The Federazione Abruzzese del Michigan, Clinton Township, community of Italian Americans

San Celestino V – Pietro di Morrone Hermit and Pope
San Celestino V – Pietro di Morrone Eremita e Papa

Saint Celestine V – Peter of Morrone (

His name was Pietro Angeleri and he was born around 1215 in Isernia (Campobasso) to modest peasants, the penultimate of twelve children. From his mother, widowed, he was initiated into ecclesiastical studies, but since he felt attracted by the austerities of monastic life, at the age of twenty Pietro became a Benedictine in Faifoli (Benevento), which he left after a few years to live as a hermit in a cave on Mount Palleno. After three years he was ordained a priest in Rome. He returned to lead a hermit’s life on Mount Morrone, near Sulmona, thirsty for prayer, daily fasting and maceration.
Soon disciples began to rush to him with whom he settled on the Maiella, around the oratory of the Holy Spirit, and constituted in 1264, with the approval of Urban IV, the Hermits of San Damiano, then called Celestines, living according to the Benedictine rule interpreted with great severity. When he learned that the Council of Lyons (1274) wanted to limit the new orders, he went there in person. It came that the council was already over, but it was received by Blessed Gregory X who confirmed his congregation (1275) thus forcing the bishops to return the goods they had already appropriated. Benefited by Cardinal Latino Malabranca OP. and by Charles II, King of Naples, the religious of Pietro Morrone multiplied the monasteries and incorporated abbeys in decline such as those of Santa Maria di Faifoli and San Giovanni in Piano of which the founder was later abbot.
Because of the great attraction he felt for solitude, Pietro di Morrone retired once again to life as a hermit on the Maiella (1284), leaving to others the direction of 36 monasteries populated by about 600 monks and oblates. He lived in his cell for up to thirteen months in a row without leaving. Every year he had four Lents. He reserved for prayer every Wednesday and Friday. On the other days he received the many lay people who went to consult him. Not content with lavishing the visitors with good advice, he organized a pious association for them, with the commitment to recite a certain number of Paters every day, to love one another, to avoid sin and to visit the poor and the sick, to help whom he did not hesitate to sell the chalices and precious ornaments of the churches of his Order.
At the death of Nicholas IV (1292) the Holy See remained vacant for twenty-seven months because the eleven electors were divided between the two parties of the Colonna and the Orsini, and King Charles II of Naples (+1309), son and successor of Charles of Anjou, brother of St. Louis IX, King of France, worked to have a cardinal chosen to his liking. The election of Pietro da Morrone, whose story seems like a legend, is the strangest in memory. In the spring of 1294 the king of Naples had gone to Perugia and had spoken with the cardinals gathered in conclave. From there he had moved to Sulmona where he granted privileges to the followers of Morrone who, shortly after, wrote a letter to Cardinal Latino in which he threatened terrible punishments from God if, within four months, the sacred College did not elect the pope. Everyone had heard of the hermit as a miracle worker, but no one knew him by sight. Convinced that he was the most suitable person to govern the Church, on the proposal of Cardinal Latino they gave him the vote.
A commission of prelates and notaries was sent to the mountains of the Maiella to ask Morrone ifoleva accept. The legates found in a cave an old man of over eighty years, pale, emaciated by fasting, dressed in rough cloth and shod with donkey skins. They communicated the election to the papacy, but he accepted it only because he was pressed by the confreres. The news of the extraordinary event reached the court of Charles II, who rushed to Sulmona in order to make the elected docile instrument of his interests. Contrary to the opinion of the cardinals, who invited him to Perugia to escape the suggestions of the Angevins, he decided to stay for some time in L’Aquila where, following the example of Christ, he wanted to enter sitting on a donkey, escorted by Charles II and his son, who supported the bridle.
In front of the church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio that Pietro had built (1287), on 29-8-1294 he received on his head the tiara already of Innocent III, and the name of Celestine V. Soon, however, the hopes placed in him disappeared, unaware of Latin, fasting of theological and juridical sciences, devoid of political and diplomatic experience. The pontiff, deaf to the advice of the cardinals, became entangled every day more in the nets that ambitious princes and cunning legulei stretched to him. He began to dispense spiritual favors without discernment, especially to the churches of his Order; he thought of changing the other monks into Celestini; he tried to force the Benedictines of Monte Cassino to wear the cassock of his religious; he allowed the Spiritual Franciscans to separate themselves from others under the name of “Poor Hermits” considering in them only the austerity of life. “In its dangerous simplicity” (L. Muratori) granted the king of Naples the levy of two tithes on the goods of the French and English Church so that he could finance his military expeditions; the appointment of his son Louis, twenty-one years old, to the archbishopric of Lyon; the appointment of twelve cardinals, including seven French, two Neapolitans, and none Roman.
In October Celestine V decided to abandon L’Aquila, but instead of taking the road to Rome, against the advice of the cardinals, he let himself be dragged to Naples by his friend and protector king. The curials during the five months of his pontificate took advantage of his inexperience to traffic and sell graces and privileges, while the cunning laughed saying that the pope commanded “in the fullness of his simplicity.” Not wanting to lose anything of his cloistered habits, in advent, in a corner of the New Castle, Celestine V had a collection built in wood in which to spend the quarantine in preparation for Christmas. Jacopone da Todi meanwhile addressed his poetic arrows to him: “What will you do, Pier di Morrone? – You came to the comparison. – We will see the work – which you contemplated in the cell. “If the world is deceived by you, curse will follow.” Struck by the disorder that infiltrated the Church because of its administrative incapacity, Celestine V realized that he was not up to his task, which is why he heard groaning, prey to remorse: “My God, while I reign over souls, behold, I lose mine”.
He then consulted canonist experts, including Benedetto Gaetani, and all replied that the pope could abdicate for sufficient reasons. As soon as the Neapolitans had an inkling that a pope so good and so easy to be deceived was about to abandon them, they invaded Castel Nuovo. Celestine V barely managed to calm them down with vague promises and permission toand prayers and processions to ask God for more light. After having prepared with Gaetani the act of renunciation of pontifical power and a constitution that recognized the pontiff the faculty to resign, on the day of St. Lucia he convoked the consistory, ordered those present not to interrupt him, then with a loud and firm voice he read his free and spontaneous renunciation of the power of the key sums “for reasons of humility, of perfect life and preservation of conscience, through weakness of health and lack of science, to recover the peace and consolation of ancient living'”. Among the tears of the onlookers he laid down the papal insignia to put on his old habit. E. Casti wrote well on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the coronation of Celestine V; “His abdication was neither a cowardice nor an act of heroism; It was the simple fulfillment of the strict duty incumbent on anyone who has assumed an office disproportionate to his strength. The moral duty to remain in place could not oblige because it was contrary to the most imperious interest of the common good”.
On December 24, Cardinal Gaetani was elected pope with the name of Boniface VIII. One of his first acts was to annul all the favors granted by his predecessor who longed to return to his hermitage, while the pope wanted him to follow him to Campania to prevent any schisms or rebellions.
Reluctantly he set out with the abbot of Monte Cassino. Arrived in San Germano he took advantage of the stop to get a horse and escape to Monte Morrone, where for two months he remained hidden from the search for papal messengers. He then tried to flee to Greece, but a storm pushed him on the coast of Vieste. Translated into the castle of Fumone he died there on 19-5-1296 singing psalms. Clement V canonized him in 1313. His relics are venerated in L’Aquila, in the church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.

