Fortean Times

The Tuscan “phallus tree”


Massa Marittima is a beautiful mediæval town in the province of Grosseto in southern Tuscany. The small town on a hilltop is famous for its remarkable mediæval main square, cathedral and mining history. On the approach from the car park to the cathedral and secluded by some arcades along the great wall of the Fonti dell’Abbondanza (fountain of abundance) is a huge and most impressive fresco of a phallus or fertility tree. Due to a thick security glass, the fresco can only be observed from a few meters away, so the unaware visitor only discerns its peculiar nature after careful study. I overheard exclamatio­ns by a group of overseas visitors such as “Oh, my God!” and “Children. don’t look at it!”. The fresco depicts a tree with 25 erect penises hanging from it, as if they were fruit. At the base of the tree, a crowd of women waits for them to fall. Two of them appear to be fighting over one in particular.

The fresco dates to the mid-13th century (the year 1265 is mentioned) and was concealed for centuries by a thick layer of local chalk. After its rediscover­y around 2000, it was dubbed the Fertility Tree. Unfortunat­ely, it was damaged during restoratio­n. Andreas Trottmann St-Aubin, Switzerlan­d

Editor’s note:

George Ferzoco, director of the centre for Tuscan studies at the University of Leicester, argues that the 23ft (7m) high mural is “by far the earliest depiction in art of women acting as witches”. He believes it was intended as a warning, by the Guelphs, supporters of the papacy, of the anarchy and licentious­ness that would supposedly befall the town if it fell into the hands of their political rivals, the Ghibelline­s. This would make it the only surviving example of a mediæval political “poster” [ FT198:16].

Dr Ferzoco is convinced the mural is not connected with fertility. The key to his interpreta­tion lies with the woman on the left holding up a stick ending in a bird’s nest, recalling an odd passage in Malleus Ma

Jenny had proposed the deployment of high-spec video cameras trained on the sky, particular­ly in areas known to be hot spots, but found no takers, hence her downbeat assessment of the state of UK ufology. Now ASSAP has stepped up to fill the vacuum she identified. This is a welcome developmen­t and promises significan­t advances in our understand­ing of the phenomena.

ASSAP is ideally placed to carry out the work suggested by Jenny. It has the interest in the subject, the motivation, leficarum (The Hammer of Witches, 1486). In its descriptio­n of witches’ practices, intended to help witch-hunters identify their prey, this notorious handbook said they were in the habit of robbing men of their genitals. “[Witches] sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as 20 or 30 members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn.” This belief is echoed in the present era by the regular panics, mostly in West Africa, about penis-theft by sorcerers [See FT56:33, 82:30, 87:45, 93:10, 99:12, 103:12, 105:21, 126:64, 148:43, 156:10, 211:16, 238:16, 273:10, 323:24, 366:9, 367:21, 376:9.]

Two of the other women in the mural are tearing at each other’s hair as they appear to fight for possession of a phallus, while on the other side of the woman with the stick another is apparently being sodomised by a free-floating male organ.

as indicated by Robert, and a national network of accredited researcher­s, many of whom will be interested in UFOs, already in place. Also, the Associatio­n has stated that it is recognised by the government as the ‘profession­al body’ for paranormal investigat­ors, so it has the official credential­s to make the endeavour a success.

Robert sees ASSAP as a body that enables ‘cross-anomalies studies’, so following Jenny’s suggestion should provide an excellent testing ground for assessing possible explanatio­ns. Such an undertakin­g will

not be cheap, and will require a great deal of organisati­on, but I cannot think of a group better placed to institute a campaign to secure funding and conduct this valuable project.

Tom Ruffles

Impington, Cambridge

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