Couple are singled out for sainthood

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They sounded the perfect couple. Never a row over the washing up. Certainly no extra-marital affairs. At a special mass yesterday, the Pope put an Italian husband and wife on the road to canonisation for "living an ordinary married life in an extraordinary way".

Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, Italians who died in 1951 and 1965, were selected by the head of the Catholic Church as part of a campaign to provide Catholics with role models.

Whether they will be remembered for long is doubtful. The calendar of saints is becoming far more crowded than it once was and Pope John Paul II has contributed to the pressure. Over his 23-year pontificate he has already beatified – the next step to canonisation – almost 1,300 people.

The Vatican pointed out that Luigi's and Maria's special quality was that they were the first couple to be beatified together in several centuries. Another married couple, Aquila and Prisca, have made it to sainthood, but that was in the very early days of the Church.

The newer candidates "lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way", the Pope said at the ceremony in St Peter's basilica in Rome.

They certainly succeeded in imparting their religious convictions to their children. Two of their sons became priests, and one of their two daughters became a nun.

The couple were, at first, supporters of Mussolini's fascist regime, but they later aided resistance fighters, helping partisans to dress as priests to escape the Nazis.

Born in the 1880s, the couple married in 1905 and spent their lives in Rome. Newspapers quoted the sons as saying the couple decided to sleep in separate beds after 20 years of marriage, living as brother and sister for another 26 years.