Ignazio Somis.

A true and particular account, of the most surprising preservation, and happy deliverance, of three women who were buried, thirty-seven day's, in the ruins of a stable, by a heavy fall of snow, from the mountains, at the village of Bergemoletto, in Italy. online

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Online LibraryIgnazio SomisA true and particular account, of the most surprising preservation, and happy deliverance, of three women who were buried, thirty-seven day's, in the ruins of a stable, by a heavy fall of snow, from the mountains, at the village of Bergemoletto, in Italy. → online text (page 4 of 9)
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eonfined, tliei? converfation in that mife-
rable condition ; and, in fhort, every thing
that had happened them to the day the/
li^ been- dug out.

■ Mary Anne, when I faw her, which
was the twenty-fourth of July, tJSS^ was
about forty years olcf, very thin vifaged,
lean, almoft entirely bald, troubled from
time to time with pains of the head, which


I 69 ]

fometimes arofe in the hind, fometimes in
the fore-part, now in one place, and now
in another, with protuberances in the feet,
and the glands fwelled to fuch a degree, as
to retain the hollow made by preffing them
with the finger. The pupils of her eyes
were greatly dilated, and in a con^
ftant tremor J and the eyes of a reddifb
colour. She could not difcover diflant ob -
jed:s, thinking fh« had always before her
eyes a thick fog, or impenetrable dark-,
nefs. She often complained of thirft, and
a prickly pain all over her body. She had
no fenfation of hunger^ and being, by my
§,dvice, offered a mefs of vermicelli broth,
in which I had fleeped a little bread, fhe
found herfelf obliged to flop and reft her-
felf a little, after every half dozen fpoon-
fuis, fo that it took her a good half hour to
eat a porringer of it, which might contain
fomething more than a pound. She eat
very little meat^ and drank thrice, half a
glafs of pure wine; faying, that this was
jthe only thing which gave her flrength,


[ 70 ]
and ieflened the pains of her flomach,
which returned every time Ihe took any
other food. All her animal fundions were
regular, and two days before the difcharges
peculiar to her fex had ilopt in her and her
fifter-in-lav/. From the fecond, of their
being buried under the valanca, they had '
no difcharges of this kind, till about the
twentieth of June, and they returned again
the twentieth of July. She generally had
from five to frx hours lieep every night, but
her Deep was often interrupted by confufed
dreams and fudden flarts. All the fore-
going parts of her life, fhe had enjoyed
perfedl health, with a very fharp and quick
fight, free from any trembling of the pu-
pil, or the leaft diforder or ficknefs of any
kind. Towards the end of Spring, and
during the fummer and autumn months,
fhe ufed to be conllantly employed, even
from Hin-rife in the' fields, the woods, and
the meadows, laying up a ilock of privi-
fions for winter, which fhe fpent with
lier hufband in Bergemoletto. About the

' age

[ 71 ]

age of twenty-two, fhe married Jofeph
Roccia, and had at fix births, three boys
and three giris, remaining each time, like '
the reft of the country women, but very
few days within doors, before fhe returned
to her wonted labour. She fuckled all
her children. She lived upon milk, wa-
ter, garden-ftuff, barley, and fometimes a
little wheat bread.

Anne, about twenty-four, of a robuft
and fanguine conftitution, was not fo lean
or pale-faced. She retained no other figns
of all Ihe had fuftered in her thirty-feven
days burial, but a great thirft, which often
tormented her, and that troublefome pain
of the right knee, which returned from
time to time in cloudy and ftormy wea-
ther; and after ftanding a long time, or
walkino; too much. Whatever vegetable
food came in her way, fhe eat it with a
good relilh and appetite, and drank wine
in a middling quantity. By what I have
already faid of Margaret, a girl of about
eleven, the reader may guefs that Ihe was


C 72 ]

now very well, indeed in the befl Hate of
health ; as, in fa6t, I faw her, tall and
hearty, fat and frefh coloured. She
worked, as much as her tender age would
permit, in the fields, helping her father,
brother, and her aunt, to lay in a ilock of
provifions for the enfuing winter.

