Those who have been invaluable instruments for the Providence will be remembered forever because of the love and devotion of the people. Allow me to introduce the priest to whom we owe the arrival of the body of Saint Philomena in Mugnano and who spread the devotion for the Saint in the world. We thank God for having given him to us. It is also the best way to reinforce among the devotees the memory of his persona and our gratitude for all he has done for us, he is Don (Fr.) Francesco De Lucia.
Don Francesco De Lucia, founder and first Rector of the Sanctuary of Saint Philomena, was born in Mugnano del Cardinale, Diocese of Nola, on the 19th of September 1779. From his early years he received a wonderful religious education thanks to his uncle, Father Angelantonio Noja.
It was with Fr. Noja’s help that he managed to get into the Congregation of SS. Sacramento in Lucera. Even though still very young, he completed his theological and philosophical studies with the highest marks. As a result he was assigned as a lecturer of philosophy by the Sacramentini in the “Casa di Iliceto (Deliceto), near Foggia to teach novices of the Congregation of SS. Redentore which was founded by St.Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787).
Don De Lucia was ordained on the 19th September 1796 – St. Gennaro’s (Patron Saint of Naples) commemoration day. He fell ill soon after his ordination and went back to Mugnano with the approval of his Superiors. In Nicola Sirignao’s funeral oration for Don Francesco De Lucia, he said: “God had granted the town of Mugnano Don Francesco and He, who rules and governs all things, permitted that an obstinate illness bring Don Francesco back to his homeland”
After a short stay in his homeland, Don De Lucia (Fig 27) moved to Naples where he opened a school of Literature and Philosophy. Very soon he was held in great esteem by distinguished people like Servo di Dio Giuseppe Maria Pignatelli della Compagnia di Gesú.
Fig 27 – Don Francesco De Lucia (1772-1847) – Keeper of the Holy Body of Saint Philomena, Virgin and Martyr- First Rector of the Sanctuary in Mugnano.
When the rebellion started – Neapolitan Revolution 1799 – Don Francesco went back to Mugnano, where he adamantly opposed the ideology behind the revolution against the Monarchy and the Church. He published the booklet: “Segnalata Vittoria contro gli odiati Replubblicani nella terra di Mugnano, e Cardinale con alcune notizie intorno a tali luoghi (Reported Victory of the hated republicans in the land of Mugnano del Cardinale and Some related news regarding these areas.) (fig 28)
Fig 28 – Title page of “Reported Victory” book, published by Don Francis De Lucia printed in September 1799. This publication is very interesting and has a documentary value. It outlines, with great accuracy and richness of details, the bloody battle occurred on the 28th of May 1799 in the lands of Mugnano between 200 locals, devoted to the King and an army of nearly 800 republican soldiers. De Lucia’s testimonial is very important for two reasons: it hands down to posterity the courage and value of a small but glorious group of patriots and also because there aren’t many documents left on the Neapolitan Republic of the 1799 as the majority of them were lost or destroyed.
He describes the bloody battle in Mugnano on the 28th of May 1799, praising the victory of the small number of locals who fought bravely against the larger army of the republican general Agamennone Spanó. This represented a glorious page in history for his homeland where a group of locals together with nearby patriots, risked their lives for the return on the throne of their beloved sovereign.
A great deal has been written about the Neapolitan Republic of 1799 resulting in some reporting which was often inaccurate and biased. It was indeed a difficult time for the population of the Reign of Naples. They were completely against the idea of a French Republic which would have gone against their beloved sovereign, Ferdinand IV of Bourbon.
In January 1799 French troops headed by General Jean Championet occupied Naples, giving the opportunity to the local Jacobins to proclaim the Neapolitan Republic (23rd January 1799), while the king found shelter in Palermo. In a few days the newcomers had killed thousands of heroic Neapolitans, who though unarmed fought for their country, their king and their religion. The acts of revenge by the revolutionaries were countless. However in a few months the Republic was defeated by the voluntary army of the Bishop Fabrizio Ruffo, and Ferdinand IV went back to his throne.
