Friar Onion in Certaldo

Friar Onion in Certaldo

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This is an adaptation of a short story belonging to Decameron, a book written between 1349-1351 by Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the most important Italian writers, whose works highly contributed to the development of the Italian language. Decameron in Greek means “Ten days”, as the book it’s made by 100 short stories that are supposedly narrated by ten characters in a  ten days lapse. The narrators are seven girls and three boys that have decided to escape the plague and go to Fiesole, a town in the hills near Firenze. Every day is devoted to a different topic: happy ending love stories, bad ending love stories, adventures, real facts, etc. The following story is narrated on the sixth day, and it deals with witticism. 

There was a friar who, once a year, used to visit Certaldo, a small town next to Florence, to gather offerings from the people. His name was friar Onion, maybe because he came from that part of Tuscany where a lot of onions were produced. He was short, with ginger hair and a pleasant smile. He was a good rhethor and an astute guy. Once he visited Certaldo at the beginning of August and gave this speech to the community: “Dear brothers, this evening you are invited to bring offers for the poor people of our country. My superior, the bishop, asked me to give you a special blessing for your generosity. Besides that, I will also show you something very special, namely the feather of the archangel Gabriel which was lost in Mary’s house after the Annunciation. I will wait for you all this evening”. The faithful became really curious about this relic, and were looking forward to seeing it. 

Two young men, named Giovanni and Biagio, who knew friar Onion very well, listened to his speech and decided to play a prank on him. So, in the afternoon, while the friar was in the church, they managed to distract his servant and entered his bedroom. Then, they looked for the prodigious feather. After little time they found a wooden box, in which a colorful feather lied. “It is obviously a parrot’s feather”, Giovanni said. It is important to know that, at that time, just a few people were aware of the existence of these exotic birds, so it would have been easy for them to believe that the feather belonged to an angel. Biagio suggested; “ Let’s put something else in the box, like these pieces of coal, and see what the friar will say”. They did that, then exited the room and in the evening attended the blessing with all the other inhabitants of Certaldo. 

Friar Onion started the sermon and blessed everybody, and then the relics-show would take place. He took out the wooden box, opened it and looked inside. Then he closed it, without seeming worried, and started speaking in this way: “Dear brothers, in my life I have been in many parts of the world, traveling from Europe to North Africa to the Middle East, but the place that I love the most is the holy city of Jerusalem. One time when I was there my friend, the bishop of Jerusalem, decided to give me three important relics: a jar with the sound of the bells of Solomon’s temple, the feather of the archangel Gabriel and the coal that was used to burn Saint Lawrence. As you can imagine, I need to be very careful when carrying such important holy objects, that’s why I put the feather and the pieces of coal in two separate wooden boxes that are very similar. And I have just realised that, instead of taking the one with Gabriel’s feather, I took the one with Saint Lawrence’s coal. But I do believe that it did not happen by chance, but that it was God’s will, since in a few days it will be Saint Lawrence’s day. So, dear brothers, I can use these pieces of coal to make the cross on you. Whoever receives this mark, will not be burnt for the whole year”. And after saying that, all the people queued to receive the special blessing, not having any doubts he was saying the truth. 

Giovanni and Biagio enjoyed seeing how the friar reacted to the joke, and thought he really was a smart guy. Later on, they approached him, complimented him for his wittiness and gave him back the parrot’s feather. 

[Original version: Giovanni Boccaccio, Frate Cipolla. Giornata Sesta. Novella Decima, in Decameron, edited by Vittore Branca, Arnoldo Mondadori, Milano, 1985]

Tags: wittiness; friar; feather; coal; stupidity. 

Question: Which quality helps Friar Onion in resolving the situation in front of the community?

  1. He is a good rhetor 
  2. He is a big traveller
  3. He is very rich

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