Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 16:05 UK

Italy's Padre Pio goes on display


Body of Padre Pio on public display

The body of the popular Italian saint, Padre Pio, has gone on display in a glass coffin in southern Italy.

Padre Pio was said to have had stigmata, or bleeding wounds of Jesus, on his hands and feet.

His body was exhumed in March on the 40th anniversary of his death. He was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

More than a million people are expected this year to see his body, which is said to be well-preserved. But there is reportedly no sign of the stigmata.

The head of the Vatican office dealing with sainthood, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, led a special open-air Mass in San Giovanni Rotondo, in Puglia.

"This body is here, but Padre Pio is not only a corpse. Looking at his remains we remember all the good that he has done," the cardinal said.

Afterwards, Cardinal Saraiva Martins led a group of Church officials into the crypt of Church of St Mary of Grace for a private viewing of the body.

Placed in a glass coffin, Padre Pio was dressed in a brown robe and his was covered in a life-like silicone mask.

Huge following

Already, more than 700,000 people have registered to view his body, and more are expected to make the pilgrimage to the Capuchin friary in San Giovanni Rotondo where it is displayed.

Among the pilgrims attending the mass on Thursday was 80-year-old Assunta Antico, who is confined to a wheelchair.

"I had a stroke two years ago. I'm paralysed and I want to walk again," she told the Reuters news agency.

Statue of Padre Pio in Messina, Sicily in March 2002

Padre Pio had a large following both before and after his death.

Some of his devotees say he could foretell the future, as well as know people's sins before they had confessed.

Some viewed him as a fraud, however, and for many years the Vatican itself was sceptical and banned him from celebrating Mass in public.

One Italian historian wrote last year that he may have used carbolic acid to produce his wounds.

Before his death, the Roman Catholic Church said it was convinced the monk's claims were not false.

The monks who exhumed his body in March said it was in "surprisingly good condition", despite no special measures having been taken to preserve it when he was buried in 1968.

"We could clearly make out the beard. The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved. The knees, hands and nails all clearly visible," said Archbishop Domenico D'Ambrosio, who led the service to exhume the body.

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16 Jun 02 |  Europe
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11 Feb 02 |  Entertainment
Country profile: Vatican
29 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

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