Gubbio’s Forty Modern-Day Martyrs
Every year on June 22nd in Gubbio, a solemn procession led by the bishop heads to the Mausoleo dei Quaranta Martiri to pay homage to the forty civilians shot by the Germans against a nearby wall in the early morning of June 22nd, 1944. The shooting of a German medical officer and the wounding of another by partisans had resulted in an immediate irate reaction: the rounding up of local civilians by the German occupying forces. Knowing the German retaliaton norms – the death of forty civilians for every German officer killed, twenty for every foot soldier – the bishop of Gubbio intervened at once. He received from the German commander assurance of no reprisal if further incidents did not occur; yet, the following day, the round-up continued. Some of those taken were liberated after a cursory interrogation, others were held.
In the early hours of June 22nd, some were dragged into the countryside to dig a mass grave. Shortly after, all forty were bound, hand and foot, blindfolded, lined up against a wall and shot. Bullet holes still remain in the wall. A stop to pay homage at the Mausoleo is a must for me on any visit to Gubbio.
The interior of the white limestone mausoleum is most moving: forty stone sarcophaghi, each one bearing the name of the victim, date of birth and photo. Some have fresh flowers nearby: sign of a recent visit of a relative. One time an elderly lady sitting in a chair near the three Bedini tombs told me their story: one was her brother, one her father, one her uncle.
Red and white begonias now bloom where the mass graves had been dug. Forty cypresses line the entryway. A stunning contemporary statue (work of the son of a martire) stands near the right of the entrance.The human figure is neither man nor woman but rather both: two of the victims were women, mother and daughter. A note in the Mausoleo posted by the Associazione Famiglie dei 40 Martiri tells the signficance of this sobering monument: “Let this be a sign of peace and pacification, but only on condition that there is a refusal of hatred and the oppression of war.”
(Note: Every year on May 15th, festival of the Corsa dei Ceri, the Ceraioli - protagonists of the festival – stop at the Mausoleum to pay their respects to the deceased Ceraioli, ie, the thirty-eight men executed by the Germans. After all, any man who ever lived in Gubbio, once carried the Ceri. Click here to read about the Corsa dei Ceri)