The Monachicchio, also known as Monacello (little monk) in various Italianized forms such as Lu Munaciell, Munacidd, Munacidde, Munacedde, Municeddhu, Municaridde, Laurieddhu, Scazzamurrieddhru, and Mazzemarill, among numerous other dialectal variations, all refer to a single legendary figure.
What is the monachicchio
According to legend, the Monachicchio is the spirit of a child who passed away before being baptized. This little spirit is often depicted with a gentle appearance and a beautiful face, wearing a long red hat. It is said that the Monachicchio mainly appears to children, spending much time playing and having fun with them.
Its presence often wasn’t bothersome, as it appeared at night in the form of a lively, playful, and mischievous sprite. Among its favorite pranks were pulling blankets off the bed, tickling feet, pinching, pulling hair, poking, and whistling in ears like a mosquito.
While the pranks are generally harmless, they can sometimes become quite bothersome, even very annoying. Some stories tell of the Monachicchio moving pillows or blankets at night to blow into people’s ears. Animals aren’t spared either, as it enjoys knotting the tails of donkeys and mules, as well as the manes of horses. Of course, the mischievous spirit then delights in watching the poor farmers patiently trying to untangle the knots it created.
Typically, the Monachicchio is described as a playful, mischievous, and lively figure. However, listening to other accounts, it seems that it might not always be so lighthearted. In some instances, the Monachicchio is said to sit heavily on the chests of unsuspecting individuals, causing difficulty in breathing. Waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air is certainly not a pleasant experience.
How to protect yourself from his nocturnal pranks
It seems that the Monachicchio is quite fond of its headwear, and despite its swift movements, it does everything to ensure it never falls off its head. The only way to protect oneself from its pranks is to try and grab its hat.
By removing its hat from its head, the Monachicchio’s demeanor will change instantly, and it will do everything to retrieve it. Tears, despair, and grand promises will ensue. However, if one has the strength to hold onto the hat, the red cap can become a valuable bargaining chip.
In fact, the Monachicchio might reveal the hidden location of one of its treasures. As long as the hat is off its head, it will obey your commands. But as soon as it recovers its beloved headwear, it will leap away with great bounds and, of course, not keep its promise.
Not only in Southern Italy
Contrary to popular belief, this “little imp” figure is not limited to Southern Italy, but can be found in numerous other regions. For instance, in Tuscany, there is the “Buffardello,” who similarly operates at night, emitting unpleasant cries and playing pranks and tricks that harm people and pets.
In Romagna, there is the figure of the “Mazapégul.” This entity is a true expert in causing abdominal heaviness and generating terrible nightmares, but its misdeeds do not stop there. At night, the Mazapégul is famous for eating bread and cheese, relieving itself on the beds of sleeping individuals, and even shouting obscenities into people’s ears as they sleep.
Similar characters can also be found abroad. There is a comparable creature in Northern Ireland – the Redcap or Bloody Cap. This creature is said to reside in castles between England and Scotland. However, this small being with a red hat and iron boots appears to be much more violent and even life-threatening to the unfortunate. It bears a striking resemblance to the Kobold from Germanic mythology.
But what are the historical origins of Monachicchio?
The figure of the Monachicchio is quite similar to a sprite: small, mischievous, and hooded. In a sense, it represents a reinterpretation of the Roman Lare, the protective spirit of the home. However, it presents an intriguing fusion of various mythological figures from antiquity, combining typical elements of Faunus, the Genius loci, and the Roman Larvae-Lemures.
For instance, the Roman Lare/Lemures have the responsibility of protecting treasures, defending the home, and bestowing wealth (even though sometimes it comes in the form of broken pots). They can also instill fear. Similar to the ancient Roman Incubus, they position themselves on the abdomen and hinder breathing.
The modern Monachicchio
The myth of the Monachicchio was born in Matilde Serao’s book “Leggende napoletane” (1895). In Naples, the young and beautiful Caterina, daughter of a wealthy merchant, falls in love with Stefano, a young man of ill-repute. Their love story is short-lived, as Stefano is soon killed. Caterina finds solace in a convent and gives birth to a deformed and tiny-bodied child some time later. The nuns urge her to pray as a sign of devotion, and Caterina decides to dress the child in a black monk’s habit. However, perhaps due to his deformity, the child is later abandoned by his mother and grows up alone and far from everyone else.
Several years later, the little monk disappears and is found dead in a canal. After his death, he allegedly transforms into a spirit that begins to manifest itself to the Neapolitan people, playing small pranks on them.
Carlo Levi also talks about the Monachicchio in his book “Christ Stopped at Eboli.” He writes, “The Monachicchi are tiny, cheerful, airy beings who run quickly here and there, and their greatest pleasure is to play all kinds of pranks on Christians. [..]“
Bad news for us
“We talked about it yesterday and it appeared last night.“
It’s not my intention to frighten you, but it seems that every time someone mentions the Monachicchio or talks about it, the unfortunate figure then makes an unexpected nocturnal visit.
Naturally, the more his presence is feared, the more he manifests and makes himself seen.
We’re truly in trouble!
Perhaps I should have included a warning at the beginning of the article, something like “Caution: Do not read this article.” But now the damage is done.
Now we await a sleepless night, filled with pranks and tricks. However, not all bad things happen to harm us; let’s remember the red hat and the treasure to request in exchange. Who knows, maybe tomorrow morning we’ll wake up richer and happier. No one can know for sure!
If this were to be my last article, it would mean that I’ve earned enough to leave everything behind and embark on a very long journey.
Who knows, indeed.
The cover image: Johann Heinrich Füssli – The Nightmare (1781, Detroit Institute of Arts)