Fontana Fraterna in Isernia, and the “great refusal”
Isernia’s Fontana Fraterna is tied to two great historical figures known for a “great refusal”, to use an expression from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” (Inferno III, 60): Celestine V, the hermit monk Pietro Angelerio who abdicated papacy in 1294; and Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judaea who, according to the Gospel of Matthew, literally washed his hands of Jesus, abandoning him to his torturers.
Celestine V, who was probably born in or near Isernia, comes into the picture for the name of the fountain: it is “Fraterna” (that is “fraternal”, or “brotherly”) because it is located in the ‘rione’ where the future pope founded his brotherhood in 1289; but it also has a fragment of an epigraph reading “ae pont”, which some say came from Pontius Pilate’s sepulchral monument, who at the end of his political career probably lived between Abruzzo and Molise.
The infernal tercet (“When some of these I recogniz’d, I saw / And knew the shade of him, who to base fear / Yielding, abjur’d his high estate”, Inferno III, 58-60) yields various interpretations. Most critics believe Dante is referring to Celestine V, but some – including Giovanni Pascoli – are convinced it must be Pilate.
Whatever the truth may be, the beautiful Fontana Fraterna – a patchwork of stone blocks and slabs, each one with a different past – goes on gushing clean, fresh water over humanity’s most difficult choices and decisions.