Such was the condition of Mary Anne,
Anne, and Margaret Roccia, on the twenty-
fourth of July. It is now proper I fhould
fay fomething of the mofl marvellous cir-
cumflance, attending this very fingular and .
furprifing accident, I mean their manner of
fupporting life, during fo long and clofe a
confinement. I Ihall relate what I have
heard of it from' their own mouths, being
the fame, in fubfcance, v/ith what count
Nicholas de Brandizzo, intendant of the
city and province of Cuneo. heard from
them on the fixteenth of May, when, by
order of our mofl benevolent fovereign, he
repaired to Bergemoletto, efiedually to
relieve thefe poor women, and the reft of


[ 73 ]
the inhabitants, who had fuifered by the

To begin then ; on the morning of the
twenty-ninth of March, our three poor
women, expelling every mmute to hear
the beil toll for prayers, had in the mean
time, taken fheiter from the rigour of the
weather, in a itable built with irones, fach
as are ufually found in thefe quarters, with
a roof compofed of large thin ilones, not
unlike (late, laid oh a beam ten inches
fquare, and covered v/ith a fmall quantity
of ilraw, and with a pitch fafFicient to
carry off the rain, hail or fnow, that might
fall upon it. In the fame liable v/ere fix
goats, (four of which I heard nothing of)
an afs and fome hens. Adjoining to this
liable, was a little room., in which they
had fixed a bed, and ufed to lay up
fome provifions, in order to deep in it in
bad weather v/ithout being obliged to go
for any thing to the dwelling-houfe, which
lay about one hundred feet from it. I
have already taken notice, that Mary

E Anne

[ 74 ]
Anne was looking from the door of the
ftable at her hufband and fon, who were
clearing the roof of its fnow, when warned
by a horrible noife, the fignal by which
the Alpineer knows the tumbling of the va-
lancas, fae immediately took herfelf in,
with her fiiler-in-law, her daughter, and
her little boy of two years old, and Ihut
the door, telling them the reafon for doing
it in fuch a hurry. Soon after they heard
a great part of the roof give way, and fome
ftones fall on the ground, and found them-
iih-es involved on all fides with a pitchy
daiknefs ; all which they attributed, and
with good reafon, to the fall of fome va-
La -a. Upon this, they for fome time
t hcuglit proper to keep a profound filence,
to try if they could hear any noife, and by
that means have the comfort of knowing
that help was at hand , but they could hear
nothing. They therefore fet themfelves to
,grore about the ilable, but without being
able to meet v/ith any thing but folid fnow.
Anne light upon the door, and opened it,


[ 75 ]
hoping ihe had found out a way to efcape
the imminent danger they thought they
were in of the buildings tumbling about
their ears ; but fhe could not diftinguifh
the leaft ray of light, nor feel any tiling but
a hard and impenetrable wall of fnow, with
which fhe acquainted her fellow prilbners.
They, therefore, immediately began to
bawl out v/ith all their might •, help, help,
we are ilill alive , repeating it feveral
times ; but not hearing any anfwer, Anne
put the door too again. They continued
to grope about the ftable, and Mary Anne
having light upon the manger, it occurred
to her, that, as it v/as full of hay, they
might take up their quarters there, and en-
joy fomiC repofe, till it fliould pleafe the
Almighty to fend them affiflance. The
m.anger v/as about twenty inches broad,
and lay along a wall, which, by being on
one fide fupported by an arch, was enabled
to v/ithiland the fhock, and upheld the
cliief beam of the roof, in fuch a m^anner,
as to prevent the poor women from being

