The French writer Andre GideNobel Prize for Literature in 1947, defined Ladder “an almost metaphysical escalier, which takes you to the top and keeps you suspended in infinite contemplation”. It was right in the oldest village on the Amalfi Coast that Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori, bishop and doctor of the church, found his spiritual place. He was born on 27 September 1696 in Marinella, near Naples, in the holiday palace of the noble family: his father Giuseppe was a naval officer and his mother, Anna Cavalieri, belonged to the house of the Marquises of Avenia. The first of eight children, he embarked on a brilliant legal career, which was abruptly interrupted by failing to bear the lies that lurk in the courts.
The priestly ordination arrived in 1726 and he spent the first years among the inhabitants of the poorest neighborhoods of eighteenth-century Naples. In May 1730, during a period of forced rest, the vicar general of Scala, don Matteo Angelo Criscuoloyou offer him the hermitage of Santa Maria dei Monti, “a hermitage with sufficient housing, where in addition to rest, one could wait to do good to many poor goatherds who live there and live abandoned”.
Right here in Scala his spirituality exploded: he met the Blessed Celeste Crostarosa and from the partnership of these two holy personalities the Congregation of Redemptorists and theOrder of the Redemptorists. The intention was to imitate Christ, starting with the Redemptorists themselves, who gradually worked for the redemption of many souls with missions, spiritual exercises and various forms of extraordinary apostolate.
As he writes Father Ciro Vitiello, «In Scala and in all the churches that Alfonso evangelized instituted Eucharistic practices to bring souls closer to Mass and Communion». Adding that «This apostle of the Redemption continues today with the holiness of his life, with his writings and with his Congregation to spread the superabundant grace of the love of Jesus Christ, making it understandable and accessible with the four principal expressions of the one Paschal Mystery: the ‘Incarnation, the Passion and death, the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary».
Maintaining the office of Rector Major of the Congregation, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori was then, from 1762 to 1775, bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, then the episcopal seat of a mountainous area, poor and in need of every form of help, to which the saint responded generously. Ill with deforming arthropathy and almost blind, after twelve years of diocesan direction, Alfonso Maria resigned and retired to the house of his brothers in Nocera de ‘Pagani, amidst prayers and meditations, where he died on August 1, 1787.
Nestled in the Valley of the Dragone torrent with a wide view of the sea of Amalfi, the small Church of Sant’Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori it was the secret place where the saint used to gather in prayer and meditation, receiving numerous apparitions of the Madonna. Particularly suggestive is the apse area, with the bare rock that appears behind the altar. Right here the holy composer drew inspiration for the Christmas carol par excellence “When Ninno was born”then adapted to “You come down from the stars”.