Chapel With a Storied Past Is Undergoing Restoration
(Fondi, ITALY [Feb 2, 2005] Zenit.org): The Sancta Maria Antiqua chapel in Fondi, which once housed the remains of St. Thomas Aquinas and is undergoing restoration, has offered some unexpected historical revelations.
In the sacred enclosure, adorned with 15th-century frescoes, was kept the body of the Dominican saint between 1355 and 1368, when he had already been canonized.
The remains of the “Angelic Doctor” ended up there, thanks to the fervor of Niccolo Gaetani, a local nobleman, who spirited them away and kept them in the chapel in this town located between Rome and Naples.
The chapel with the restored frescoes belongs to an old hospital, which may have been a Benedictine or Dominican church, according to architectural findings.
So what was the saint’s body doing in that city?
Margherita Maria Rossi thinks she knows. The president of the St. Thomas Institute of the University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome, told ZENIT that Count Gaetani, a great admirer of the saint, took the body to his castle.
Gaetani later brought it to the chapel because, so it seems, “his mother had visions in her dreams of St. Thomas who on two occasions said that he did not like the spot where the count had placed him,” said Rossi.
The count stole the body in Fossanova, where St. Thomas died in 1274. “The news is vague, in part because it was a ‘robbery’ and, therefore, something rather secret,” explained Rossi.
Celebrations for the restoration of the chapel were held last weekend. There was a film festival, attended by Polish film director Krzystof Zanussi, as well as a festival of sacred music.
Later, there were talks by professors and experts on St. Thomas, such as the rector of the Angelicum, Dominican Father Francesco Compagnoni, and Alvaro Cacciotti, of the Order of Friars Minor, president of the College of Medieval and Franciscan Studies of the Pontifical Athenaeum Antonianum.
Among the speakers at the celebratory meeting were architects, theologians, restorers, historians and communicators.
Margherita Rossi said that the discovery of this chapel is important, as it shows the great affection that people had already at that time for the saintly philosopher and theologian.
One can thus understand, she added, the way in which the “spread and re-elaboration of his thought ” took place, “which culminated with authors like Cajetan, one of his many commentators, perhaps the sharpest, who wrote wonderful commentaries on the ‘Summa Theologiae’ in the 16th century.”
Moreover, Rossi said, this event has made it possible to address “unpublished topics,” such as the “relation between historical presence and influence of a saint.”