The Celestinian Forgiveness

Modern Celebration of the Celestinian Forgiveness

After 728 years from the issuing of the precious papal document, peace, solidarity and reconciliation are the key values of the Bull of Forgiveness for all those who, confessed and sincerely repented, wish to receive the plenary indulgence, that is the remission of sins and absolution from punishment. For 720 years the Celestinian Forgiveness has been a symbolic invitation to Peace among populations and which, today like yesterday, is particularly meaningful in a geopolitical scenario marked by wars and death. The Forgiveness celebration of L’Aquila is the cradle of the universal value of spirituality that comes to life when crossing the Holy Door of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio. The humble hermit, the first pope to abdicate, has entrusted the city of L’Aquila with the preservation of a social message of revolutionary relevance.  

The name Forgiveness comes from the Bull of Forgiveness, preserved in the armoured chapel of the Civic Palace Tower until the 2009 earthquake. The old civic statutes provided that the civic authority should announce the Feast of Forgiveness in accordance with the document of Pope Celestine. Hence, the Mayor of the city publicly proclaims the contents of the Bull. Then a guest cardinal, specially designated by the Vatican, opens the Holy Door after that the traditional Historical Parade of the Celestinian Bull has accompanied the sacred document carried by the Lady of the Bull, along with the case containing the  remains of the saint, from the heart of the city centre to the Basilica.  

However, as centuries passed, the event fell into disinterest and in the second half of the 20th century, the ceremony, called Perdonanza in Italian (i.e., Forgiveness) also thanks to a medieval term coined by poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, was limited only to the religious ritual. Only between the Seventies and Eighties, the figure of Celestine V and the universal value of his Bull of Forgiveness were rediscovered.

The modern celebration of the Forgiveness ceremony was revived in 1983 at the behest of the then-mayor Tullio De Rubeis. The spirit of Celestine returned to throb among the L’Aquila inhabitants, as narrated in the book “Trent’ anni di Perdonanza” by the local journalist and writer Angelo De Nicola“Celestine wanted the gift of forgiveness to be celebrated with a great feast. However, in the post-war period, the tradition had faded away for various reasons” the journalist writes. Along with the religious rituals, the Historical Parade of the Celestinian Bull was revived where the sacred parchment, which had been recently transferred to Palazzo Margherita from the old seat of the Spanish Fortress, was carried up to Collemaggio. The Italian artist Remo Brindisi was commisioned to design the eagle-shaped case to preserve the Bull of Forgiveness. In 1983, the scholar Errico Centofanti gave new impetus to the historical and cultural meaning of the jubilee held in the regional capital, with the support of the then mayor De Rubeis. “The tradition is attested in the medieval statutes of the Town Council on which my project was based. That is the tradition and on that we conceived its revival today.” The words spoken by Centofanti, who was superintendent of the Forgiveness celebration for ten years, evoke the concepts of continuity, an essential condition for an event of international scope that has centuries-old roots into history and tradition.

The ceremony of Forgiveness continued also after the 2009 earthquake which razed the historical city centre of L’Aquila and its surroundings to the ground, destroyed buildings and a striking architectural heritage, caused the death of 309 people, disrupted the social, economic and administrative life of an entire community. The Basilica of Collemaggio, severely damaged by the earthquake and supported by metal scaffolding to avoid further collapses, was the symbol of a city and of its will to live. Despite some limitations due to safety reason, the ritual of the opening of the Holy Door took place also in 2009 like in the previous seven centuries. The same limitations also involve the route of the historic parade owing to the building sites and to inaccessible areas still scattered around the city centre. The Celestinian Forgiveness has been adapted to the reconstruction of the city, following a route that wants to reclaim its natural context and, most of all, those values that in this age of international conflicts and terrorism seem to be lost. 

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