This precious book of De Lucia is very rare with only few copies available. This book praises not only the population of Mugnano, (invincible tower against their profane enemies…), but also the surrounding inhabitants: courageous patriots who challenged death to fight for their Sovereign and Faith.
After the revolt, Don Francesco De Lucia remained in Mugnano. He dedicated himself completely to the church, promoting, together with fellow brothers, missions for the Neapolitans and for the South, obtaining great results for the People of God. This apostolic lifestyle created a diffusion of veneration for him where he became highly thought of and regarded. Consequently Monsignor Bartolomeo De Cesare asked De Lucia to accompany him to Rome to receive on the 30th of June 1805 the Episcopal Consecration from Pius VII. It is during this event that he was granted by the Pope the body of Saint Philomena, with the mediation of Monsignor De Cesare.
Don Francesco De Lucia instrument of the Divine Providence
The Divine Providence had arranged this journey with Monsignor Bartolomeo De Cesare (fig 29) in order for Don Francesco De Lucia to become the unfailing promoter of the Faith for Saint Philomena, and the pious keeper of her relics.
For that reason De Lucia soon after published this relation (1824) : La Relazione Istorica della traslazione del Sacro Corpo di S. Filomena Vergine, e Martire da Roma a Mugnano del Cardinale (Historic Relation on the translation of the Sacred Body of the St. Philomena Virgin and Martyr from Rome to Mugnano del Cardinale).
In order to give to the young Martyr‘s veneration consolidated and firm roots, Don Francesco De Lucia founded in Mugnano the Pious Association of the ‘Virgins of Saint Philomena’ also known as ‘Saint Philomena’s little nuns’.
This institution was soon very popular among the people, receiving considerable cooperation for its initiative. Many women, mostly housewives or farmers took part in this lay-religious institution founded by the pious priest of the Sanctuary. These women would live along with their family but distinguish themselves for their religious practices. They would wear a black dress, a white veil, a small crucifix and would follow the vow of chastity with their daily pious practices.
Their worthy founder wrote for them ‘The Rule’, published with the title of ‘Eulogy of the Virginity offered to God, and of those Virgins who follow it’ as an appendix in the first volume of his ‘Historical Report on the moving of the Holy Body of the Virgin and Martyr Saint Philomena from Rome to Mugnano del Cardinale’ .
The enlightenment given by the Pious Virgins soon became known all over the Reign of Naples and in France.
Fig.29 – Monsignor Bartolomeo De Cesare ( 1752-1819) Bishop of Potena –the transferror of the Holy Body of Saint Philomena from Rome to Mugnano del Cardinale (Avellino). Born in Naples the 22nd of March 1752 and in the same city became parish priest of St Angelo a Segno. He was highly regarded by Pope Pius VII for his great skills and knowledge. Destined to become Bishop of Potenza, he went to Rome in 1805 for his consecration and to revere, on behalf of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, the Holy Pontiff who came back from France safe. On this occasion the Pope gave him the Holy Body of Saint Philomena for his good religious office. He was a great devotee of St Alfonso de Liguori (1696-1787), Doctor of the Church. He managed his dioceses for 14 years. He died in Resina (NA) the 30th of September 1819. His remains were transferred to the Cathedral of Potenza in 1824. His portrait is kept in our Sanctuary.
Many Bishops and Prelates asked to adopt ‘The Rules of Saint Philomena’s little nuns’ written by the De Lucia for their own Religious Institutes.
The miracles of the Virgin and Martyr Philomena and the good qualities of the Pious Institution of Don Francesco attracted the benevolent attention of Pope Leo XII.
The Historic Relation awakened great interest and it was soon translated into various languages. After the first edition in 1824 (fig 30), many other copies were published. This work today is still highly appreciated and sought after.
Filippo Ludovici’s letter, with which he introduces to Pope Leo XII the work of De Lucia, with some notes on the events which had occurred.