Author: Guido Pettinati

St. Celestine V is a pope who became famous for having pronounced “the great refusal,” or for having spontaneously renounced the pontificate. A fact more unique than rare in the history of the Catholic Church, equaled, in February 2013, only by the contemporary Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger. Let’s go back to the past. Around 1214, in Isernia or Sant’Angelo Limosano (Campobasso) – both municipalities claim his birth – a child named Pietro Angeleri was born. The parents are humble farmers and the family is cheered by the birth of many children. Peter studies to become a priest, a dream that he manages to realize. But his greatest aspiration is to live as a hermit to pray and praise God.
With the consent of his superiors, he took refuge in a cave, on Mount Morrone di Sulmona (province of L’Aquila, in Abruzzo). People begin to talk about this good priest, who lives alone. Someone says he has seen miracles of healing. Pietro da Morrone is not left in his quiet life. Many seek him and join him in his hermitage. Peter finds other refuges in places that are increasingly inaccessible and difficult to find which, however, are punctually found by the faithful. The disciples, intending to live like him in the mountains, in the midst of nature, become so numerous as to induce the priest to organize them into a new Order of monks who will be called “Celestines” (derives from Latin and means “Came from Heaven”).
In 1292 Pope Nicholas IV died and the twelve cardinals who had to elect the successor did not find an agreement. For two years they quarrel over who among them should be named pope. The saint from Molise, a hermit in the mountains of Majella (Abruzzo), writes a harsh letter to the cardinals, urging them to elect the head of the Church. The cardinals decided, then, to elect him, the wise hermit loved by all. In 1294, at the age of 80, with the name of Celestine V, Pietro da Morrone accepted, in spite of himself, the appointment: his honesty and simplicity contrasted with the intrigues and power games that revolved around the papacy. In fact, after a few months, Celestine V, as no one before him had done, resigned renouncing the papacy. He would like to isolate himself from the world and return to being a hermit, but his successor Pope Boniface VIII imprisons him in a castle, in Fumone (Frosinone), where the saint died in 1296. In 1313 Pope Celestine V was proclaimed a saint.

Author: Mariella Lentini