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The Fairy Bema, the Ghost of Montechiarugolo, of Parma, Italy

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One of the famous tales of Parma, Italy, involves Montechiarugolo and a girl who has become known as “The Fairy Bema.” The story begins on December 13, 1593, on the Feast of Santa Lucia. It was a day of celebration in Montechiarugolo. Count Pomponio Torelli, Lord of the castle, had arranged a celebration for the feast which was to be attended by Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza. The castle was crowded with entertainers, carousels, music and vendors in a vivid and picturesque market.

A beautiful maiden with long dark air and gipsy features, was attracting the attention of the curious. She was Bema, a tarot card reader who was known by many Lords who often queried her about their future. She was a polite girl who never ever used her gift for personal interests. For this reason, the Count of Montechiarugolo took her under his protection, welcoming her inside the walls of his castle. The woman’s charm also moved Duke Ranuccio I, known for his dark temperament and superstitious nature.

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Tormented by predictions of conspiracies and death, he decided to take advantages of the magical powers of the girl. In her readings, she had the sight of a pool of blood surrounding both the Duke and also young Pio, Count Pomponio’s nine year old son. The meeting with Bema left Ranuccio very upset. He was deeply attracted to the fairy, but at the same time, he was suspicious of her mystical gift. He summoned her to his palace in Parma, but instead of being a guest of the Duke, she was locked in a dungeon. After weeks of imprisonment and nearly dead, she was rescued by men sent by Count Torelli who bribed the guards and brought Bema back to Montechiarugolo. Duke Ranuccio was displeased and secretly harbored a mistrust of the Torelli family for the rest of his life, but feared another attempt at imprisoning Bema. She became the chaperone to the Count’s daughter and during the next years, Pio Torelli fell deeply in love with Bema. But due to their different stations in life, could never marry.

Noticing the feelings of his son, Torelli’s father Pomponio sent Pio to Parma’s court in order to finish his studies. During the time spent in Parma, Pio also found a wife, the aristocrat Ginevra Bentivoglio, but always maintained strong feelings for Bema. 

In 1612, Duke Ranuccio Farnese had his eyes set on taking possession of the fief of the Sanvitale. This upset numerous nobles and there may have been discussions to end the life of the Duke. Whether or not such a conspiracy was true will never be known; what is known is that the Duke somehow got wind of a plot and had eight noblemen arrested for conspiracy. One of them was Pio Torelli. All of the men were found guilty and sentenced to death. The Duke seized the castle at Montechiarugolo, ending its sovereignty. Bema escaped and lived for a time in a farmer’s house near the castle. Ranuccio was well aware of her location, but was too frightened of her powers to ever approach her again. Bema lived there for the next several years, vowing to help others and never accepting anything other than thanks in return. She primarily gave advice to young woman, especially brides, until she mysteriously disappeared. She reappears from time to time and visits young brides who are often married at the castle. True to her vow, she gives them advice for their future life and ends each encounter with a peck on the cheek.

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