Bepi del giasso

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Joseph of the ice
the legend of Saint Lazarus Island
Bepi del giasso

A young Georgian man, a leading exponent of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, in order to escape the clutches of the Tsarist police and looking for a way to reach Switzerland, in 1907 sought refuge in Italy.

He left hiding in a merchant cargo ship carrying grain from Odessa to Ancona, where he landed in January. In Ancona he started to work in a hotel, but the activity lasted a short time. Shy and introverted man, he could not really communicate with customers. He then moved to Venice.

After wandering around for a while, the anarchists of the lagoon city welcomed him and nicknamed him “Bepi del giasso” (Joseph of the ice), in memory of the cold places from which he came.

His knowledge of Armenian and his studies at the theological school of Gori and at the Christian-Orthodox seminary of Teflis were useful to him. So, he presented himself to the Abbot General of San Lazzaro, Ignatius Ghiurekian at that time, asking for hospitality and work. The young Bepi could count on the fact that he knew how to serve Mass according to the Latin and Orthodox rituals, as well as to ring the bells with the tolling required by both confessions. So it was that “Bepi del giasso” stayed for a while in San Lazzaro of the Armenians as a bell ringer.

He returned to Russia just in time for the revolution and, a few years later, became Secretary General of the Communist Party and leader of the Soviet Union under the nickname “Father of Nations”. Well yes, “Bepi del giasso”, who was for a short time a bell ringer of San Lazzaro, was usually not called by name, Josef, but was better known as Stalin.

Location: San Lazzaro degli Armeni Island, Venice

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