Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Feast of St. Therese in Tolentino and Visso

The basilica of St. Nicolas of Tolentino

Saturday October 1st we were scheduled to travel to Tolentino, about two hours drive from Cascia, where the friars would celebrate Mass for us in the basilica named for St. Nicolas.  There was some question among the trip's organizers about whether or not we would even visit Tolentino.  Following our visit, there was no doubt this little town would most definitely be kept on the tour.

The basilica was breathtaking, but we were scheduled to have Mass in the lower crypt, where the remains of St. Nicolas (minus his arms, more on that later)  were entombed behind the altar.  It was this church  where the former sacristan for Blessed John Paul II resided, and he vested the two friars in a way appropriate to celebrate the TLM.  One of the friars later remarked to me that it was the first time he'd worn an amice in years.  Due to the design of the altar, the friars were also compelled to celebrate Mass ad orientem, as they had the tomb of JPII at the Vatican.
The altar in the crypt, behind which are the remains of St. Nicolas (minus his arms)

Several members of our entourage had opted to stay behind at Cascia that day, including the person who organized the lectors, so shortly before Mass, an appeal was made for someone to do the readings.  One of the women from Queens stepped forward and said she'd like to read.  Before Mass, Father announced that he would be celebrating the votive Mass of St. Nicolas but that he was aware that it was the feast of another great saint, and he would be speaking about both of them during his homily.  No way I would have let him off the hook if he had not paid St. Therese her propers.

I think she would probably be very pleased to share her special day with St. Nicolas of Tolentino, who realized he had a vocation from an early age and who is known for his devotion to the souls in Purgatory.  The shrine contained a charming display that told the life of St. Nicolas in static vignettes.  When he was a young boy, he served at the altar.  One Sunday, as he was holding the priest's chasuble as he elevated the Sacred Host, Nicolas saw not the Host but the Baby Jesus being hoisted for adoration.  Ever since then, he knew he wanted to be a priest.

St. Nicolas is often pictured with a star on his habit, holding lilies.  The star is said to signify the star that tradition holds appeared on the night he was born.  The lilies presumably represent his status as the patron saint of the Holy Souls.  After his death, tradition tells us that two grave robbers broke into the church where the saint was buried and stole his arms.  The arms miraculously started to bleed, terrifying the thieves and compelling them to confess their sins and return the arms.  The arms are actually kept in a reliquary in a side chapel of the basilica known as the "Chapel of the Arms."
The beautiful sacristy where the priests vested for Mass

As if the basilica is not beautiful enough to draw visitors, the shrine also boasts a unique life-sized presepio that is displayed year-round.  While the figures are static, the sun rises and sets and ships can be seen in the distance, sailing past the town where the Holy Family has taken residence in a stable.  Here is a photo.

The life-sized presepio.

The following are taken from the main basilica.  Note that the cherubs on the perimeter of the dome are sculpted into the ceiling, not merely painted.

Click on this to get a closer look.  

The Chapel of The Arms.  Those thieves sure learned their lesson

After the obligatory visit to the gift shop, we had a half hour to spend in the little town.  I found a bakery whose sweet aroma just drew me in.  Unfortunately, J was there, talking it up with the shop owner but not buying anything.  He was in one of his hyper moods and gave me an overly-enthusiastic, needlessly loud greeting, grabbing hold of my arm and attempting to dance with me in the tiny bakery.  I was mortified but said nothing and he soon got the idea I wasn't in the mood to play games.  He left and I pointed to a tray of heavenly butter cookies.  I wanted a pound, but the baker thought I wanted them all, and I didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise.  I shared them with the rest of the group as it would be a bit of a drive to the town where we would be having lunch.

Visso is reminiscent of an Alpine village, with picturesque mountains and sky-blue crystal lakes.  A very pretty young woman waited on our table and at least for awhile, J forgot all about bugging me or anyone else.  If we had to put up with for more than a week, I was sure she could stand it for an hour or so.

Churches like this one dot the countryside in Italy
After lunch, we strolled down the hill to the lake, its waters an unreal color of blue.  Then we boarded the bus for the ride back to Cascia.  We had yet to enter the basilica superiore as a group to view St. Rita's incorrupt body and this was planned for the late afternoon upon our return.


  1. Joyce, I took my mom to the doctor today and we had one of those extended waiting room visits..
    : )
    So to pass the time I started telling her about all your 'monkey wrench' experiences in Italy. She got so tickled and we were laughing so hard the time flew by. Now she wants to see your blog and all the pictures. I think it will make her homesick..she LOVED hearing all the places you visited.

    The pictures are gorgeous..+

  2. This story of thieving relics reminds me of a story that I heard when I was in Prague this summer. In one church (Our Lady of the Snow I believe) a thief tried to steal some precious item. Suddenly, a statue of the Blessed Mother reached out and grabbed his arm with a grip as hard as the stone that it was made of, and wouldn't let go. The thief had to cut off his own arm to get out, and his appendage is still on display in this church.

  3. I'm glad my travel escapades helped past the time Caroline :)

    Thanks, Manny

    Daniel, wow, I hadn't heard that story before. Don't mess with the saints and their relics!


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