The life history of an Italian medium



The era of paid mediums

Until the Second World War, mediums and psychics were more numerous than today, especially in England and the United States. At that time, some people practiced the profession of medium, get paid for private séances, or producing mediumistic phenomena during collective meetings to which even a hundred spectators could attend. Often, these meetings (not to be confused with ordinary mediumistic sittings) were held in halls provided by associations that called themselves Spiritual Churches, even without having the organization or doctrine support that we now attribute to an ecclesiastical institution. Bystanders of these collective meetings were mostly not wealthy people, who paid a modest sum or let a free offer to the organizers. Life in those times was very hard, finding a paid job was not easy, and in most cases the jobs were tiring and wearing, and the workers were paid just enough to survive. It is no surprise, then, that there were people who did their best to act as mediums and psychics, though not having well-developed mediumistic faculties, to gain economic benefits from people's credulity and from the suffering that many persons feel for the loss of their loved ones. It can be said for sure that the number of these fraudulent mediums far exceeded that of the true ones, so that one of the main activities of psychical researchers consisted in exposing the mediums.

An unknown and disinterested medium

In our days, as is sometimes the case, we run the opposite risk, that is to think that, since many mediums were fraudulent, no one was free of suspected fraud and therefore reliable. Nevertheless, there are still examples and evidences of mediums that never took the slightest advantage, be it economic, or in terms of fame, or any other nature, from their mediumship, but had instead to face and patiently endure the difficulties of adapting to the social milieu in which they had to live. For this reason it may be interesting to recall the life events of one of them, reconstructed as faithfully as possible on the basis of the available documents and testimonies. His name was Urbino Fontanelli: born in 1913 and died in 1995, he spent most of his life in Castelfiorentino, a municipality in Val d'Elsa, in the province of Florence. He was a discreet person and a sensible soul, coming from a family of poor but honest and decent workers.

Realtà e Mistero by Silvio Ravaldini

I have never met Urbino Fontanelli, so I never took part in a sitting with him. On the other hand, his mediumistic activity definitively ended in March 1952, when he was not yet 39 years old. The first time I heard of him was in the year of his death: in 1995 I received a copy of Silvio Ravaldini's book Reality and Mystery (Realtà e Mistero, Bologna, 1988). The set of phenomena of which the book is a testimony made a strong impression on me, also because of the confidence I felt for the author, inducing me to mitigate the attitude of caution (or, to be more exact, of suspicion) with which I had so far considered mediumistic phenomena. Born in Genoa in 1925, Ravaldini lived for over half a century in Bologna, where he died in November 2015: he was chairman of the Fondazione Biblioteca Bozzano-De Boni (Library Bozzano-De Boni Foundation) and editor of the quarterly magazine Luce e Ombra (Light and Shade), organ of the same Foundation.

What was written in Realtà e Mistero was for me, in 1995, one of the most interesting reports of mediumistic phenomena I had read until then, although, from an objective point of view, no corroboration was given, since in the book there was no verifiable reference to persons, places and circumstances. The value I attributed to Ravaldini's testimony was due to my choice, based on the confidence I felt for his honesty and personal integrity, but it would have been too simple for a skeptical reader to think that all that was told in the book was fictional. I knew, however, that the omission from the text of all the elements of identification had been wanted by the author to respect the will of the medium Urbino Fontanelli, to whom the book was dedicated in an anonymous form. In fact, in a series of articles published on Luce e Ombra after Fontanelli's death, starting from issue 4/1995, Ravaldini began to recall that part of the phenomena related to «direct voice» to which he had attended in person, mentioning by name both the medium and the location where the events took place: Castelfiorentino. After the death of Fontanelli, Ravaldini felt no longer bound by the promise made to the medium and friend not to mention his name or other identifying elements until Fontanelli was alive. This fact in itself is indicative of the complete indifference of this medium with regard to fame: of advantages in terms of gain, as we will see, is not even the case to talk about.

A survey on Castelfiorentino's events

I thought then that it might be useful to check Ravaldini's report, making full light on all the identifying elements (places, persons, circumstances and documents) that could allow a research for evidence and constitute elements of validation of the truth of testimonies, although half a century had passed since the final events of that long cycle of mediumistic phenomena. As we will see, the facts referred to did not go unnoticed in the small and quiet provincial town that was then Castelfiorentino, precisely because of their extraordinary character. Ravaldini proved very helpful to recall that period and those events in a series of talks we had between 2001 and 2002, and I'm grateful to him, for it was largely thanks to his memory that it was possible to reconstruct how the mediumistic powers of Urbino Fontanelli developed. In fact, the purpose of my research was to reconstruct, with the greatest possible reliability, the events witnessed by Ravaldini, limiting myself to the chronicle of facts and omitting interpretations and hypotheses, except for the considerations given at the end of this section, in the page about the importance of facts.

While aware that this report will not be enough to convince the skeptics to the bitter end of the reality of the phenomena, I have also made available some validating documents, taken from the written reports of that time or from the memories of some of the witnesses. I would like to point out how the exceptional interest in the phenomena due to Fontanelli's mediumship is represented, inter alia, by the fact that we are faced with a significant number of events (I have counted more than 80) for which it does not hold any other explanation than the intervention of paranormal energies (whatever they are): as far as I tried to imagine tricks and accomplices, even unlikely, I had to always give up before the evidence of circumstances. Keep in mind that most of the phenomena reported did not occur in full darkness, but in red light or even in white light. Anyone can check that by illuminating a room with a red light (like those used in dark rooms), after a period of adaptation of five minutes or a little more, a person with good eyesight is able to to distinguish many details of what happens in the room. Once again, one must not trust the widespread opinion that mediumistic phenomena always and only occur in full darkness.

A photo of Urbino Fontanelli and his grave in Castelfiorentino cemetery..



Part one
Part two
Part three
Part four
Part five
Part six
Part seven
Part eight
Part nine
Part ten
Other events
The novel
The novel: part 1
The novel: part 2
The novel: part 3
The novel: part 4
Second-last séance
The last séance
Importance of facts