Pietro da Morrone and his spirituality still alive in the Celestine Benedictine nuns

He loved the hermitic life and chose Mount Morrone and the Maiella massif, in Abruzzo, to fully adhere to the Gospel. His example attracted several young people and gave life to a religious congregation by adopting the rule of Saint Benedict. Female Benedictine monasteries also adhered to the constitutions, today the only ones to follow in the footsteps of Celestine V. The abbess of the San Basilio monastery in L’Aquila: Forgiveness is her spiritual gift to the faithful

Tiziana Campisi – Vatican City

His name was Pietro Angelerio, the exact date of his birth is not known, but it is believed that it can be placed between 1209 and 1215. Several cities claim his birthplace, including Isernia and Sant’Angelo Limosano. His was a family of modest peasants, he the penultimate of twelve children. Attracted by the austerity of monastic life, he decided to wear the habit of the Benedictines in the abbey of Santa Maria di Faifoli. In his early twenties he turned to a more hermitic life, chose the Maiella and stopped in a cave on Mount Palleno.

Hermit in the Maiella and on Mount Morrone

His presence and his example of life did not go unnoticed, many wanted to know him, talk to him, confess to him, and it was the people who begged him to become a priest. Peter then began his iter studiorum in Fossacesia and then reached Rome, where around 1237 he was ordained a priest. To continue his hermitic experience, immediately after he moved to Mount Morrone, hence the name by which he was then called. He had a reputation for holiness, he was told of conversions, wonders and healings. But Pietro preferred a solitary life and for this reason he returned to the Maiella, in search of increasingly inaccessible places in which to settle. Several young men began to imitate him and a community of hermits was born around him. Gradually the cenobitic organization grew and in 1264 Peter established, with the approval of Urban IV, the Hermits of San Damiano, later called Celestine, who chose the Benedictine rule interpreted with great severity. At the head of the religious order he moved to different communities.

The Celestinian hermitage of Sant'Onofrio al Morrone

The Celestinian hermitage of Sant’Onofrio al Morrone

The meeting with Gregory X

In 1274, having learned that the Council of Lyons wanted to limit the new religious orders, fearing that the monastic order he founded would be suppressed, Peter decided to go to France. He was received by Gregory X who confirmed his congregation of him. In fact, the fame of holiness that accompanied him was great, so much so that the Pope asked him to celebrate a mass in front of all the conciliar fathers. The religious family founded by the hermit monk reached 36 communities, populated by about 600 monks and oblates. Pietro, however, always attracted by solitude, in 1284 withdrew, once again on the Maiella, but continued to receive those who wanted his advice.

The election to the papal throne

Niccolò IV died in 1292, the Holy See remained vacant for 27 months. The college of cardinals, which met in various locations in Rome, could not find an agreement on any candidate and following an epidemic of plague, the conclave was dissolved. It was more than a year before he could reunite again. On 18 October 1293 he was summoned to Perugia. But in the meantime Pietro da Morrone had predicted “serious punishments” for the Church if steps were not taken to immediately choose her supreme pastor. Thus it was that his name circulated among the cardinals and since the hermit monk was a well-known figure and everyone spoke of him with great respect, the cardinals wanted to entrust him with the government of the Church and on 5 July 1294 they elected him Pope. A delegation was therefore sent on the Maiella mountains to communicate the decision of the conclave to Morrone, already eighty years old. After having prayed for a long time, he accepted and riding a donkey he reached the city of L’Aquila, where he had convened the Sacred College. And here, in the church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, he was crowned Pope on 29 August 1294 with the name of Celestine V. For the occasion, the new Pope wanted the reconciliation of the city’s factions and ordered King Charles II of Anjou, who included L’Aquila among his domains, to pardon the rebels of L’Aquila.

