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Sagrado – What does this word finally mean?

Many of you may know the small Italian town of Sagrado northeast of Venice near the border with Slovenia.

Some may also know that in Spanish it means Holy or Holy Place or something similar.

Of course, very few will know what Sagrado was in Medieval and Venetian Corfu, this is what we will try to explain below.

Let us emphasize here that anything follows is derived from stories told by older people who also learned these stories from older generations, so there may be some dose of imagination or exaggeration mainly about the usefulness of this space (Sagrado) and not about the meaning which is not disputed, as is their existence.

In Corfu of Venetian rule (1386-1797), the executive power, and not just this, belonged to the nobility, they did and treated the poor people almost as they wished.

Every aristocratic family had its own tower or a large house with orchards and gardens around it, and almost everything had a Sagrado, this is a fact.

Sagrado was an underground, narrow and very deep space like a gallery that never saw the sun.
Built with large stones and only one entrance that could be hermetically closed with a double door.

They were usually located in the basements of the mansions or in their enclosures as a separate building, in which case it had an arched entrance.
The Sagrado, located in the basements of the mansions, usually had another entrance from above, a well-hidden hatch that opened in exceptional cases.

In the photo, we see the entrance of a Sagrado in the mansion of Konte(Count) Rivellis.

Sagrado entrance in Rivellis mansion
Sagrado entrance in Rivellis mansion

And here is the drama of this history.

The arbitrariness of the nobles in those times was the norm and it covered all aspects of daily life.

They did not only determine the financial situation of those who worked for them, but also their lives.

For a worker to claim his money was equivalent to death.

If he became too pressing then the count would invite him to his house to pay him, thereafter putting him on top of the hatch, and the poor man was falling to Sagrado where he would found a slow and excruciating death, usually by starvation.
The same thing happened when anyone became unpleasant or dangerous to the noble, they disappeared without a trace and none dared to search for them.

If someone applied for a loan and took it, usually with a mortgage on his house, he would probably lose both his property and his life.
Because if he could repay the loan, the count would summon him and after taking the money back he would extinguish it in Sagrado, and after presenting the signed paper on the mortgage he would also get the house.
If he wasn’t able to pay, the count would call him with a pretext for a new settlement and he would disappear.

Needless to say, the only law that existed then was the law of the mighty.

The official version for the use of Sagrado

The official version for the construction and use of Sagrado is that they were wine cellars or storage areas.
There is another version that wants them to be catacombs – family graves of the nobles.

But there is also a legend about an institution imposed by the Venetians.
According to this institution, the hunted, criminals and fugitives had the right to seek asylum in a noble’s mansion.
If they managed, before being arrested, to simply touch the door knocker of the mansion’s gate, prosecution by the official authorities would cease, and justice and possible punishment would now go to Conte’s jurisdiction.

Those who committed petty offenses continued for the rest of their lives as slaves to Konte, while criminals were locked up in Sagrado where they usually died.
This was how the place was cleansed by thugs and the poachers were scared and remained quiet.

It is said that only a few nobles such as Sordinas, Kourkoumelis, Androutselis, and Rivellis were granted the license to give asylum, but most likely there were more.

The horrible reality

The Sagrado gained a terrible reputation, for they were, in fact, dark dungeons where criminals and/or innocents have died, so they were tools of fear for the people and extermination tools for the nobles to accomplish their aims, so horrible and exceedingly myths were cultivated.

Old ruined noble house in Corfu
Old ruined noble house in Corfu

However exaggerated the myths about the sagradο maybe, cannot be all lies, the nobles then, in order to keep their privileges and to get rid of their dangerous opponents, did not hesitate in front of anything.

During the occupation of Corfu by the axis, the Germans opened the sealed entrance of a Sagrado in which human skeletons were found, with no trace of coffins and scattered, surely it was not a family grave!

So this was Sagrado, an underground, narrow and very deep space used by the ruling class of nobles to eliminate the dangerous, their opponents and the poor.

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