L’Aquila, Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio and Porta Santa 

It is hidden among the peaks of the Abruzzo Apennines and has an irresistible charm: L’Aquila is a city rich in history, culture and tradition. Among its most precious gems is the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, together with its emblematic Porta Santa. 

L’Aquila is a city that enchants for its beauty imbued with culture and traces of a past made of prosperity and difficulty that has been able to overcome with strength and determination.

Founded in the thirteenth century, the city is characterized by a maze of winding streets and picturesque squares and dominated by majestic palaces and secular churches. 

Basilica of Collemaggio: history and meaning of faith and culture

Just outside the city walls stands the Basilica of Collemaggio, a treasure of particular architecture and a spiritual point of reference for the community. 

Built towards the end of the thirteenth century, but modified several times due to various earthquakes, the basilica captivates with its facade of white and red stones characterized by geometric patterns and crosses and three rose windows and its interior that houses frescoes and sacred works of art.

The basilica is the place where, Pietro da Morrone (who built the basilica of Collemaggio after a dream) was crowned Pope with the name of Celestine V. The so-called “Pope of the Great Rejection”, gave up the papacy after only five months to return to life as a hermit. His act of renunciation made the basilica an important place of pilgrimage and spirituality.

Even today, in addition to its architectural and artistic beauty, the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio is a symbol of faith and devotion. It is also where Pope Celestine V is buried.

Holy Door: The Passage to Hope

On the left side of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio is the Holy Door, an ancient door characterized by carvings of particular value, a lunette depicting the Madonna and Child and Saints Celestine and John the Baptist and an eagle on the archivolt. 

Open only during the jubilee years with the event called Celestine’s Pardon, the Holy Door invites visitors to cross it to obtain plenary grace and indulgence. 

This rite dates back to the time of the papal coronation, when Pope Celestine V issued the papal bull “Inter Sanctorum Solemnia”, also known as the “Bull of Forgiveness”with which he granted the plenary indulgence to the confessed and communicated that they had entered the basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio. 

The Celestinian Pardon immediately assumed an important meaning, in that it offered everyone the possibility of obtaining indulgence, regardless of their social status or ability to buy it.

The practice of opening the Holy Door dates back to the Jubilee of the fourteenth century, instituted by Pope Boniface VIII, has become a moment of reflection and contemplation, an opportunity to renew one’s faith and look to the future with optimism.

The ceremony kicks off at sunset on August 28, at the end of the picturesque historical procession, when the “Lady of the Bull” delivers the document to the mayor, who reads it before the public. Then, a cardinal appointed by the Holy See, using an olive branch donated by the “Giovin Signore”, beats three times on the door, thus opening the doors of the basilica and allowing the faithful to obtain the indulgence. The “Bull of Forgiveness” remains exposed inside for a whole day while the Holy Door remains open until sunset on August 29, when the closing ceremony held by the Archbishop of L’Aquila takes place.

This year, Celestine’s Pardon proudly celebrates edition number seven hundred and thirty, anticipating the Universal Jubilee of the Catholic Church. 

However, both the Holy Door and the Basilica of Collemaggio, after the earthquake of 2009, have taken on an even deeper meaning. After the devastation, the reopening was a moment of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation for the city and its inhabitants.

Over the years, the Celestinian Pardon has welcomed a variety of events, which liven up the last week of August. 

The invaluable cultural value of the event was recognized as “Heritage of Italy for tradition” in 2011 and was included in the UNESCO “Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 2019.

The civic identity of the Celestinian Pardon

Not just faith and spirituality. In Collemaggio, the coexistence of spirituality and civic identity is evident, as demonstrated by the presence of civil symbols. 

For example, the eagle that dominates the architectural element of the arch of the Holy Door underlines the role of civil authority in the organization of the Pardon, considering the ceremonial and civil connotations that accompany the event.

To this is added the delivery of the “Bull of Forgiveness” to the highest civic authority, that is, the mayor, the only deputy to the solemn reading before the public. 

In addition, the period of celebration of the Pardon in the past coincided with the seasonal transhumance of the flocks to the Tavoliere delle Puglie, becoming a wish for prosperity derived from sheep and wool production.

Copertina: Wikipedia

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