San Giovanni Rotondo
By Antonio Malara
There’s one place in Italy that is the only one allowed to grow like the American model. I mean that in USA it's normal to demolish an old building and replace it with a new and modern one. Or maybe an expansion like that one in Dubai, big skycreepers right on the beach.
In Italy this is difficult for many reasons. Most of time the “green” associations protest about everything they don’t like. So making huge tunnels ruin the ecosystem, making bridges ruin the ecosystem, building on the beach ruin the ecosystem, ecc. All this in a country that has the highest rate of abusive houses. Of course the associations sometimes fight for right reasons but, in my opinion, most of time it’s just a matter of trend. They have to protest just for a matter of principle.
But wait a minute because in San Giovanni Rotondo everything is possible! This beautiful place located in the northern of Puglia, in Southern Italy, saw an expansion similar to USA cities or Dubai. Here’s the reason why.
It all began with a friar named Pio. During the ten years of the last century, Pio claimed to have stigma on their hands, plus he said to feel some scourging, more ore less the same pain of Jesus. In some point of his life he moves to San Giovanni Rotondo which was also a good place for his weak health. In the twenties the Church investigated his case. At the beginning even the Church didn’t believe the stigmata but Italians of that time didn’t care and started to see in Pio a guide capable of doing miracles. Still nowadays if you promise the impossible to Italians, they believe in you. So year after year San Giovanni Rotondo becomes a top pilgrimage destination. Even the church later in the years changed opinion, they accepted it and in 2002 (many years after his death) Padre Pio becomes Saint. Of course a little town had to grow in order to host all the people who will be there for Pio.
Since the young age, I never believed “in miracles, in the church ecc” but my family does. I visited San Giovanni Rotondo many times when I was young and I wasn’t happy. What I noticed was the fact that except for the Sanctuary and the area around, every year there’s were new buildings, new roads. I was uncomfortable because it was hard for me to recognize the place. I noticed that the place was changing fast, and it was strange because it was Italy! But one year the unexpected happened. I was sixteen years old and as I said I never believed in gods or miracles. That years I decide to play the devil, and I went in a Statue of Pio where it was said that if you hold his hand and you express a desire, he would take care about it. Now I don’t remember what was my desire but for sure it wasn’t the moon. Well that year I’ve been rejected at school for the first time ever. Revenge by Pio? I don’t know, but one thing was sure, Padre Pio did the miracle. In fact after that singularity I turned one hundred percent into a scientific person!
Btw the time there wasn’t bad, when I grow up I use to relax in San Giovanni Rotondo, I liked to go up the beautiful Via Crucis and in general the atmosphere there was quite like in all the spiritual places. One of the last time I’ve been there with my family something huge was happening. The old Sanctuary wasn’t big enough to host all the people. They were start building the new Sanctuary and the designer was Renzo Piano. In the years I started to appreciate architecture and also Piano so I was curious to see his masterpiece once finished.
As you may know reading here, I also travelled because I was a photographer for a rhythmic gymnastics team. In June 2012 we had a competition in northern Italy and they decided to stop in San Giovanni Rotondo during the return trip. I was happy because finally I could see the new Sanctuary.
That June we get to San Giovanni Rotondo after a long trip by bus. Before the arrival I talked with someone about those who believe in God and those who’s not. I didn’t want to be rude, I was there just to see the Sanctuary. The day of the visit I felt like a home, I knew the place but just beside the old Sanctuary, where before there were trees, there’s now a new opera.
The image of the Sanctuary was simply beautiful because didn’t look like a Sanctuary. I was in front of a modern interpretation, one of those thing I love. At the first sight the opera reminded me to a De Chirico paint. That’s because there’s a huge triangular churchyard, on the right side there’s horizontal bells and at the end of them a beautiful Cross. All this is built in stone material, at the end there's the Sanctuary which looks like a basketball arena.
Essentially is shape is dominated by a double arches crossing each other while the roof has a crescent moon shape. On the right arch there a big glass window with divine images painted on it. At the beginning I thought it was built by wood but then I found out there’s mainly stone, some kind of copper and of course wood. Another thing that pops up at the eyes are the unusual color for this kind of structure like yellow and green. As I said on the Boston post here, I love the modern architecture, especially like this, when a designer see his own view of things even when we comes to something that is holy.
On the right side of the Sanctuary there’s the entrance of the Pio grave which is actually underground. We visited the grave for first. This place is famous to have many golden mosaics all over the walls which are really impressive. The passage in front of the grave is designed to let a single person to have a intimate moment with the Saint, like a faster prayer. No one can be behind you if you want to stop a little and be alone in front of the grave.
After that visit we finally saw the Sanctuary inside. Even here there are many arch crossing each other, so even for this the Church doesn’t looks like the classic Church. Of course I like it but I don’t remember why I didn’t take pics inside except those with the iPhone 4. I found out that I don’t have interior pics only now that I’m selecting the pictures for this post.
At the end I’ve been happy to see the new design structure. Maybe normal people can feel a little weird but I think that this modern interpretation can even let people to have a spiritual connection like in the classic Church. They need to be a little open minded and accept new “dimensions”. Personally the view of this kin of structure make feel like in a dream, so in some kind of spiritual and unknown state of mind. And as I said this architecture make me feel free so I don’t think it is bad. It’s thanks to architecture that even an atheist like me found his own dimension in a spiritual place, be an open minded is also this, don’t preclude anything that is different from your own ideas.
Photo: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D3s-iPhone4
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