Having driven around much of Italy, I think we can safely say that this guy – Padre Pio – is very definitely a superstar saint. You can hardly escape him – statues, images, grafitti, even a whole TV channel dedicated to him. I had heard of him before & had been mildly fascinated by the tales of his stigmata, and when were staying in Peschici & found out (via said TV channel!) that the town of San Giovanni Rotondo was a mere 30kms away, we had to investigate…

I’m sure that many people find this place deeply moving, but to be honest, I found it a bit nuts. Padre Pio’s image looms large, especially from the hospital, up on the hill. Tour buses spill religious tourists out. Stalls, peddling religious paraphenalia, can’t be missed. Priest and nuns mingle with the visitors in bars and restaurants. Everywhere trades on the Padre Pio story – and it’s quite clear that it’s a vibrant economy.

However, the real wealth is all too clear in the actual shrine of Padre Pio, inside Santa Maria della Grazie, the church which was built to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims – and the 50+ new hotels, which have sprung up in the town. As well as the actual tomb of Padre Pio, where he lies, his body well preserved, but without any signs of the stigmata (hmmm…), the walls and ceilings are elaborately mosaiced.

Devout pilgrims, some in wheelchairs, many clearly unwell, file past the open casket, praying, and usually stuffing paper money into the collection boxes.

Outside, the shrine is just as elaborate – and very much a homage to the superstar saint, who has a TV channel and a radio station dedicated to him!

If you’re in the area, and want to visit this fascinating (in may ways) town, you can find more details here.