E 2 crufhed

C 76 ]

cruflied to pieces by the ruins. Mary-
Anne placed herfelf in the manger, putting
her fon by her, and then advifed her daugh-
ter and her ilfter-in-law to do fo too. Upon
this, the afs v/hich was tied to the man-
ger, frightened by the noife, began to
bray and pranfe at a great rate ^ fo that,
fearing left he fliould bring the parapet of
the manger, or even the wall itfelf about
their ears •, they immediately untied the
halter, and turned him adrift. In 2:oino:
from the manger, he ftumbled . upon a
kettle that happened to lie in the middle of
the ftable, which put Mary Anne upon
picking it up, and laying it by her, as it
might ferve to melt the fnow in for their
drink, in cafe they ihould happen to be
confined long enough to want that refource.
Anne, approving this thought, got down,
and groping on the floor till fhe had found
it, came back to the m^anger, and put it
where her fifter-in-law defired her. It
feems, the evening before, one of the goats
had dropt two dead kids, wpon whichj Jo^


I 77 1
feph concluded, that flie mull be greatly
out of order, and being defirous (iudi is
the affeiflion of thefe poor peafants for
their cattle, from whom they derive fo
much profit, and in a manner, their v/hole
fubfifrence) to relieve the poor creature,
had caufed a mefs of rye porridge to be
made for her, and that ihe might get it the
the warmer, had carried it to her in iht
kettle, in which it had been prepared.
. In this iituation the good women continu-
ed m.any hours, every moment expeding
to be relieved from it ; but, at iaft, being
too well convinced, that they had no im-
mediate relief to expert, they began to
confider how they might fapport life, and
v/hat provifions they had with them for that
purpofe. Anne recolleded, that the day
before fhe had put fome chefnuts into her
pocket, but, on counting them, found
they amounted only to fifteen. Their
chief hopes, therefore, and with great
reafon now refted on thirty or forty cakes,
which two days before had been laid up

E 3 in

[ 78 ]
in the adjoining room. The reader may
well imagine, though Anne had never
told me a word of it, with what fpeed and
alertnefs fhe mult, on recolk6ling thefe
cakes, have got out of the manger, to fee
aild find out the door of the room where
they lay ; for it is natural vnih us to be
in a great hurry to put in order and
make ready, whatever we judge m.ay be
wanting to us in any great danger.
Accordingly fhe got out of the manger;
but it was to no purpofe ; fhe roved and
roved about the liable to hn^ out what
Ihe wanted, fo that Ihe was obliged ta
come as fhe went, and take up her feat
again amongil her fellow HifFerers, who llill
comforted themfelves with the hopes of
being fpeedily delivered from that dark'
and narrow prifon. In the mean v/hile,
finding their appetite return, they had ,
recourfe to their chefnuts. Margaret and '
her brother had had their breakfall ; fo that
it was judged they could not fuller much '
by not eating any more that day^ but


t 79 ]

Mary Anne and Anne eat two chefnuts
each, and took a little fnow, which they
half melted with the heat of their hands.
The reft of the chefnuts they referved for
a future occafion. They then addreffed.
themfelves to God, humbly befeeching him
to take compalTion of them, and vouch-
fafe in his great mercy to refcue them from
their dark grave, and from the great niiie-
ries they muft unavoidably fufier, in cafe
it did not pleafe him to fend them imme-
diate afiiftance. They fpent many hours
in ejaculations of this kind, and then
thinking it muft be night, they endea-
voured to compofe themfelves. Margaret
and the little boy, whofe tender years
prevented their having any idea of what
they had to fufrer in their \¥retched fitua-
tion, or any thought of death, and^ of
what they muft fuffer, before they could
be relieved, fell quietly aileep. But
it was otherwife with Mary Anne
and Anne, who could not get the
leaft reft, and fpent the v/hole night in

E 4 prayer^

[ 80 ]

prayer, or in fpeaking of their wretched
condition, and comforting one another
with the hopes of being fpeedily delivered
from it. As it feemed to them, after many-
hours, that it was day again, they en-
deavoured to keep up their fpirits v/ith
the thoughts, that Jofeph with the reii of
their friends and relations not getting any
intelligence of their fituation, would not fail
of doing all that lay in their power to come
at them. The fenfation of hunger was
earlieil felt by the two youngeft ^ and the
little boy crying out for fome thing to eat,
and there being nothing for him but
the chefnuts, Anne gave him three, and
three more to her fiiler-in-law, and three
to her niece, keeping the other four for

