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Devotion to St. Joseph in the Eternal City

Devotion to St. Joseph in the Eternal City

Interior view of St. Joseph the Carpenter after the roof caved in. (photo: Screenshot/Youtube / Nova Opera)

The special Year of St. Joseph, proclaimed by Pope Francis, has coincided with the end of the restoration work of the famous Church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters, one of several churches dedicated to the beloved saint.

ROME — The completion of the restoration work at the Church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters, located in the Forum of Rome, a few weeks after the Pope’s decision to introduce a year dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s Spouse, was received by local faithful as a beautiful sign from Providence.

In fact, when, in the torrid heat of August 30, 2018, the church vault suddenly and dramatically caved in (without causing casualties because the church was empty), local inhabitants and art lovers had little hope to see it restored any time soon, given the extent of the damage observed inside this Baroque-era edifice.

The collapse of the roof caused the precious gilded wooden coffered ceiling, which includes sculptural paintings of the Nativity and Sts. Peter and Paul, to be swept away and to crumble on the floor of the hall of the church, damaging a significant part of its floor (about 40% of it), as well as one of its two organs.

But thanks to the efficient synergy between the various competent authorities from the Vicariate of Rome, the Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Roma (the government department responsible for archeological and artistic heritage), the Istituto Superiore per la conservazione ed il restauro, and the various craftsmen, the ceiling (made at the beginning of the 17th century from a drawing by Giovanni Battista Montano) could be fully restored for the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 2020.  

Like Pieces of a Huge Puzzle

“This first important step in the restoration process was achieved in record time,” Alessandro Bozzetti, the director of works, told the Register, highlighting the fact that 90% of the fragments of the sculptural works could be recovered, which enabled the working team to successfully put back in the center of the ceiling the relief representing the Nativity.

“We started a huge reconstruction work by putting together even very small pieces, like in a puzzle, and we could reconstitute most of the ceiling,” he said. Their work was, in his view, comparable to the reconstruction work carried out inside the Basilica of Assisi after the devastating earthquake of 2015.

A statue saved from the wreckage being cleaned for restoration.
A statue saved from the wreckage being cleaned for restoration.

In a video published on the YouTube channel of the Church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters for this occasion, the rector of the church, Bishop Daniele Libanori, expressed his joy upon being able to “go back up here for the feast of St. Joseph and admire the perfect restoration work,” although the church had to stay closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even though the health crisis significantly delayed the completion of the restoration, the pandemic never affected the determination of the restorers, who worked all summer to ensure that the remaining work inside the church would be fully completed by the beginning of 2021, which happened to coincide with the introduction of the Year of St. Joseph.

“There were no ego plays between the various figures who contributed to the rebuilding project. The absolute priority was the church and the restoration of its beauty,” Bozzetti said, revealing that the most memorable moment of all for him was the day when they found a statue of the Infant Jesus among the wreckage, lying on the ground, looking toward a statue of the Virgin Mary, also appearing from the rubble, leaning against a bench.

“We’ve been pursuing this combined effort with so much passion and devotion, in the same way as St. Joseph used to work and live: in silence, with just a few words and lots of actions.”

This 400-year-old church is also well-known for what is located underneath it: the ancient Mamertine Prison that is said to have held St. Peter and St. Paul.

The Church of San Pietro in Carcere, which was built above the underlying prison in the fourth century, was rented by the Congregation of Carpenters in 1540 for their religious celebrations and gatherings, but they soon felt the need to build a larger church that they could dedicate to St. Joseph, their patron saint.

St. Joseph of the Carpenters is the oldest of the five churches dedicated to the earthly father of Christ in Rome (followed by St. Giuseppe a Capo le CaseSt. Giuseppe a Via Nomentana, the Basilica of St. Giuseppe al Trionfale and St. Giuseppe all’Aurelio).

Praying for the Sick at the Basilica of St. Giuseppe

The Basilica of St. Giuseppe al Trionfale, in particular, sees a high influx of pilgrims coming from across the city and abroad in the days preceding the feast of St. Joseph. Located in the heart of the popular district of Trionfale, a few minutes away from the Vatican, the church was built at the beginning of the 20th century and was granted the title of minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1970 for being a reference point for the devotion to the beloved saint in Rome.

Indeed, the annual procession for the St. Joseph’s feast, during which priests and faithful alike march through the streets of the district with a statue of St. Joseph, remains a much-awaited and very well-attended event in the city.

“Unfortunately, this year, because of the ongoing health crisis, we won’t be able to organize our traditional procession on March 19, but that won’t prevent us from creating beautiful highlights all through the month and after,” Father Tommaso Gigliola, the parish priest of the basilica, said in an interview with the Register.

In particular, the basilica will house the relic of St. Joseph’s mantle, usually kept inside the Basilica of Sant’ Anastasia al Palatino. A novena prayer will also be prayed with parishioners and local faithful, while some priests of the Servants of Charity, the congregation running the basilica, will go through the streets of the district with the statue of St. Joseph so that people in their homes can feel Joseph’s closeness.

“A lot of people come here to ask for a special grace, to seek St. Joseph’s help, especially for the sick, as he is also the patron of the dying,” Father Gigliola continued, adding that prayer intentions can be sent from any part of the world through the ad hoc website of the Pious Union of the Transit of St. Joseph, an association created by the founder of the Servants of Charity, Father Luigi Guanella, and which is directly related to the basilica.

Now, 150 years after the proclamation of Mary’s Spouse as “Patron of the Universal Church” by Pope Blessed Pius IX, in 1870, this special year dedicated to St. Joseph recalls, according to Father Gigliola, the need to fully rediscover his spirituality. “His spirituality is that of the righteous man, which always gives priority to the protection and love for family,” he said. “He was lucky enough to die surrounded by Jesus and Mary; and as the patron saint of departing souls, he can definitely help every one of us on our way to eternal life.”

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