The Celestinian Forgiveness

Pope Celestine V

On 28 and 29 August of each year, the city of L’Aquila (Italy) renews the solemn rite of the Celestinian Forgiveness, that is the perpetual plenary indulgence that Pope Celestine V, on the same evening of his coronation as pontiff, granted to all the faithful of Christ.

Image of Pope Celestine V holding the city of L’Aquila in his left hand.

Before ascending to the papal throne, Pietro Angeleri, this was his secular name, spent many years living as a hermit*, especially in a retreat on Mount Morrone, above Sulmona, thus receiving the appellation of Pietro del Morrone from his devotees.

On 5 July 1294, he was designated by the papal conclave taking place in Perugia as successor to Pope Nicholas IV, whose death (1292) had left the seat vacant for more than two years. From the hermitage of Sant’Onofrio in Morrone* in which he had retired, Pietro on the back of a donkey and with King Charles II of Anjou and his son Charles Martel as grooms, set off for L’Aquila.

On 29 August 1294, in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio*, built by his own will and consecrated in 1288, he was elected pope. he solemn ceremony was attended not only by the two kings, cardinals, and nobles, but above all by an enormous crowd of devotees, made up, according to sources, of more than two hundred thousand people who received a gift of extraordinary scope from the new pontiff.

Plenary indulgence was granted to those who confessed and repented sincerely and would devoutly visit the Basilica of Collemaggio, from the Vespers of the eve of the Festivity of St. John the Baptist up to Vespers immediately after the festivity.

he tomb of Pope Celestine V in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila.
he tomb of Pope Celestine V in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila.

Until then, plenary indulgence had only been granted in favour of crusaders leaving for the Holy Land and to the pilgrims visiting the Porziuncola Chapel in Assisi. Therefore, it was mostly the prerogative of the rich, who in exchange for substantial alms, would obtain at least the partial remission of sins. However, from then on, in L’Aquila the Forgiveness would be revived annually and also granted to the poor and the dispossessed.
The Celestinian indulgence appeared immediately in its spiritual value but also in its political significance as an opportunity to increase the economic and civil power of the young city. L’Aquila profited enormously from the extraordinary event: “spreading its fame very far and giving great impetus to the building development, to the repopulation from the people of the countryside and to the trades of the city.” (A. Clementi, E. Piroddi).
On 29 September, the papal chancellery formalized the granting of Celestine V with the enactment of a bull entrusted to the civil authority of the city, which guaranteed its conservation, also claiming the right to the ceremony of Forgiveness in which the religious authorities were only invited to participate.

Fresco depicting the hermit Saint Pietro Angelerio.
Fresco depicting the hermit Saint Pietro Angelerio.

The first solemn celebration took place in 1295 against the will of Boniface VIII, pope in office, who attempted to annul the Celestinian indulgence with an edict issued on August 18, 1295 – only ten days before the pilgrims could gain the indulgence. The faithful, the monks of Collemaggio and the civil authority did not attend to the new pope’s provision and, refusing to hand over the Bull to Boniface VIII, as they had been ordered, they immediately strived to ensure that the ceremony had the appropriate prominence.

A solemn procession in which the bishop and the clergy, dressed in suitable vestments, with crosses and banners, had to take part every year by statutory provision to accompany the Bull to the Basilica of Collemaggio, so that it could be publicly read and shown to the faithful.

The Holy Door, Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.
The Holy Door, Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio. The opening of the Holy Door takes place on 29 August of each year, ever after the Bull was issued by Pope Celestine V.

The opening of the Holy Door takes place on 29 August of each year, ever after the Bull was issued by Pope Celestine V.

The ceremony of Forgiveness, only with a modern term called “Perdonanza”, was enriched particularly after 1327 when the remains of Pope Celestine were “transferred” from Ferentino (near Frosinone, Italy), where they were kept, to Collemaggio, and his relics displayed to the people. However, it was in the fifteenth century that the custom of entering Collemaggio through the Holy Door, placed on the left side of the sacred building, became established according to what happened in the Roman patriarchal basilicas on the occasion of the Jubilee, held for the first time in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII.

Celestine V and the Holy Door

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L'Aquila: its history and culture

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