Spinning in his grave? Fury at glitzy new tomb for revered saint

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The Independent Online

After months on the defensive, a scandal-ridden Catholic Church has decided to counter-attack by wheeling out two of its big guns.

In the north of Italy an appearance by the Turin Shroud is already pulling in the crowds. This week, 500 miles south-east, in Puglia, the body of Saint Padre Pio has finally arrived at the extraordinary new church designed for it by the architect, Renzo Piano.

Unfortunately, the transfer of the saint's remains to the Saint Pio of Pietrelcina Church, after lying for 42 years in the crypt of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, has already run into trouble.

The move was supposed to be a cause for celebration and a huge draw for the faithful. Big crowds have failed to appear. Some worshippers and religious groups are aghast at the "pomp" of the gold-plated mausoleum where the controversial saint now lies.

The Turin-based "Padre Pio, Man of Suffering Association" has led the criticism of the glitzy crypt. Others have suggested that the saint, who lived a famously hair-shirt life, may be spinning in his new silver coffin, decorated with 16 different types of semi-precious stones (including serpentine, jade, rose quartz, and lapis lazuli).

On the website of the Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno newspaper, Padre Pio's followers have expressed their outrage. One reader, Pasquale from Andria, said: "Instead of spending all that money on meaningless work wouldn't it have been better to build a practical structure to help so many people in need?"

In reply, the Capuchin order, responsible for Pio's remains say the new, much larger 500 square metre crypt will provide much improved access for disabled pilgrims.

Controversy has always followed Padre Pio, who was born Francesco Forgione in 1887 and canonised by Pope John Paul II as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in 2002.

One historian has claimed that the stigmata from which Padre Pio famously suffered were actually self-inflicted with acid. The claims were examined but dismissed by the Catholic Church during Padre Pio's beatification process. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral in 1968.