Europe Visita Iglesia #2: Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy

Visiting seven churches in Europe this Holy Week

The facade of the church with the stained glass windows

Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy

The leisurely 415 km. drive from Assisi to Padre Pio’s Shrine thru the eastern coast of Italy, heading south to the mountainous region south of Rome, took about 5 hours. We stopped by the seaside city of Pescara for a late sumptuous seafood lunch and arrived at the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo as the sun was setting. It took us quite a while driving around in circles looking for our hotel until we realized that it was just right in front of the walkway leading to the shrine.

Padre Pio seems to be sleeping inside his glass case.
Padre Pio seems to be sleeping inside his glass case.
The facade of the church with the stained glass windows
The facade of the church with the stained glass windows
Concrete Cross and bell tower.
Concrete Cross and bell tower.

Padre Pio Pietrelcina, the saint, has many devotees in the Philippines, and there is also a dedicated shrine for him in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. He became famous for having stigmata and making miracle cures, and having supernatural abilities such as bilocation (being in two places at once), making him controversial in the Catholic establishment.

When he died, aged 81, in 1968, his fame had spread globally, with millions of people believing his healing powers and his canonization in 2002 further increased his believers many times over. His body was exhumed in 2008, and more than a million people filed past his corpse, which was said to be still in good condition when it was put on display.

The beautiful interiors with the arches radiating from the altar.
The beautiful interiors with the arches radiating from the altar.
Entrance to the sanctuary.
Entrance to the sanctuary.
This is the crypt on the lower level beneath the main church where Padre Pio's preserved body is on display to the faithful.
This is the crypt on the lower level beneath the main church where Padre Pio’s preserved body is on display to the faithful.

The Church-Shrine was built in 2004 to accommodate the millions of devotees who have made his hometown a major pilgrimage site. Designed by Italy’s most famous architect, Renzo Piano, who also designed the ultra-modern Pompidou Center in Paris, the structure is shaped like a shell with arches radiating from the main altar.

The interiors fuse with the wide piazza outside also built with the same stone. The only barrier between the two spaces are large stained glass windows depicting images from the Apocalypse.

Some of the olive trees in the courtyard.
Some of the olive trees in the courtyard.
A full moon on the rise.
A full moon on the rise.
This long corridor leads to the liturgical hall.
This long corridor leads to the liturgical hall.

The 6,000 sqm. structure can hold 6,500 seated people and can reach 10,000 if standing only, and as many as 30,000 can fit in the outdoor plaza. Beneath the church is the crypt where the Saint’s body can be viewed.

His face, which has a very peaceful countenance, is coated with a silicone mask, and his skull is covered by his monastic mood. He seems to be sleeping, dressed in his dark brown Capuchin robe.

The makeshift altar for the outdoor Mass.
The makeshift altar for the outdoor Mass.
Downtown San Giovanni Rotondo.
Downtown San Giovanni Rotondo.
Vaulted ceiling at the reception hall.
Vaulted ceiling at the reception hall.

It is nice to walk around the wide exterior space. There is a tall Cross with a bell tower with eight majestic bells, and there are 24 olive trees representing the 12 Prophets and 12 Apostles of Christ. A nearby fountain with running water symbolized the River Jordan.

His actual face is covered by a silicon mask.
His actual face is covered by a silicon mask.
Santa Maria del Grazie church.
Santa Maria del Grazie church.
Up on that wooded hill is the Via Crucis
Up on that wooded hill is the Via Crucis.

Nearby stood the Santa Maria del Grazie (Our Lady of Grace) church where Padre Pio used to say Mass and receive confessions. He was also initially buried there in a crypt.

There is a Via Crucis in the forested hill behind the church, but we were too tired to climb it, so we just bought some souvenirs and ate another hearty meal nearby. Boy, doing a pilgrimage sure does make you hungry!

Europe Visita Iglesia Series

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About the Author

Al P. Manlangit is a Filipino architect based in Kuwait who loves to travel and take photos everytime he gets the chance to do so. The genres that he explores are landscape, architecture, and street photography which come in handy wherever he goes. He blogs at designerq8.com, focusing on interesting places he visited with short stories to tell behind each frame.

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