I faid, that thefe women feemed to have
fome notion of the approach of day and
night, but I ihould never have dreamed in
what manner this idea could be excited in
them, fhut up as they v/ere in a body of
ice, impervious to the leaft ray of light,


[ 8i ]

had not they themfelves related it to me.
The hens Ihut up in the fame prifon, were
it feems the clocks, which by their cluck-
ino; all together, made them think the firft
day that it was night, and then again after
fome interval that it was day again. This
is all the notion they had of day and night
for two weeks together ; after which, not
iiearing the hens make any more noife,
they no longer knew when it was day or
night. I do not 'remember to have read
in any of the wTiters of natural hiftory,
that hens fhut up in a very dark place,
where no noife could reach them, cluck at
the approach of day and night, or only at
indeterminate hours. This I know, indeed,
that they have been fomctimes obferved
in great eclipfes of theilin, to gather toge-
ther with a great noife, and retire to their
roofcing places. I know, too, that it is an
obfervation of the peafants, that they do
the fame in cloudy and dark, weather, ef-
pecially during the fummer months, call-
ing upon each other, in their own language,

"E ^ ^ as

[ 82 ]

as it were, to avoid the ftorm. Poultqrers^
iikewife, affirm, that when they go, even
by night, to catch any chickens in the
rooft, thefe birds awake and cluck at the
leaft noife ; but that they cluck at thefe
Hated periods, independent of any external
fign, is a thing I have not as yet been able to
determine, though with that view I tried

the following experiment. I placed eight
hens and four pullets, with a fufficient
quahtity of food and water, in a very dark
place, and to the bell: of my judgment
beyond the reach of any noife. And
then, every morning an hour before day-
break, and every evening at night fall, for
five days together, I polled myfelf foftly
as I could, near the place where they were
confined, to hear v/heth^er I could difcover
by their clucking any marks of their being
able to diflinguifh day and night; but
ynth all my diligence and attention, I
could never perceive that they made the
leaft noife. I muft own, indeed, that as I
had contrived to put them in a place, where


[ 83 ]

no external noife could reach them, their
clucking might not have reached me , and
fo that the very means I took to make the
experiment exa6lly, might have entirely
defeated it. On the other hand, having
firft put a peafant in the fame place, and
made him imitate the clucking of a hen,
I heard the noife he made, though ilanding
on the place, from v/hence . I imagined I
might have heard the hens themfelves, had
they made any. But whatever the in-
itincl of thefe creatures may be, the three
women im.agined that the noife of them.,
was a fufficient fignal to count their days

This day the poor women and the boy
fupported themfelves with their chefnuts ;
and at tlie return of the ufual fignal of
night, the boy and Margaret went to
fleep 3 while the mother and aunt fpent it
in converfation and prayer. On the next
day the afs by his braying, gave now and
then, for the laft time, fome fig;ns of life.
On the other liand, die poor prifoners had



fomething- to comfort themfelves with 5
for they difcoverei two goats making up to
the manger, and on feeling them, found
one to be a goat in kid, whofe time would
be up towards the middle of April, the
other one of thofe, which at this time ufed
to fupply them with milk. This, therefore,
was a joyful event, and they gave the
goats fome of the hay they fat upon in
the manger, ihrunk up with their knees
to their nofes. It then came into Anne's
head to try if Ihe could not get fome milk
from the milch goat ; and recollecting, that
they ufed to keep a porringer under the
manger for that purpofe, fhe immediately
got down to look for it, and happily found
it. The goat fuffered herfelf to be milked',
and yielded almofl enough to fill the cup,
which contained above a pint. On this
they lived the third day. I could not, on
this occafion, but greatly admire the natu-
ral fimplicity and honeft candour of Anne,
who being aiked, if fhe, who milked the
goat, divided the milk with her fellow-


