On the occasion of the feast day for his liturgical memory on October 16, we discover the Sanctuary of St. Gerard Maiella, the patron saint of mothers and children
Oct. 16 marks the memory of St. Gerard Maiella, The Father of the Poor, The Apostle of the Sele Valley, as his devotees call him, a religious man who lived in the 18th century and was recognized as the protector of expectant mothers, mothers and children because of his miracles. This is why the Shrine of St. Gerard Maiella, located in Materdomini, in the province of Avellino, is still visited today by thousands of pilgrims and especially by young mothers, parturients and puerperians, who leave in the Hall of Bows, entirely covered with pink and light blue bows, their gift to thank the saint for his protection.
St. Gerard Maiella belonged to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer founded by St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori, so he was a Redemptorist religious. He took his vows against the wishes of his family, who were concerned about his poor health. Famously, he ran away from home by lowering himself from the window with a sheet to join the Redemptorists, leaving his mother a note in which he wrote, “Mother, forgive me, I am going to become a saint.” Of a cheerful and gentle disposition, he lived a short life of humility, prayer and penance, and died at only 29 of consumption, but already famous for his miracles.
History of the Sanctuary of St. Gerard Maiella
The sanctuary stands in a place of worship already famous long before it was dedicated to St. Gerard. Since the Middle Ages it had been the scene of Marian apparitions, for on two occasions the Virgin showed herself to shepherds through the branches of an elder tree. Initially, only a small chapel had been erected, later replaced by a church, to allow the growing number of pilgrims to show their devotion. Declared a minor basilica, the church was dedicated to Our Lady known here by the Marian title Mater Domini.
In 1748, at the behest of St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori a College of Redemptorist Fathers was built near the church, where St. Gerard Maiella died on October 16, 1755. The saint’s tomb was placed in the church of Mater Domini, and pilgrimages increased more and more, to the point that in 1974 it was necessary to build another church next to the previous one, the Church of the Redeemer, more than 46 meters high. Around the Shrine of St. Gerard Maiella, other buildings developed to accommodate pilgrims and give them space for prayer.
There is also a small museum, the Gerardino Museum, consisting of only two rooms, which houses paintings that tell the story of St. Gerard and many votive offerings brought by his devotees. There is also a reconstruction of the little cell in which the saint lived. In the little room there is a large crucifix, a small bed, the remains of a harpsichord, and a desk on which towers a skull, an item that every Redemptorist missionary had to have in his room as a reminder of the impermanence of life. On the skull is the inscription Always Remember, while on the door of the little cell St. Gerard had a sign posted with the words in capital letters, “Here you are doing God’s will, as God wills and for as long as it pleases God.”
The patron saint of children
St. Gerard is recognized as the patron saint of parturients, mothers and children, and invoked by nursing mothers at the time of childbirth. There are many miracles attributed to the saint involving mothers and children. In particular, one legend says that the saint, a guest of a family in Oliveto Citra, pretended to forget his own handkerchief in their home. One of the little girls of the house brought it to him, but the Saint wanted her to keep it because she would need it someday. Many years later, at the time of childbirth, the child who had become a woman was struggling between life and death, and she wanted the handkerchief laid on her belly. Thus the pain passed and she and her baby were saved.
At the Shrine of St. Gerard Maiella, the Hall of Bows commemorates the Saint’s love for children and mothers with countless pink and blue bows, ribbons, and photographs, donated by parents over the years.