to revolving around these creatures that seem deaf, blind and obtuse... And if it is true that these "beings" are difficult to meet because they are rare, it is also true that often those who are lucky enough to mix their destiny with these sweet creatures do not even know how to take the opportunity granted. Biancamaria used to go looking for a memory that was dormant among the scent of flowers; she knew how to evoke a nostalgia within herself whenever she wished; she loved thoughts because she felt them as "accelerators of life" towards a still vague end, but the only one worth reaching.
She often fed on dreams and quenched her thirst with drops of pure dew. She never had trivial anxieties: sadness, simply, was inside her like the heat in the sun. She loved every form of life, every stem of grass moved her. She felt the seasons more than migratory birds; she preferred secluded corners within which she intersected as a perfect module, as a mosaic tessera that had found its rightful place in the great design of the world. She was, Biancamaria, immersed in that harmony of the cosmos that her time had instead forgotten, as anxious as it was to chase the ephemeral ... This is the world of the sweet girl: a way of existence not understood, not shared but envied. All this was in the depths of her being, in this Bianca believed, she knew no other truth. But she had not yet experienced physical contact with everything she lived and was born for. For her, still, the reverie was "stained" by the doubt of the untried. Her love affairs were not consumed. The love she felt was so mystical that her wonderful body transformed day after day taking on forms and tastes of unspeakable beauty. What was left of Bianca as a human being was fought against, defeated and won day after day. And precisely for this reason the arrival in Padernello killed her. Here the noble maid physically met love.
The journey had exhausted her in the body, the encounter with the natural beauty of Padernello annihilated her inside. She felt every imaginable bliss from the top of the donjon, while her gaze swept through the vineyards, the woods and the countryside. The moat below was swarming with life and Bianca could no longer repress the wearing gift of love. She wanted to give herself to everything with equal intensity and she suffered when she realized that her expressions of affection were not sublime enough, equal to what she desired. She would have liked to fly in those icy and terse nights of Padernello, she would have liked to transform herself into a tiny creature to be able to perch on the smallest branches of the trees, to mill with the joker wind playing on the ice of the rigid moat. She wished to become an air bubble to dive into the water and approach the hibernated salamanders. But Bianca still had a weight: it was her body which, even if transfigured, so far would not let her go. It was heavy, still too heavy. The suffering for her condition made her happy spirit more and more sad. The first snowflakes fell on the countryside. Padernello became mute. The silence was stunning. One night Bianca dreamt of being a snowflake and tried, after having turned around a tower of the castle, to descend gently at its feet, on the frozen ditch, among other soft flakes that called her, desired her, wanted her among them. Indescribable were the emotions of that contact. But was Bianca ready, despite the favourable condition on the border between humanity and spirit, to meet the dream? When this comes even those who desperately desired, sought and firmly believed in it, often found themselves unprepared.
Winter passed. Spring was now warm. That evening Biancamaria was seated astride between the merlons of the fake castle patrol walk and looked far away. As her gaze shortened, Bianca discovered nearby wonders. But among all the creatures of nature real and created by her imagination that she had met or imagined meeting, she would never have expected to see, flying over the black waters of the night, a little luminous magic. Then another, and yet another. These lights vibrated like distant fires, between the leaves, then disappeared to reappear brighter nearby. Bianca leaned out so that she could see better. The strange creatures spoke and talked of things that happened far away. Bianca went mad with joy. She felt, at last, that she could free herself in the air. She tried. But as she detached herself from "doubt", she feared. She fell into the moat of Padernello's castle.She felt no cold, no pain. Only regret because in the flight she couldn't get near those white lights. So ended Biancamaria, drowned without even knowing that she had sacrificed her life for little fireflies. Why does her ghost still wander? Because the Lady wants to reveal her secret, which is written in the book in her hand. But in Padernello nobody so far deigned to listen to the White Lady.
Gian Mario Andrico
courtesy of the author
publisher: La Compagnia della Stampa, 2006, III edition