fufferers, and in what manner, made an-
fwer. " 'Twas I that milked the goat,
and after drinking as much of the milky
as I thought requifite to fupport nature,
I reached the porringer to my fifter,
who fate next to me, and fhe after ta-»
king fome of it, diftributed the remainder
to her Margaret, and the little boy. I
began to take compaffion of myfelf, but
without forgetting my companions." The
night following the boy and the girl flepi:
as ufual, while neither of the two others
clofed their eyes. Who can imagine how
long the time muft have appeared to them,,
and how impatient they mufl have been ta
fee an end to their fuiFerings ? This, after
offering their prayers to the almighty, was
the conflant fubjed of their converfation..
" O, my hufband, Mary Anne ufed to
cry out, if you too are not buried under
fome of the "valancas and dead, why do not
you m^ake hafte to give me, your filler,
and children, that aiTiflance we fo much


[. 86 ]

ftand in need of. ? We are thank God,
Hill alive, but cannot hold out much lon-
ger, fo it will foon be too late to think of
us. Ah, my dear brother, added Anne,
in you next to God, have we placed all
our trufl. We are alive, indeed, and it
depends upon you to preferve our liveSy
by digging us out of the fnow and the
ruins, in which we lie buried." But let
us Hill hope, both of them added, that as
God has been pleafed to Ipare our lives,
and provide us with the means of pro-
longing it, he will iliil in his great mercy
put it into, the hearts of our friends and
relations to ufe ail their endeavours to
fave us : Yes, they know that we were in
the liable, and feeing it covered with fnow,
they will fpare no pains to get at us, and
find whether we are dead or aliv*^." To
this difcourfe fucceeded new prayers, after
which they compofed themfelves as well
as they could, in order to get, if poiTible,

a little deep.


[ 87 ]•

The hens havino; p;iven the ufual fio-na!
of the return of day, they began again
to think bn the means of fpinning out
their lives. Mary Anne bethought herfelf
anew of the cakes put up in the adjacent
room ^ and upon which, coukl they but
get at them, they might fubfiil a great
while without any other nourifhment. On
the firft day of their confinement, they had
found in the manger a pitch fork, v/hich
they knew ufed to be employed in cleaning
out the ftable, and drawing down hay
through a large hole in the hay-loft, which
lay over the vault. Anne obferved, that
fuch an inilrument mi2;ht be of fervice in
breaking the fnow, and getting at the
cakes, could they but recover the door
leading into the little room. She, there-
fore, immediately got out of the manger,
from v/hich Ihe had not ilirred fmce the
firft day •, and groping about, fomxetimes
meeting with nothing but fnow, fome times
with the wall, and fometimes loofe Hones,
Ihe, at length, light upon a door, which


[ 88 ]

{he took for the liable door, and endea-
voured to open it as fhe had done the firfl
day, but without fuccefs ; an evident fign
that the fuperincumbent faow had acquired
a greater degree of denfity, and prefTed
more forcibly againft it. She, therefore,
made ilep by Hep, the befl of her way
back to the manp;er, all the time converfiho;
with her fellow fufferers ; and taking the
fork with her, continued to rove and
grope about, till at lall fne light upon a
fmooth and broad piece of wood, which to
the touch had fo much the appearance of
the little door, as to make her hope ilie
had at laft found what fhe had been fo ear-
neftly looking for. She then endeavoured
to open it with her hands, but finding it
impofnble, told the refl that Ihe had a mind
to employ the pitch fork ; but Mary Anne
difiuaded her from doing fo. " Let us,
" faid fhe, leave the cakes where they are
a little longer, and not endanger our
lives any further, by endeavouring to
preferve them. Who knows but with



