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The Santuario di S. Giuseppe di Leonessa:
In remembrance of a Hometown Saint

[image ALT: An elaborate marble shrine, roughly cubical, about 3 meters on a side, in which a glass window flanked by two near-lifesize statues displays an open satin-lined coffin. It is the tomb of S. Giuseppe of Leonessa in the church by that name in Leonessa, a town in the Lazio (central Italy).]

The body of S. Giuseppe lies in a glass coffin over the main altar —
but the halo is just a reflection of the church's front door.

Among the main things to see in an Italian town are its churches; visitors to Italy get used to this, but we also get used to churches in honor of the most obscure saints that no one ever seems to have heard of; often enough, even the church's parishioners can't identify them, nor for that matter can the greatest scholars: saints of legend and myth. S. Giuseppe is not one of those! He was born (in 1556) in a house not fifty yards from the tomb you see above, and he died (in 1612) in Amatrice, only about 45 km from here; he spent most of his life helping people in the area: food, medical care — including one attested miracle which has to fall under veterinary care — pastoral care and counseling, acknowledging their dignity; consequently, he has remained beloved by the people of Leonessa to this day.

I won't rewrite his life here; he has been excellently written up, with further useful links, at Saints.SQPN, and another good summary of his life can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia; for a more detailed biography, see the official site of the Italian branch of the Capuchin Order (Frati Cappuccini).

So, let's look at the church itself. Its architecture, alas, is more elaborate than good. Though the cornerstone was laid in 1629 and the body of the saint was stolen from Amatrice in 1639, the building of the church seems to have languished for a century, until he was beatified in 1737 and a sudden spurt of major construction led to its completion in 1746, just in time for his canonization: so that the Santuario di S. Giuseppe is essentially a Late Baroque church, with a characteristically overladen interior; the façade in its present form, on the other hand, is a work of the 1950s.

[image ALT: The interior of an 8‑section rococo dome, frescoed with various subjects. It is the dome of the church of S. Giuseppe in Leonessa, a town in the Lazio (central Italy).]
The dome: Biblical figures and virtues, by Francesco Monti
(The later of the two Bolognese painters by that name, I believe).

But the architecture of the church is merely subsidiary; here the church is all about its titular saint, about remembering an exceptional man. Despite my love of old buildings, I'm happy to bump into that once in a while.

Not only does S. Giuseppe's body rest over the altar, but the church itself is built on top of his boyhood home: the 20th century's contribution to the building was to dig up bits of the house's foundation walls then encase them in glass: to your left as you walk in. Unreadable and pretty much unphotographable — but they're there.

And against a wall to the right of the main altar, this case contains a number of items associated with the saint:

[image ALT: A glass case containing about twenty objects: an open book in the center and a hairshirt above it, various small packets and books, a pair of worn leather sandals, a rope, a strong of beads. They are relics of S. Giuseppe of Leonessa in the church of S. Giuseppe, in Leonessa, a town in the Lazio (central Italy).]

Everyday articles in the life of a working friar in the early 17c. The more interesting objects link to further pages: the open book, for example, is a record of S. Giuseppe's canonization process.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 12