It is with great humility that I prostate myself at the feet of the papal throne, to introduce to your Holiness this simple and faithful Historic Report, written by reverend D. Francesco De Lucia, on the Transfer of the body of Saint Philomena Virgin and Martyr, who with her most amazing prodigies has inspired the ideals of respect and reverence towards religion and her own Master. She is an example for her splendour, for her steadiness, zeal and generosity. Her body travelled from Rome to Mugnano del Cardinale in the Reign of Naples in 1805; since then she has inspired Faith even in the saddest circumstances of the Reign of Naples. Despite all these trials, people still venerate her and her relics with great devotion: this is why I could not refrain myself from coming here to inform your Holiness who I am sure welcomes this report.
I was asked by Mons. Ponzetti, guardian of the holy sacred relics, to give my help to father Damiano Orlando, at that time Deputy Guardian, to distribute the sacred relics and to assist the miners of the sacred catacombs to identify the bodies of the Saints. In the year 1802, with my contribution, the body of the Saint and Martyr with the name of Philomena was discovered. It was found in separate places in a tombstone as was reported in the act of discovery of the tomb. Since then I am till today deputy keeper, appointed by your Holiness, while the above mentioned Damiano Orlando became Guardian.
Without any doubts your offer of this position by your Holiness is appreciated and also welcome, aimed at keeping safe those deposits of Champions of the faith who fought valiantly and who will rekindle the flame of faith wherever these remains are moved.
I could talk and report here many of the actions that your Holiness has achieved to guard the remains of the SS.MM. (SS. is plural for saint and MM. is plural for martyrs) in the catacombs; so that the sacred relics of those Saints could be given to the devoted who come from all parts of the world to ask for those treasures and so that they could be offered for public veneration. However, as this is so well known throughout the universe that those mortal remains perform wonders like those of Saint Philomena, therefore there is little more to tell, and on bended knees at the SS. Feet, with humility I kiss them, and at the same time I ask the Apostolic blessing.
Devotee, most humble servant, subject, child of God
Deputy guardian of the Holy Relics
Hence, Monsignor Philip Ludovici, deputy guardian of the Sacred Relics of the Vatican, gave to Pope Leo XII on 7th of September 1827 a copy of the second edition (1826) of Don Francesco De Lucia’s book: Historical Report of the translation of the Sacred Body of Saint Philomena Virgin and Martyr from Rome to Mugnano del Cardinale.
During that meeting, also present was the famous missionary and preacher P. Salvatore Pascale from the Congregation of the Pious Workers of Eremo of St. Gerolamo in Naples, who was known in Rome and in the Reign of the Two Sicilies for being a great orator and for his zeal in promoting devotion towards the great Saint.
When the Pontiff opened the book and looked through it, he asked the people in the room for more details. He was highly impressed by the narration of the “sweat of the manna from the statue of the Virgin and Martyr Philomena (August 11-13 1823) and also from God’s great manifestation of power through our Saint’s effigy.
Moreover, he was so full of admiration for the Apology of the Virginity offered to God, written by De Lucia, that he wanted to know more about the daily lives of these pious little virgins. Satisfied with what he had learned, the Holy Pontiff declared: “This is the greatest miracle that this great Saint has accomplished.” Then raising his right hand, he said: “Be they all blessed!”
Don Francesco De Lucia, “Angel and Comfort to those who are ill” and “Zealous Apostle” of Saint Philomena’s cult.
Don Francesco was considered with high regard among Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious people, famous characters like Ferdinand II and the great and powerful King of Naples, who honored and respected him. In fact, up until the year 1843, King Ferdinand II visited the Sanctuary 25 times, with his first wife Maria Cristina of Savoia and with his second wife Maria Teresa of Austria.
The holy priest was not only venerated among his fellow citizens but most of all among Saint Philomena’s devotees. Apart from Most Holy Pontiffs, Kings and outstanding cleric, he was also popular among educated personalities of the time.
He was a tireless priest who gave comfort and advice to everyone. His zeal was of example to all and everyone was spiritually elevated by his teachings.
Cascioli considered the guardian of the Sacred Relics as “a man of the greatest integrity”
Navarro also gives his opinion about the same man saying: “He rendered the Sanctuary in Mugnano del Cardinale a famous site all over the catholic world.”
