The first information on Lake Pilate – Lago di Pilato – dates as far back as the first half of the 1300s thanks to Pierre Bersuire (Cordella and Lollini, 1988). He wrote about a senior prelate who told him that there was a spellbound place – Lake Pilate – among the Norcian mountains, populated by demons. Here the Municipality of Norcia had built a wall guarded by custodians to prevent necromancers – practitioners of the dark arts – from going there to consecrate their books. Benvenuto Cellini, the sculptor and goldsmith, also told of being approached by a necromancer to consecrate a book in the Norcia area aided by the Norcian peasants.
“Norcians experts in Magic”, was a very widespread belief. The original ‘Vocabolario della Crusca’ – the great Italian lexicon – indicated the noun Norcian as a synonym of necromancer. In ‘Faust’, Goethe mentions “the necromancer of Norcia, the Sabine” – undoubtedly referring to Cellini. ‘Great are the forces of the Mountain, there free Nature acts with extraordinary power: priests’ stupidity condemns this as witchcraft’. The legend maintains that Pilate, governor of Palestine, guilty of the crucifixion of Christ and sentenced to death by the Emperor Vespasian, was put on a cart drawn by two buffalos and left to his fate.
In a mad rush from Rome, the buffalos reached the Sibylline Mountains and dove into the waters of the lake with Pilate’s body. Besides the popular beliefs, over the years many written accounts have helped to create them air of mystery still surrounding Lake Pilate today.