L’Aquila Italy: Basilica of Santa Maria Collaggio (Tomb of Pope Celestine V) and Shrine of Blessed Pope John Paul II
About the town of L’Aquila:
The town was severely damaged by an earthquake in 2009 that made headlines when a judge sentenced seismologists to prison for failing to predict the earthquake. A previous earthquake in 1703 damaged much of the town and the church had to be rebuilt.
The Basilica of Santa Maria de Collemaggio:
One of L’Aquila’s famous landmarks is the Basilica of Santa Maria de Collemaggio which holds the tomb of Pope Celestine V. Celestine was a hermit and the last thing he wanted was to become Pope, but he was crowned here in 1294 (the only Pope to be crowned outside of Rome). He later relinquished his title as Pope (others had done so before, but he made the process an official one) and that is what makes the story more interesting in light of recent events:
Not well noted at the time was an event that took place when Pope Benedict XVI visited the town in April, 2009 after the earthquake that occurred a few months prior and, of course, included a visit to the tomb of Celestine V.
He then did something unusual: as he visited the tomb he placed his Pallium (the symbol of his office) on the tomb and left it there. Many feel this symbolic gesture was a precursor to Pope Benedict XVI doing what Celestine did over 500 years earlier. And, indeed, Pope Benedict XVI resigned his office in 2013, just four years later.
Although there was quite a bit of damage to the interior of the Basilica during the recent earthquake, you can still visit and view the body of Pope Celestine V. Not very many tour groups have this on their schedule at this time, but perhaps due to the Papal visit by Pope Benedict XVI mentioned above, there may be more interest in the future.
Traveling to L’Aquila:
You can reach Aquila by train from many cities, including Rome (about 2 hours and from Rome Termini). The station is about a mile from the Basilica itself. Get train & bus schedules, see fares & buy tickets here
To visit the Basilica:
Address: Piazzale Collemaggio, 5, 67100 L’Aquila,
GPS coordinates: 42° 20′ 33.7668” N, 13° 24′ 16.8660” E
Tel: +39 0862 404167
Currently there is no official website of the Basilica of Santa Maria of Colemaggio in L’Aquila.
Note: not far from the center of town (10 miles/ 6 km) is the tiny Church of San Pietro della Ienca. The area was a favorite ski destination of Pope John Paul II and he would often celebrate Mass here in this church close to the mountains.
It now contains the Shrine of Pope John Paul II with a bronze statue of him and a vial of his blood inside. The Shrine is a definite must-see. It is only about 6 miles from L’Aquila.
To visit the Shrine of Saint John Paul II near Aquila:
GPS coordinates: 42° 26′ 12.8040” N, 13° 27′ 36.7524” E
Tel: +39 3498113727
e-mail: [email protected]
Click here for the official website for the Shrine of St. John Paul II in Aquila
Photo credit: 1. CNS/Reuters/L’Osservatore Romano 2. Washington Post