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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).  He wrote, referring to himself in the third person, that he had resigned out of “the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life.”

Pope John Paul II visited here on August 30th, 1980 and Pope Francis visited on August 28, 2022.

What makes the story even more interesting in light of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI:

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.

Pope Benedict XVI placing his pallium on the tomb of Pope Celestine V
Pope Benedict XVI placing his pallium on the tomb of Pope 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.

Earthquake damage in L'Aquila
Earthquake damage in L’Aquila

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

Click here for the official website of the Basilica of Santa Maria of Colemaggio in L’Aquila.

The Shrine of St Pope John Paul II near L’Aquila:

Not far from the center of L’Aquila (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 if you going to visit 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: info@sanpietrodellaienca.it

Click here for the official website for the Shrine of St. John Paul II in Aquila

Click here to find hotels and B&B’s in L’Aquila, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor

⇐ Back to Catholic shrines and places of interest in Italy

Photo credit: 1. CNS/Reuters/L’Osservatore Romano 2. Washington Post

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