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'Per un punto Martin perse la cappa...'

Figures of speech

'Per un punto Martin perse la cappa...'

There’s an expression in Italian that goes: ‘Per un punto Martin perse la Cappa’. (literally ‘For a dot Martin lost hid hood’). Today, this has become almost a proverb and highlights what happens when someone, because of a small mistake, fails to reach a goal he was very close to achieving. But do you know where this expression comes from? Yes, right from Tuscany! Or rather, one of the versions on its origin- there are more than one - would trace this saying to an anecdote about the Asello Monastery in Tuscany.

So, let’s go back to the sixteenth century, to the Monastery of Asello where there was a friar who had to engrave a welcome phrase on the door of his convent. It was not clear whether he did this on his own initiative to decorate the monastery or if he was asked to do so by his superiors. The phrase he chose was: 'porta patens esto, nulli claudatur honesto' which, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Latin, means 'this door shall not be closed before honest people'. It was a beautiful phrase that praised charity. But the friar inserted a comma at the wrong point in the sentence: 'Porta patens esto nulla. Claudatur honesto' that, instead, means: ‘the door is open to anyone. It shall close in front of honest people’, exactly the opposite of what it was supposed to mean!

His superiors were not at all happy with the inscription, indeed it was a real scandal. How could a sentence against charity stay on the door of a monastery? Poor Martino would pay dearly for this scandal: he lost his hood. In those days, in fact, when a friar became Abbot he wore a particular cloak (the hood) that was the symbol of the charge itself. It isn’t clear whether the unfortunate Martino was already abbot and was demoted or if, wanting to be promoted, with that error he lost all chances. The fact is that poor Martino, because of that dot placed in the wrong place, couldn’t wear his hood.

Fascinating story about the ancient monastery and the absent-minded little friar... did it make you want to visit some of the wonderful spiritual places in Tuscany? Well, we recommend our tour in the Crete Senesi thanks to which you can visit the splendid Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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