Saint Joseph of Leonessa
St. Joseph of Leonessa was born Eufranio Desideri on 8th January 1556, from a well-off and pious family of wool merchants. Very religious since his childhood, he became a Capuchin friar in 1580. In 1587 he was sent to Constantinople in order to take care of the sick and preach before the poor. However, as soon as he tried to convert Sultan Murad III, he was hanged by his hand and then expelled from the city. Back in Italy, he devoted his life to the care of the poor and the ill, to the preaching in small villages of Central Italy, to the reconciliation of families and villages, and to the fight against usury and forgery. He died in Amatrice on 4th February 1612 after blessing his home town, Leonessa, one last time. Able to bring back to life an ox fallen dead while threshing wheat, and responsible post-mortem of the miraculous healing of two children, he was canonised on 29th June 1746 by pope Benedict XIV and he is Leonessa’s patron saint since 1967.
In particular, three religious buildings retrace the life of St. Joseph in Leonessa: the sanctuary called after him, the Convent of the Capuchin Friars and the Sanctuary of the Cross on Colle (‘hill’) Collato.
Considering that Leonessa’s own main street is called after the saint, a St. Joseph’s Church could be easily expected. People here started building it even before the process of beatification was complete. The sanctuary was erected upon the house where the saint had been born, and the remains of the house are still visible inside the church. Over the years, the sanctuary was enlarged and even the house of St. Joseph’s cousin was absorbed by the building, whereas a small alley was closed to the public.
The church’s altar and dome are particularly beautiful, in late Baroque style, and in the dome you can spot St. Felix of Cantalice, the first Capuchin friar to be named a saint, who came from another picturesque village not far from Leonessa. Furthermore, the pipe organ was built in 1759 by great Tyrolean master craftsman Joannes Konrad Werle. The church, managed by the Capuchin Friars and the Brotherhood of St. Joseph of Leonessa, hosts the remains of the saint’s body, complete of heart and larynx; they were previously preserved in the Convent of the Capuchin Friars, founded in 1571. Nevertheless, in the convent it is still possible to admire St. Joseph’s tiny cell from the time when he used to live here.
As for the other sanctuary, the one on top of Colle Collato, its origin lays in the fact that St. Joseph used to raise crosses on top of hills and mountains. In 1608 he planted a wooden one (now replaced by a sturdier one in concrete) on top of this hill near Leonessa, walking all the way there with the cross on his shoulders. Next to the cross a small stone church was later erected, from which you can enjoy a wonderful view of Leonessa’s plateau. Inside the church St. Joseph is portrayed among angels and cherubs.