An image of Celestine V

An image of Celestine V

The brief pontificate and death

Among Celestino’s first official acts was the so-called Bull of Forgiveness, the Inter sanctorum solemnia of 29 September 1294, with which he granted a plenary indulgence to all those who confessed and repented of their sins and had gone to Santa Maria di Collemaggio from vespers on 28 August to sunset on the 29th. theological and juridical sciences, lacking political and diplomatic experience, Celestine realized that he was not up to the task entrusted to him and about 4 months after his coronation, on December 13, 1294, he decided to renounce the papacy. He explained to the cardinals gathered in the consistory that the choice of him was due “due to humility, perfect life and preservation of conscience, due to weakness of health and lack of knowledge, to recover the peace and consolation of the old way of life”. The new Pope was Boniface VIII, who, fearing a schism on the part of the cardinals against him, ordered that Celestino be kept under control. The latter, wanting to return to his hermitic life, attempted to take refuge on the Morrone and then to flee to Greece, but was reached in Vieste and was taken to Fumone, where he died on May 19, 1296. He was canonized in 1313 by Clement V.

The Celestine Benedictine nuns

Over the centuries the Congregation of the Celestines has been linked to female Benedictine monasteries which have assumed its constitutions, but while the male religious order disappeared completely at the beginning of the 19th century, there are still cloistered ones who follow in the footsteps of Celestine V They are the Celestine Benedictines. Among their monasteries is that of San Basilio in L’Aquila, founded in 1320, where a community of 8 religious lives. The ancient convent and its annexed church, damaged by the 2009 earthquake, remained standing and, recently restored, can be admired again. The nuns, who have also started two missions in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, and in Manila, in the Philippines, remained in a container in their garden for 11 years in order not to leave their historic monastery. The Celestine Benedictine nuns are the last heirs of the spirituality of Celestine V, which is expressed, explains the abbess, mother Margherita Santarelliin prayer, in work, in silence and recollection.

Listen to the interview with Mother Margherita Santarelli

“San Celestino was poor and detached from everything, we try to give this example – adds the nun -. He had no ambitions, he even renounced the papacy and took up the monk’s robes again”. Celestino teaches contemporary man detachment from the things of the world, the abbess of the San Basilio monastery tells us, the renunciation of material goods, riches, honors. He teaches that one must seek first of all the Kingdom of Heaven. “For us consecrated women it means choosing and following Christ, for today’s man not chasing after power but seeking forgiveness, fraternal love and living detached from everything”. Mother Margherita also tells us of Celestine V’s particular bond with the Holy Spirit, of his gathering in prayer for advice, and of his concern for the Church. “He always thought of the good of the Church, of the good of the faithful-she says-she. Even the Pardon that he donated to L’Aquila, she left for the people, to offer spiritual help. He did not think of leaving riches, but spiritual gifts ”

The relics of Celestine V

The robes of Celestine V are kept in the San Basilio monastery. The earthquake that struck L’Aquila in 2009 also damaged the Basilica of Collemaggio, where the remains of Pietro da Morrone had been kept for centuries. Following the restructuring, the reconnaissance of the urn containing the remains of Celestine was also carried out, which was then dressed as Pope. The Celestine nuns were given the chasuble, the miter, the slippers, the gloves, the pallium, which belonged to the monastery. But the nuns also keep the tunic, the scapular and the wax mask replaced by a new silver mask.

Celestine V dressed in the Pope's vestments and the Pallium of Benedict XVI

Celestine V dressed in the Pope’s vestments and the Pallium of Benedict XVI

Pope Francis in L’Aquila

For the Celestine Benedictine nuns, the opening of the Celestine Perdonanza by Pope Francis is an opportunity to convey to the world the grace of forgiveness and love. There is enthusiasm among the nuns for the arrival of Francis on 28 August. The Pope will open the Holy Door in the Basilica of Collemaggio, giving way to the pardon of Celestine V, and “this Pardon will be strengthened by his presence”, inviting once again to reconciliation and fraternal love.

Pietro da Morrone and his spirituality still alive in the Celestine Benedictine nuns – Vatican News