Leaving Fiumicino’s “Leonardo da Vinci” airport in Rome, you will find your NCC driver waiting for you to begin your tour of San Giovanni Rotondo, an important destination for pilgrims located on the Pianoro plateau between the highest mountains in the Gargano peninsula of Puglia.
The drive on the A12 and A25 highways from the capital to San Giovanni Rotondo takes around four hours but you can stop for a coffee break on the way at an Autogrill.
San Giovanni Rotondo is a comune in the province of Foggia, famous throughout the world as the home of Saint Pio of Pietralcina (1887-1968) from 1916 until his death. The Capuchin friar, Padre Pio, who was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, performed important miracles in San Giovanni Rotondo which attracted many believers who wished to receive favors. His spiritual presence is still intense today, where the body of the saint is displayed and visited by Christian pilgrims. The beautiful countryside of the Gargano National Park that surrounds the town also adds to its mystical atmosphere.
When you arrive in the center of the city, at Piazza Padre Pio, you can admire the bronze monument (1987) dedicated to the saint. It was the final work produced by the sculptor Pericle Fazzini to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the arrival of the friar in San Giovanni Rotondo. The square, once called Piazza degli Olmi, was completely restructured by the architect Eugenio Abruzzini.
You may choose to visit the monastery and church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It was constructed by the Capuchin Friars in the 1500s on property donated by Orazio Antonio Landi. Here Padre Pio lived and worked, first in cell number five and then cell number one. But because the church became too small to hold the enormous number of pilgrims that came to San Giovanni Rotonda, a new basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie was built and consecrated in 1959. The church is filled with splendid mosaics and marble decorations.
Above the convent in the forested hillside is the “Parco del Buon Pastore,” where you can see the Via Crucis Monumentale (1968-1981, The Way of the Cross), a beautiful sculpture in bronze and granite by the Sicilian sculptor Francesco Messina. Padre Pio was present when the first stone was laid on September 22, 1968, but died on the following day.
After lunch you can visit the Nuova Chiesa di San Pio da Pietrelcina (1994-2004, Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church), designed by one of the most important of contemporary architects, Renzo Piano. In order to build the church, 70,000 cubic meters of Garganic rock had to be excavated. The building is 9,200 square meters, and can hold up to 30,000 people. Its main arch is the biggest ever constructed. The church, an architectural marvel, has the form of a spiral that looks like an enormous snail shell. The entryway arch is enhanced by a large window that stands as a symbol of peace between God and man. The altar and the cross were sculpted by the famous Arnoldo Pomodoro and the pipe organ is the largest mechanical organ made in Italy. This incredible shrine was built in order to honor the particular significance of Padre Pio. Visiting this Christian church is a once in a lifetime experience that will touch the soul. Since April 19th 2010 the body of the saint has lain in rest in the lower church where you can stop and pray.
At the end of your tour, you will be taken back to Rome in your private rental car, or can you can make a reservation to stay the night in San Giovanni Rotondo.
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