Friday, September 6, 2013


Mysterious painting on the wall of the chapel. What's happening?
My ever-growing fascination with the pantheon of Catholic saints encountered a particularly fascinating example recently, a name I hadn’t heard before: Sant'Emidio (sometimes, Emygdius). Travelling in the southern part of the province of Le Marche, I met a gentleman named Emidio Pepe. When I visited the nearby city of Ascoli Piceno, I discovered the inspiration for the gentleman’s unusual first name: Sant' Emidio is the patron saint and protector of the city, and the Duomo in Ascoli Piceno is dedicated to him.
Duomo of Ascoli Piceno.
Rather restrained externally, the Duomo is a riot of colours on the inside. And there’s a crypt, with the relics of the saint, and a rather lovely 20th century mosaic series about events in the city in 1943 (a bad year all round - war and earthquake). 

In the south nave of the Duomo is the Cappella del Santo Sacramento which houses a famous polyptych by Carlo Crivelli from 1473. It’s a beautiful thing, painted wood panels, studded with gold and jewels (there were more, but they were removed by Napoleon’s troops).

While admiring this exquisite medieval artwork, I noticed a painting on the side wall -- something from the life of saint, it seemed. But the saint in question was headless, and carrying his own head. Could this be Sant'Emidio? 

Duomo interior.
A riot of colour.
Crivelli's polyptych: 1473
Further investigations reveal the Saint’s legend. He was a pagan from Trier, who converted to Christianity. After making a lot of people in Rome angry by going about smashing pagan statues, including that of Aesculapius (Emidio was known to miraculously cure people of illness), the Pope of the time sent him to Ascoli Piceno. There, he not only cured the daughter of the local governor, but also converted her, enraging her father:
Polymius also offered him the hand of his daughter Polisia. Instead Emygdius baptized her as a Christian in the waters of the Tronto, along with many others. Enraged, Polymius decapitated him on the spot now occupied by the Sant'Emidio Red Temple. ...Emygdius stood up, carried his own head to a spot on a mountain where he had constructed an oratory (the site of the present-day Sant'Emidio all Grotte).(source)
The cult of San Emidio is quite ancient. Churches have been dedicated to him since the eighth century. The removal of his relics from the catacomb of Sant'Emidio all Grotte to the crypt of the Duomo happened probably around the year 1000. And there he is today, and you can visit him. 

Visit S. Emidio
There he is, presumably converting Polisia.
But wait - there’s more. Sant'Emidio is credited with protecting Ascoli Piceno from all kinds of pestilence, including a violent earthquake in 1703, which affected Le Marche, but not the city. The city’s salvation was credited to the saint, and he has been invoked against earthquakes ever since. This was such a feat, and pretty important in such an earthquake-prone region, that lots of towns nearby built churches to San Emidio, in the hope of obtaining his protection, including L’Aquila, Cingoli, San Ginesio and Nocera Umbra. Wiki lists more miracles:
Emygdius is considered to have protected Ascoli from other dangers. A dazzling vision of Emygdius is said to have deterred Alaric I from destroying Ascoli in 409. The troops of Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor passed through the region in 1038 carrying the plague; Bernardo I, bishop of Ascoli, invoked Emydgius' aid and the plague stopped. During World War II, on October 3, 1943, Emygdius is said to have protected the city against German movements against the Italian partisans.
A saint for all seasons. Even headless.

Modern mosaic: The earthquake of September 1943.

No comments:

Post a Comment