The landscape of Italy has always been populated by saints, sinners, pilgrims and kings. There is an evocative backstory of the spiritual and profane that can be found in almost every village and town in Italy. Roman roads, Renaissance cathedrals, monasteries and medieval castles were once the way of the pilgrim whose fate was determined by popes and kings. Every monument, museum and chapel in Italy, whether in the cities or countryside, reminds you of the saints, sinners, pilgrims and kings who have traveled through its doors or eaten of its fields.
Since I’m no prince, pope, pilgrim or king, certainly no saint; I’m left to the remaining category that perhaps we all share in common and as a traveler I’ve visited many monasteries, abbeys, chapels and cathedrals in Italy that have left a lasting impression. Some have been spiritually moving like my visits to Byzantine Ravenna, Assisi and La Verna. Many have put me in touch with the humility and exceptional holiness of a group of people whose moral presence has influenced the lives of others in transforming ways.
Here are a group of Italian saints that through my travels have special meaning for me.
Francis of Assisi – seeing the 12th century cross of San Damiano in Assisi that inspired the young and restless Francis to a spiritual rebirth and the founding of the Franciscan order.
Clare of Assisi – the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi and her cloister at San Damiano where she described her contemplation as
“the brightness of eternal light, a mirror without cloud”
Apollinaris of Ravenna– depicted in the awe-inspiring early Christian mosaics of St. Apollinaris Basilica in Classe, the seat of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of Byzantine Italy until the 8th century; now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Catherine of Siena – a scholastic philosopher and Doctor of the Church, she is one of the two patron saints of Italy together with Francis of Assisi. The medieval town of Siena in Tuscany with its black and white cathedral was home to Catherine whose active, intelligent and courageous life and intensity of prayer influenced popes and princes.
Constantius of Perugia – from Umbria’s terra santa, a land known for mysticism and saints. On this saint’s feast day a ring-shaped cake is made of pine nuts, raisins and dried fruit, a traditional cake of Perugia.
Ubaldo of Gubbio – a visit to see the Etruscan tablets ended in sight of Gubbio’s Mount Ingino, the end point for a procession known as La Corsa dei Ceri (Race of the Candles) where teams of runners carrying decorated wooden constructions (ceri), almost 20 feet high weighing up to 900 pounds displaying statues of St. Ubaldo, St, Giorgio and St. Antonio, climb a 2.5 mile course through the town and up Mount Ingino to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo.