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The ruins of Pompeii

 Amalfi Coast, Positano, Sorrento, Naples, Pompeii, Paestum, Capri, Ischia, Salerno, Ravello, Herculaneum, Mt. Vesuvius, Maiori, Minori, Vietri sul Mare, Furore

Pompeii: The Bartolo Longo Basilica


An introduction to Mary’s Citadel

The history of Pompeii, one of the most famous Shrines of Christianity, is tied, in its origins and its development, to the life of its founder, the Blessed Bartolo Longo. There are few cases in history where a town owes its existence to one single man, rarer still a sanctuary town with such unique characteristics as Pompeii.

This is not, therefore, a guide in the usual sense of the word but rather an introduction to the understanding of the  "miracle of Pompeii", of that exceptional  "adventure of the Spirit". Very much in evidence, not only in Bartolo Longo’s private life but in his life as a founder as well, lies the power of the Spirit; that Spirit of which Jesus says: "The wind blows where it wishes and you can hear its voice, you do not know where it comes from and where it goes: this is so of anyone who is born of the Spirit". (Jn. 3,8). Bartolo Longo was "guided by the Spirit"  as much through the desert as the rich harvest, and through the dark of the night as in the radiant midday light. He was conscious of this adventure and he wanted to live it to the full. Before the consecration of the new church in 1891 he wrote: "For fifteen years we were continually astonished by the phenomenon that was occurring inside of us without clearly understanding its laws or the nature and force of its purpose. What was that secret impulse, persistent and untiring, that for so many years had driven us to build this church?".

The founding of Pompeii is neither lost in myth nor in the dark of the ages. A simple story of an image that makes its entrance on the 13th of November, 1875, on a cart of manure and is worshipped by millions. A simple story of a village (three hundred inhabitants in 1872) that grew to a town of thirty thousand in a hundred years.

Pompeii was not born from a preconceived plan. It grew slowly as projects and the needs of development presented themselves daily. The signs of the times – projects and providence – were interpreted by Bartolo Longo in his efforts to fulfill God’s Will and the needs of his brothers.

In all this lies the human-divine adventure of Pompeii and its founder. You may think it quite out of the extraordinary, but its "extraordinariness", if you will forgive my use of the word, lies in the interpretation and the meaning that the founder gave to   events.


2. The founder

Bartolo Longo was born in Latiano (BR) on the 10th February, 1841, of Dr. Bartolomeo and Antonietta Luparelli. Very early, his natural qualities began to manifest themselves: a lively intelligence and fiery character. He was cordial, easy going and a teaser. At the age of six he began school at Francavilla Fontana which was run by the Scolopi priests. He later went on to Lecce and finally concluded his education in Naples where he graduated in law in 1864.

During that time, at the university, there was a strong current of anti-Christianism and Bartolo Longo found himself mixed up in superstitions and spiritism to such a degree that he was consecrated "the priest of the spirit". Later he bitterly regretted this juvenile alienation, but in the plans of providence this "sin" proved useful for his final rediscovery of the Faith and goodness. His friend, professor Vincenzo Pepe, and the learned Domenican priest Alberto Radente, were the "angel" God invited to accompany Bartolo Longo along his path. His dedication proved generous and total. He renounced his legal career and devoted himself to charity and to his religious studies. For these reasons he refused several good proposals of marriage, as well.

But Bartolo Longo’s mission was not to end here. In 1872 he happened to go to Pompeii on business as the Countess De Fusco had entrusted him with the administration of her property. He was at once struck by the human and religious misery of the peasants. Following a divine inspiration he decided to dedicate himself to the teaching of Catechism and to the spreading of the Rosary. With the boldness of desperation I lifted my face and hands to the heavenly Virgin and cried: "If it be true that you promised St. Dominic that whoever spreads the Rosary will be saved, I will be saved, because I will not leave Pompeii until I have spread your Rosary". Words of a twentieth century Apostle of the Rosary. In 1876, at the suggestion of the Bishop of Nola, Msgr. Formisano, he began to collect a "soldo" (the twentieth part of one lira) a month to build a church in Pompeii. The prodigies of the Madonna, whose picture of the Rosary had already been placed in the church that was being built, attracted so many people and donations that an impressive temple and throne of the Madonna were erected.

Our Lady assisted powerfully in the construction of the shrine by granting graces and favors to benefactors of the enterprise. "If you wish to be cured" she said to a dying person "go to my church at Pompeii". In 1884 she appeared to dying Fortuna Agrelli and after curing her said: "Whoever desires to obtain favors from me should make three novenas of the rosary in petition with the reciting of the fifteen decades of the Rosary and three in thanksgiving". This is the so-called fifty-four day novena wich is so popular with devotees of Our Lady of Pompeii. By 1885 some 940 cures were recorded and described in Blessed Bartolo’s history of the shrine.

For the great love of Mary he became a writer. "The Fifteen Saturdays" is a book which nourishes the piety of generations of devotees, as well as the "Petition", written in 1883, wich has for a long time, in millions of copies and many different languages, crossed the borders of Italy and Europe. The magazine "The Rosary and the New Pompeii", founded in 1884 has today a circulation of 300.000 copies, enjoying world wide readership. It is published also in English.

Fifty years of intelligent, ardent and untiring work produced the "miracle of Pompeii". A generous and strong contributor was the Countess De Fusco, who, following the advice of friends, married the lawyer in 1885. She stood by him until the 9th of February, 1924, when she died at the age of 88.

Bartolo Longo lived two more years but they were years of moral bitterness and physical suffering. He passed away on the 5th of October, 1926. His remains are at rest in the chapel dedicated to him (1983) under the Madonna’s throne, as he had wanted. On the 7th of May, 1934, the canonical proceedings were started for his beatification, proclaimed in Rome on the 26th of October 1980 by Pope John Paul II who defined him as "a layman who had lived his ecclesial pledge to the full". For what he achieved in Pompeii Bartolo Longo became known as a forerunner, a prophet of the modern catholic layman. "That he was a layman, an intellectual biased in his youth by heterodox temptations, did not help: the mistakes of his past were used to belittle his work. To build, to set up a new devotion with an original laical coherence, to dedicate oneself entirely to a social apostolate among the slow moving people of the valley, to reawaken the divine sentiment in those minds ruined by daily misery, was at that time an incredible undertaking, and, contrary to the idea that everyone had of the layman in religious life: the world of brotherhood had never thought of uniting prayer to the ends of social transformation or re-education". (G. De Rosa).

  In the main square of the town, the building of which required the pulling down of Longo’s own house, a beautiful monument to the founder was erected in 1962. The sculptor Domenico Ponzi, autor of many valuable works in the Shrine, has cleverly synthesized the history of Pompeii. The solid parallelepiped of the pedestal narrates Longo’s own conversion, the universality of the supplication to the Madonna and his social and charitable works are united together like a flower to the fruit. The stele expresses the development of his work at Pompeii as a consequence of Our Lady presence, which is clearly expressed by the epigraph:

Pompeii / Marian town / Where Faith and Charity / Create miracles / Where prayer is perennial / Honours its founder / Bartolo Longo / Apostle of the Rosary / Father of the orphans / MCMLXII


3. The New Pompeii

Although it is usually called Pompeii, the founder had intended it to be called "The New Pompeii" in order to differentiate it from the old Pompeii that more often than not was its complete opposite. "Next to a land of dead appeared, quite suddenly, a land of resurrection and life: next to a shattered amphitheatre soiled with blood, there is a living Temple of faith and love, a sacred Temple to the Virgin Mary; from a town buried in the filth of gentilism, arises a town full of life, drawing its origins from a new civilization brought by Christianity: The New Pompeii!... It is the new civilization that openly appears beside the old; the new art next to the old; christianity full of life in juxtaposition to long surpassed Paganism". (B. Longo, "The History of the Shrine of Pompeii").

How and when did he get the idea of founding a town? It was certainly not initially on his mind. As a good layman, this being another of his merits, he knew how to bring together "the social" and "the spiritual". "Starting from the religious education of the rough and unhappy people of the Valley he soon decided to associate the spreading of the worship of the Holy Rosary with the civil and social redemption of the people. I believe that it is unquestionably from this association of ideas that the project for a new urban aggregation, capable of finding its legitimation in religion, was realized". (G. De Rosa).

It has been noted that this Shrine, unlike many others, has been succesfull because it is situated in the midst of active life, of many avenues of communication and of an exceptionally high tourist market. All this, as well as the ruins are not the only reasons for the crowds that flock. People come here for the Shrine and its social works.

The erection of the Shrine attracted mumerous families from the neighbouring towns and catalyzed, as nothing else could, such a variety of activities. Rail-ways, postal and telegraph services, the police,

  hydro and water, hotels, restaurants, the motorway and shops are all a consequence of the Shrine. It would not be an exaggeration to say half the population owes its livelihood to the Shrine. About 3.000.000 pilgrims flock to the town each year. Obviously the speed and movement entailed by the colossal number of people is too great for the conveniences that the town has to offer and many pilgrims do not have the opportunity of enjoying these amenities. In its history of a little more than a hundred years, Pompeii has seen many visitors among which there have been saints, kings, queens and princesses, and important personalities of the public and cultural world. More recently Pope John Paul II (21st of October 1979) appeared at the Central Loge of the Basilica to bless the crowd, thus bringing to life the prophecy of the founder.

4. The Hearth of Pompeii

The bell-tower, surmounted by a huge bronze cross has, since 1925, been the landmark of the whole Sarno valley, very like a lighthouse for those approaching Pompeii and a sweet memory for those having visited it.

Once in the town, one is struck by the white mass of the Sanctuary with its domes and lateral chapels. The present temple is the result of the enlargement made in 1939 around the original church, which, as far as the dome, is today the central nave. The façade, on the other hand, was inaugurated in 1901 after eight years of work by the architect Giovanni Rispoli. To Bartolo Longo it represented the monument dedicated to universal peace built with the offerings of millions of people all over the world. Although the sanctuary is generally an oasis for prayer, there is inevitable whispering caused by the numerous people interested in the precious marble ornaments, mosaics and paintings.

Inside this jewel of a Shrine the most precious treasure is the painting of the Our Lady of the Rosary with its history of neglect, restoration and triumph. In 1875 it was, in fact, hastily restored by Galella and again, more judiciously, by Maldarelli in 1879. A further restoration was made in 1965 by Benedettini Olivetani Fathers from Rome. The journey to Pompeii after its solemn incoronation in the Vatican Basilica by Pope Paul VI, was a triumph in which thousands of people took part."There is not a Christian soul that has not found in the Lady of the Rosary comfort in dark and troubled times, peace for a deep wound or pain; hope for moments of anguish". (G. Leone).

The long corridors adjacent to the shrine, livened from the very start by the voices of the first orphans, are today full of the many devotees that come moved, to admire the thousands of offerings given in gratitude for miracles received. All this is an incisive, effective catechesis of Mary’s powerful intercession and, in such, an exceptional document of man’s habits, customs and evils over the last hundred years. The museum holds testimonials, precious chalices, corals, cameos and small silver statues as tokens of thanksgiving for Mary’s received protection.

Last but not least is the "Vesuvian Museum". Bartolo Longo acquired a love for science at the service of local needs which inspired him to create an Observatory for the studies of the volcano, among other geological phenomena. Other events then brought about the formation of a museum that today exhibits prints, paintings and reconstructions, as well as a large collection of volcanic material inherent to the activity of the Vesuvius and to the destruction of the old Pompeii. An interesting particular is the finding of some "signs" of the presence of Christianity in Pompeii prior to its ruin in 79 A.D. Could these be the seeds of the New Christian Pompeii?


5. Pompeiian works of Charity

The large family that one meets at Pompeii consist of more than a thousand people. Surrounding the growing Shrine Bartolo Longo wanted a town of charity whose inhabitants were the orphans of nature and the law: and by their side the nuns, priests, monks, workers and teachers help in the development of Mary’s town.

The statistics, although not a complete indication, are quite eloquent. Since 1887 about ten thousand children have been educated in Pompeii.

Charity has no frontiers: then, like today the institutes are open not only to Italy, but to the whole world. Charity never tires: it is always ready to bring itself up to date. At the start, in 1887, Bartolo Longo thought first of nature’s orphan girls and then, in 1892 of the law’s orphan boys (sons of prisoners) and finally, in 1922, of the daughters of prisoners. "The three most dazzling gems with which the world, through Bartolo Longo, crowned the Virgin of Pompeii", are the words that Brother Regolo Battaglini used as the title of his poetic trilogy in 1936.

Charity fears neither difficulties nor risks. Many people felt shocked and disoriented by Bartolo Longo’s social initiatives. "Much against positivists beliefs, Bartolo Longo put forward his great Faith which will always remain the focal point of his work". These wretched creatures, the positivists maintain, are doomed from birth to delinquency and neither prevention nor education can save them from crime. These bitter and depressing statements of positivist science neither stopped us in our difficult undertaking nor discouraged us: we did not believe in the power of evil but we believed in the redeeming forces of good, in the effectiveness of education.

  "According to the means provided by endless public charity, I gathered as many youngsters as I could, sons of prisoners, and saw that they were educated according to special methods, and I was able to prove that even children who have an inherent tendency to delinquency, a natural tendency passed down to them by their fathers and forefathers, can, if it is constantly corrected, be modified and sometimes even destroyed". (B. Longo).

When visitors used to ask "what do the orphans do all day? How do they live?", Bartolo Longo would give them a long list of scholastic,   recreational and formative activities that were

designed to provide the orphans with human warmth and meaning to life. Modern pedagogy has suggested the modification of some of the original ideas and rules, leaving the institutional aims intact.

More recently, the problem of the aged has been taken up, and over the last twenty years, following the example of its founder, the directors of the Shrine have built a house in Pompeii for about fifty old people.

The boys school is run by some Brothers of the Christian Schools. The increasing number of pupils as well as the fall in religious vocations has necessitated the collaboration of external teachers and workers.

The Pompeiian family is completed by about sixty priests and monks who provide spiritual assistance to the institutes and to the millions of pilgrims.

  6. The adventure continues

Bartolo Longo always used to say the following famous words: "If the works are those of God they will live forever, otherwise they will perish", which he often said in reference to his own work. A hundred years later Pompeii is alive and still flourishing.

At present it has a precise legal and organizational structure, defining itself as such in the course of the years. What was taking place in Pompeii came to the notice of Pope Leo XIII who, as early as 1883 published his first encyclical on the Rosary, consequently showing his gratitude to Bartolo by giving him a private audience in 1884 and by appointing, in 1890, Cardinal Monaco La Valletta as Protector of the Sanctuary.

The "Great Year" of exchanges between the Vatican and Pompeii was 1894. Bartolo Longo offered the Shrine and all it contained to the Pope. Leo XIII accepted the gift and detached the Shrine from the diocese of Nola, declaring it part of the Papal Estates and therefore under its immediate rule.

The founders were appointed life administrators: this exceptional investiture was the response to false charges that had been made regarding Bartolo Longo’s management.

In the year 1900 the first apotheosis of Pompeii was signed. It was the first jubilee in Pompeii, coinciding with the Holy Year that was being celebrated in Rome. Pope Leo XIII became the first herald of the marvels of Pompeii, exorthing the pilgrims: "Go to Pompeii; go and pray for the Pope in the Shrine of the Pope!".

Jealousy over the development of the Shrine and its works caused some people (of whom some were religious) to give it a mistaken and malicious interpretation.

They tried to overthrow the founders and their work. These rumours eventually reached the ears of the Pope. As these were hard times for the Church, especially in light of modernistic heresy, Pope Pius X was greatly alarmed and summoned the founder to a special audience on the 24th of November, 1903. Deeply hurt by this, Bartolo Longo wrote this justification: "My only aim in thirty three years of work has been to save my soul and that of my neighbours by spreading the worship of the Rosary and by educating the sons of prisoners, orphan girls and the children of the newly born Pompeiian town".

In 1906 Bartolo Longo made the final detachment of his works in favour of the Holy See and at last the tempest came to an end. Obeying the Pope’s command: "you must not die, you must work...", he co-operated with Msgr. Augusto Silj, head of administration and Representative of the Holy See.

On the 8th of May, 1926, Msgr. Carlo Cremonesi was appointed the Delegate for the Papal Estates and first Prelate of the "Prelatura Nullius", that is immediate subject to the Holy See. On Bartolo Longo’s death in 1926 the structure of the Sanctuary and annexed works of charity was complete and definitive.

The succession of the Pope’s Delegates for the Sanctuary, who are also Prelates of Pompeii - became ordinary administration. In 1928 the Patriarch Antonio A. Rossi came to Pompeii and stayed until his death on the 29th of March, 1948. He took care of the enlargement of the Sanctuary.

On August 15th of the same year Msgr. Roberto Ronca arrived as the Pope’s new Delegate. During the time of his office a great many additions were made: the new House of the Rosary, a new orphanage and the Graphic Institute. For two years, 1956-1957, Msgr. Giovanni Foschini was Prelate with the office of Apostolic Administrator. He was succeded by Msgr. Aurelio Signora, who held office until 1978. During the past twenty years, while many buildings were extensively renovated, Pompeii was further enriched by a Seminary, the Marianna De Fusco Home for the Aged and the Monastery. From 1978 to 1990 Msgr. Domenico Vacchiano has been the Prelate of Pompeii. The present Prelate is Msgr. Francesco Saverio Toppi, consecrated in Pompei on December 7, 1990.

A work of God be it an institution or a person’s life, is like "the house built on a rock" that Jesus mentions: that neither wind nor storm can destroy. Here in Pompeii God gave another sign of His Goodness and Power. Mary, mother of God and the Church, administers, motherly, this Divine Goodness and Power. The charitable institutions and works, the Sanctuary and the town itself are all tangible signs of it. Men, be they inhabitants or pilgrims, are docile tools of the Work of God. Their offerings and their work are woven together by the hands of Providence to form the history of Pompeii.

The adventure of Pompeii continues, and we feel sure that, as time passes, more and more will be told of what the blessed Bartolo Longo has done for Pompeii in God’s Will, the seed of which has produced and will continue to produce beautiful flowers and numerous fruits.