00 10/17/2009 4:15 PM

Exbibit in Rome from Oct. 8-Jan. 31. Left photo, St. Louis, King of France, El Greco, 1565, Louvre.

The saints who made Europe

A stunning exhibition has opened in Rome on the patron saints of the Old Continent.
Martyrs and confessors, monks and virgins, angels and kings, depicted by the greatest artists.
A 'counter-cultural' event, born from the vision of a humble mountain priest, and first proposed
to Pope Benedict XVI by Silvio Berlusconi in June 2008.

ROME, October 16, 2009 – Painted by El Greco in 1585, and kept in the Louvre in Paris, El Greco's Saint Louis, King of France, and a Page is on display until next January 31 in Rome, together with dozens of masterpieces by artists like Van Eyck, Memling, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Tiziano, Veronese, Van Dyck, Murillo, Tiepolo.

A slide show of the exhibit may be seen on

An exemplary king and Christian, Saint Louis wmbodies the encounter – sometimes happy, sometimes troublesome – between the civitas and ecclesia, State and Church, power and grace.

And this is precisely the title of the exhibition inaugurated on October 7 in Palazzo Venezia by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had discussed the concept with Benedict XVI at a private audience in June 2008. The Pope liked the idea. The initiative went back to its creator, and now has become reality.

The architect of the exhibition is a young priest from a tiny village of three hundred souls, Illegio, in the Alps in Carnia. His name is Alessio Geretti. The exhibition on the patron saints of Europe is his latest creation, and follows other exhibitions that he designed on themes like Revelation, Genesis, the Apocrypha, stunning in the quality of the works of art displayed and in the richness of the message transmitted.

In this case, revisiting the holy patrons of the nations of Europe as depicted by its greatest artists does not mean only offering a "vision" of what Europe has been over two thousand years of history profoundly marked by the Christian faith.

It is also a message to a contemporary Europe that has forgotten its roots and is indifferent to religion. Fr. Alessio Geretti says:

"In the Europe of pluralism and democracy, holiness is the most convincing form that a religion can take. The lives of the saints persuade without constraining. I truly believe that in this age – which, as Paul VI said, does not so much need teachers as witnesses – the saints are still the face of a Church that has the ability to speak to the heart of the people and to bring the dominant culture into crisis, unmasking all of its inhumanity."

But the message of the exhibition is also addressed to the Church. "A Church" – Fr. Geretti further writes in the exquisite catalog published by Skira – "whose postconciliar renewal has been characterized by a poorly concealed iconoclasm, which has emptied churches, catechesis, preaching, and a few calendar dates of those references to the saints and of those sacred images which for centuries had nourished the Christian people's experience of faith."

With the pontificate of John Paul II, this tendency to "purify" Catholicism from devotion to the saints underwent a decisive about-face. He raised more saints and blesseds to the honors of the altar than all of his predecessors since the Council of Trent put together. And what saints! Two names stand out above all: Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

With Benedict XVI, the emphasis given to the saints has not been diminished. At the Vatican congregation in charge of them, more than 2,000 causes of beatification or canonization are under way.

Papa Ratzinger's last trip outside Italy culminated on September 28 in Stará Boleslav, on the anniversary and on the site of the martyrdom of Saint Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech Republic. A nation in which the de-Christianization of Europe is at its most advanced stage, with two-thirds of the population no longer professing any religious faith.

It is in this same spirit that Benedict XVI has framed his Wednesday catecheses: explaining to the crowds the "who" of the Church through the profiles of its saints. He began with the apostles. He continued with the Fathers of East and West. And now, he is dedicating himself to the grand masters of medieval theology.

The following is the complete list of the holy patrons of Europe: the ones assigned to the entire continent by Paul VI and John Paul II, and those of each country.

The patron saints of Europe
declared by the Catholic Church

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 10/18/2009 1:22 AM]