On Good Friday of the year 1835, Don Francesco De Lucia visited Nola to see Monsignor Gennaro Pasca and fell off his donkey which was his mode of transport. That fall was the beginning of a long and painful illness.
Despite his infirmity, he was an angel of sustenance for the many sick and dying during the outbreak of cholera in Mugnano del Cardinale (1836-1837).
On the 14th of April he fell a second time. In 1845 another fall caused damage to an artery making him suffer extreme pain.
During these years of suffering he bore his illness with heroic and inspiring resignation of God’s Will. After spending all his life as a servant of God and in the Sanctuary, and after a whole life passionately devoted to the spread of Saint Philomena’s Cult, Don Francesco De Lucia returned his luminous soul to the Divine Creator on the 9th of April 1845 at the age of 75. His soul flew to Heaven to rest beside his most beloved “Little Saint” for all Eternity.
Prodigious happenings occurred during Don Francesco De Lucia’s Funerals.
The loss of the guardian of Saint Philomena’s Sacred Relics caused profound mourning in the entire city of Mugnano and for all the devotees of the Saint. The solemn funerals were a clear manifestation of the love and consideration that the people had for this man. During the days of the funeral rites, it became necessary to call in the guards to help with the crowds of people living in the surrounding areas coming to render the last act of veneration to the guardian of the sacred relics. Some people had to be removed as they would try to tear the dead priest’s clothes in order to have a relic to keep.
The funeral oration was held by Doctor Don Nicola Sirignano, who had a very strong bond of respect and friendship with De Lucia. The edifying death of Don Francesco De Lucia represented the deserved fulfilment to his religious life. God furthered this by altering his corpse. In fact, ten hours after his death the body was bled dry but emanated living blood till dawn of the following day. His body, 24 hours after his death was still very flexible.
These extraordinary events were interpreted as divine occurrences because of the love that the guardian had for the sacred relics of Saint Philomena and the fact that he was the greatest preacher of her cult.
For the funeral service, the corpse was placed in the chapel of Saint Philomena. Some wished for the candles on the altar of the Saint to be lit, and that the ring of bells be rung as was custom when the veil over Saint Philomena’s urn with the body of the Saint was removed. On the other hand some did not want this.
Nevertheless the former won. God’s Miracle! While the body was being raised for the public funeral rites, the ring of bells, without anyone touching it, started miraculously to peel. This was to the amazement of the clergy and the multitude of people there. As a result, the candles were lit and the veil covering the Saint’s urn removed amid the general commotion.
Don Francesco De Lucia was buried temporarily in the chapel of the religious order of the Immaculate Conception, situated near the Parish Church. To honor and to keep the memory of such a great Servant of God, the Marquis Alfonso d’Avalos of Vasto and Pescara, curator of the Sanctuary, had a funeral monument built on the left side of the aisle of the Sanctuary .
On the 9th of December 1848, the body of the Founder of Saint Philomena’s Sanctuary, after the canonical identification by the administration of Nola, was translated solemnly to the new monument, where it remains. (Fig 31)
Fig 31 – the tomb of Don Francesco De Lucia, in the Sanctuary in Mugnano del Cardinale. It is situated near the chapel of Saint Philomena. The large brass medallion above was created in 2005 by the sculptor Silvano Muollo.
Giuseppe Boccia – a learned historian who has worked for the realisation of this book with great commitment, as was mentioned in its introduction – fully understanding the essence of the portentous events around the life of a great son of Mugnano del Cardinale concludes with his thoughts on the remainder of this Appendix I:
“Don Francesco De Lucia was the instrument of Providence. His own pious initiative completed in 1805, was the start of a series of long-lasting prodigious events coming one after the other which – for their exceptional number, circumstances, modality of manifestation and the unique variety of recipients – rises above the human sphere, making us think of a divine design.
“This is the century of knowledge (lumi) and the goddess reason, tempting and bewitching. The Church and its fundamental values are continuously ridiculed. The moral crisis is spreading more everyday.
“The countless graces and the many miracles that radiate from the little urn of a young Martyr are the merciful sign, or even better, the proof – especially for those who stagger in the dark – of the existence of a Supreme Entity that everything can and to whom everyone is subject.”