Today, I headed out in search of the modern equivalent of the old ‘foundling wheels’ – where unwanted babies could be left to be cared for. In the process, I found some beautiful, forgotten frescos. And some relics of Padre Pio (see my previous post).
Florence has a strong history of caring for foundlings. The Ospedale degli Innocenti in the Piazza SS Annunziata provided this service until 1875. The ‘foundling wheel’ or culla per la vita allowed babies to be left anonymously. This increased the chance that desperate parents might seek help.
A modern day version of this service is provided by the Centro Fiorentino Padre Pio, on Piazza San Remigio. Rather than being passed straight into a hospital, babies remain in a climate-controlled environment, until an ambulance (automatically called) arrives.
After finding this modern culla per la vita, I decide to visit the church of San Remigio, for which the Piazza is named. My first impressions weren’t great. The church is dark, and barn-like. The most obvious image is a large, modern picture of the Divine Mercy.
When my eyes adjusted to the light, my opinion changed. The ceiling is beautifully painted. Fragments of fresco dot the walls. And the church has a wonderfully tranquil atmosphere.
The frescos on the walls are incomplete. The head of St. Christopher carrying Christ peeps out just below a window. St Remigius’ legs stand guard by a door. But this adds to the charm, as fragments in situ vie for attention with those which have been moved and re-mounted.
Just as I was preparing to leave, I also noticed a shrine, just to the right of the exit door. On closer inspection, this turned out to be the cincture and habit of Padre Pio, which I had been looking for earlier in the week.
It turns out that Don Giancarlo Setti, a close friend of Padre Pio, had been parish priest of San Remigio, and when his friend was beatified, he had placed the habit and cincture on display in his church for public veneration.
So, San Remigio is a bit of a hidden gem. Dark and boxy on first sight, but home to wonderful in situ frescos, a 13th century icon of Our Lady (in the Lady Chapel), and relics of perhaps the Twentieth Century’s most beguiling and controversial saint. Well worth a visit!
Chris Dingwall-Jones is an ordinand at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. He is on placement at St. Mark’s during August.