00 5/31/2009 8:55 AM

April 28, 2008

There were as many pictures filed by the news agencies for the Holy Father's four-hour visit to Abruzzo as there are for a daylong pastoral visit, so until I can organize the rest of the photos (at the Onna camp, aat the student dorm, and at theFinance Guard school, I am posting first the two religious highlights of the visit - a rare conjunction and perhaps the first time it has occured: the Pope's visit to the remains of a predecessor buried outside Rome and offering the papal Golden Rose to a regional Madonna though not at her own shrine.


S. Maria di Collemaggio is a large medieval church in L'Aquila, built in 1287, and celebrated not only for its architecture, but also as the site of the original Papal Jubilee, a penitential observation devised by Pope Celestine V (1215-1296), who was crowned as Pope here and is buried here. The Church is a basilica because of its importance in religious history.

The church is a masterpiece of Abruzzese Romanesque and Gothic architecture and one of the chief sights of L'Aquila. The striking jewel-box effect of the exterior is due to a pattern of blocks of alternating pink and white stone; the interior, on the other hand, is massive and austere. Outbuildings include a colonnaded cloister, with the central fountain typical of many other similar Italian cloisters, and the former monastic refectory.

The Basilica was given Gothic embellishments during the 15th century, but a major restoration, completed in 1972, restored the Romanesque elements of the Basilica.

Right photo below showing the collapsed dome of the Basilica does not indicate the extent of the structural damage to the church interior.

Collemaggio's renowned facade (pre-earthquake photo) appears to have survived fairly intact. None of the news agency photos taken yesterday showed the full facade.

St. Celestine V in the chapel dedicated to him on the right side of the nave. His urn survived the quake.

Collemaggio was the Pope;s second stop yesterday after Onna. He lef the pallium imposed on him at his Inaugural Mass as Pope in 2005, as a tribute to his predecessor.

John Paul II was a frequent visitor to the Abruzzo where he liked to make skiing trips to the Gran Sasso mountains, but I have not found any reference so far as to whether he ever visited the remains of Pope Celstine V.


TThe story about the Madonna di Roio it is one of those fascinating tales that abound in religious literature, but I have not found any references in English.

The image and the sanctuary in Poggio di Roio, a village of L'Aquila.

The image itself is a lifesize wooden statue dating to the 14th century, but the story goes that it was found in 1548 by a shepherd from Abruzzo who was pasturing sheep in neighboring Puglia where it was the custom to bring the flocks in winter.

The shepherd lost one of the flocks he was grazing and prayed to the Virgin to help him in his plight. She appeared to him with the Baby Jesus in her arms, telling him where his sheep had found refuge. Going back to the site of the apparition later with other shepherds to whom he told the story, it is said they found the statue.

With the warmer weather, they headed back to the Abruzzo, bringing the statue home with them, on a mule. Nearing their destination, the mule suddenly dropped to its knees just opposite a Cross in front of the Castle of Roio and refused to go farther. So they took the statue on their shoulders and carried it to the nearby Abbey of St. John. The following day, to their surprise, the statue was no longer there - the people of Roio found it in front of the Cross where the mule had stopped. They gratefully took custody of it and eventually built a sanctuary for it.

The image of the Madonna di Roio graced the stage from which the Holy Father addressed civil servants and volunteers who have been involved in the first aid, rescue and assistance operations since the April 6 earthquake.

The event took place in Coppito near L'Aquila,at the parade grounds of an Italian Finance Guard training facility, where the funeral for the earthquake victims was held on Good Friday.

The pictures here are all I could find that show the Madonna di Roio, because obviously, the news agency photographers did not consider it of special interest, even if there are three photographs that show the Golden Rose offered in homage by the Pope (probably the first Golden Rose tribute done outside of the shrine for the image).

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/31/2009 8:57 AM]