A few tens of kilometres south of Milano is a small town called Pavia. At least, it is a small town today, but in the Middle Ages it was for centuries the capital of the Lombard Kingdom, and later home to one of the earliest and most illustrious universities in Europe.
Overlooking a quiet, tree-shaded piazza not far from Pavia’s train station is a beautiful church called San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. The church has much to recommend it. Literary enthusiasts will take an interest because it is mentioned both in Boccaccio’s Decameron and in Dante’s Paradiso. History buffs will perk up when they hear that the great late Roman statesman and philosopher Boethius is buried in the crypt. But the church’s main claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of St. Augustine of Hippo.
St. Augustine’s presence draws many pilgrims to the church every year. I myself was among them once, and hope to be again. Everyone who makes the visit marvels, I am sure, at the beauty of the tomb – I have seen many grand European tombs, but none comes close to matching the dignity and tender glory of that one – and many, as I did, sit in grateful silence and give thanks for the eloquent witness and example of the man.
Of course, some pilgrims are better able to appreciate Augustine than others, and this past weekend one of the most capable made the journey. Pope Benedict, whose whole theological outlook is much influenced by the spirit of the Bishop of Hippo, went to the church, celebrated Mass, and prayed before the relics of Augustine. I will be watching for translations of the Pope’s addresses, but in the meantime photos of the visit have begun to appear online.
Oh, to be in Italy again!
UPDATE: Fr. Raymond de Sousa expands on the influence of St. Augustine in the life and thought of Pope Benedict in his recent National Post column.