[ 89 1
" the fork, you might make fuch defLruc-
" tion, as to bring down upon our heads,
" that part of the ftable that flill continues
" together, and which, in its fall, could
" not fail of crufhing us to pieces. Noy
God keep us from that misfortune*
Lay down your fork Anne, and come
back to us, fubmitting yourfelf to the
holy will of the Almighty, and patiently
accept at his hands whatever he may
pleafe to fend us." Anne, moved by fuch
found and affe6ling arguments and reafons,
immediately let the fork fall out of her
hands, and returned to the manger. " Let
us, continued Mary Anne, let us make
as much as we can of our nurfmg goats,
and endeavour to keep them alive by
fupplying them with hay. Here is a
good deal in the mang-er, and it occurs
to me, that when that is gone, we miay
fupply them from another quarter, for
by putting up my hand, trying what
was above me, I have difcovered that
there is hay in the loft,, and that the hole

" to


i 90 1
^' to it is open, and juft over our heads ; ,
*^ fo that we have nothing to do, but to
^^ pull it down for the goats, whofe milk
" v/e may fubfiil upon, till it <hall pleafe
'' God to diipofe otherwife of us."

This reafoning, was not only found in it-
felf, but fupported by fads; for ever fince
their confinement, they had heard ftones
fall from time to time upon the ground^
and thefe ftones could be no others than
thofe of the building, which the fhock of
the valanca had firft loofened, and which the
weight it every day acquired by encreafing^
in denfity, afterwards enabled it to difplace.
"Wherefore, had Ihe happened to difturb
with the pitch-fork, as there was the greateft
reafon to fear fhe might, any of thofe
parts, which, united together, ferved to
keep up the beam that fupported the great
body of fnow, under which they lay buried^
the fall of the ftable, and their own deftruc-
tion, muft have infallibly been the confe-
quence of it. I do not deny but that this
beam v/as ilrong enough to bear a much


[ 91 I

greater Weight. For, fuppofing its prefent
pofition in the liable, the fame with that
in which it was afterwards found, and
which I fhall prefently defcribe, the^ ca-
vity formed by it was fix feet long, and
two feet and a half high at one end, the
length therefore of that part of the beam,
which lay over this cavity, was about ten.
ftQt and a half. Furthermore, fuppoRng
that this cavity was four feet broad, the
roof fupported by this beam mufl have
meafured fix and twenty fuperficial feet^
which multiplied by forty two feet, the
height of the valanca, give one thoufand
and ninety-two cubit feet for the quantity
of flow fupported by the roof. By expe-
riments made to afcertain the quantity of
air, that flies off in the melting of fnow^
which experiments I fhall prefently relate -^
it appears that the volume of fnow com-
preffed, and ftrongly fqueezed into a vefCely
is to the volume of the fame fnow reduced
to water, as feventeen to fix ; wherefore,
fuppofing the fnow upon the roof to have


[ 9^ ]

been more condenfed to a much greatei*
degree, we may allow that the volume of
it, in this its folid form, was to its volume
when melted, as two to one ; fo that the
one thoufand and ninety-two feet of folid
fnow, muft yield five hundred and forty-
fix cubic feet of melted fnow. Now, a
cubic foot of water, weighs about three ,
hundred and twelve pounds, therefore the
weight of the fnow fupported by the roof,
amounted to no lefs than one hundred and
feventy thoufand, three hundred and fifty-
two pounds. By obfervations made on the
llrength of timber, it appears that a beam
of larch, .clean and free from knots, and
every other imperfedlion, efpecially at or
near the middle, eleven inches fquare, and
fix feet and a half long, can bear, if placed
horizontally on its two extremities, a
weight of two hundred thoufand pounds,
fuipended to the middle of it ^ and that it
can bear a Hill greater weight in an oblique
pofition. It therefore follows, that as ia
the prefent cafe, the beam did not lie hori-


1 2 4 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryIgnazio SomisA true and particular account, of the most surprising preservation, and happy deliverance, of three women who were buried, thirty-seven day's, in the ruins of a stable, by a heavy fall of snow, from the mountains, at the village of Bergemoletto, in Italy. → online text (page 4 of 9)