Greek mythology placed
the forge of Hephaestus
in the cavern of volcanoes; the strange noises heard in the caverns of the island of Vulcano were interpreted as the rumble of hammers and the crackling of the fire of the god’s forge. In Christian times, people instead thought they were screams and groans coming from the damned in Hell. For Saint Gregory the Great the volcanoes of the Aeolian Islands were the gates to the Underworld, their mouths erupting the fire of torment that God makes visible to men, to frighten them and lead them to follow the path of salvation.
Numerous legends were born around the volcanoes of the Aeolian Islands. One of the most famous is the hermit of Lipari, narrated by Saint Gregory the Great himself.
The man, who lived in solitude, on the same day of Theodoric the Great’s death in 526 AD, allegedly saw the soul of the king of the Ostrogoths, half-naked, barefoot and with his hands tied, thrown into Vulcano’s crater by Pope John and the patrician named Simmachus whom he had killed.
In 741 AD, Charles Martel, who had stopped the Muslim invasion in Poitiers and saved European civilisation, supposedly ended up in Stromboli’s crater.
Saint Peter Damian tells us, in the life of Saint Odilo, the abbot of the monastery of Cluny in Burgundy who lived between 800 and 850 AD, that a religious man from Aquitaine, returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, had to take refuge on Vulcano because of a storm. Here he found an old hermit who heard the groans and moans of souls tormented by devils, who would become angry when a soul was taken from them because of prayers and alms from the living.
The religious man, having returned to France, reported this to Saint Odilo, who then ordered that all the convents of the Benedictine order be dedicated to the commemoration of the departed on the day after All Saints’ Day. And so All Souls’ Day was established on 2 November, and is still universally celebrated today.