Staglieno Monumental Cemetery in Italy is known for its grand and ornate tombs of the wealthiest citizens of the country. However, there is one monument that stands out from the rest. It is the grave of Caterina Campodonico, also known as “The Peanut Lady,” who was an illiterate nut-seller but had a grand monument made for herself by the prominent sculptor Lorenzo Orengo. Let’s dive into the story of this independent woman who defied social norms and created a lasting legacy for herself.
Early Life of Caterina Campodonico
Caterina Campodonico was born in 1804 and lived a life of hardship. She traveled from city to city selling “reste” (hazelnuts, chestnuts, or peanuts) necklaces made of nuts and homemade bread. At a time when women did not own or run their own businesses, Caterina’s family thought she was too independent for her own good, and she often felt judged by them. But she toiled away year after year and made a name for herself.
The Illness and the Idea of Peanut Lady
At the age of 76, Caterina fell ill and felt the effects of aging. Her family members began arguing about how they would distribute her wealth after she died. Caterina overheard this and surprised them all by recovering from her illness. She then decided to commission a grand gravesite monument for herself, instead of leaving her hard-earned money to any of them.
The Monument of Peanut Lady and Its Symbolism
Caterina asked Lorenzo Orengo, the most prominent sculptor of the time, to carve a marble statue with the finest clothing, the type of clothing she had never been able to wear in life. She also wanted a symbol of her means to wealth to be carved into the monument. In her case, it was circular twists of bread and chains of hazelnut necklaces. Her hands show the reality of her hard life, rough and worn from years of hard work.
Caterina’s epitaph was written by a fine poet and is a fine tribute to her life. It reads, “By selling necklaces of nuts and sweets at the Sanctuaries of Acquasanta, Garbo and St. Cipriasso, defying wind, sun, and water coming down in buckets, in order to provide an honest loaf for my old age; among the little money laid by myself to the furthest ends of time, with this monument, which I Caterina Campodonico (called the Peasant) an authentic inhabitant of Portoria, have erected while still alive. 1881. Oh, you who pass close to this, my tomb, if you will, pray for my peace.”
Legacy of Caterina Campodonico and Peanut Lady
Caterina’s legacy lives on through her grand monument in Staglieno Cemetery. She defied social norms of her time and created a lasting legacy for herself. Her story is an inspiration for women to follow their dreams and not be limited by societal expectations.
The story of Caterina Campodonico, the Peanut Lady, is one of perseverance, determination, and defiance of social norms. Her grand monument stands tall in a cemetery reserved for the wealthiest citizens, reminding us that one’s legacy is not limited by their social status or wealth.