05 October 2012

Blessed Peter of Imola

Very little is known of the life of Blessed Peter of Imola whose memorial we celebrate today. He was born in 1250 at Imola, in Italy, into the noble Pattarini family who had been the lords of Linasio for over 100 years and part of the Ghibelline faction. Peter was an excellent scholar and become a well-known lawyer and jurist. The respect held for his legal opinion is evident by the fact that his name is found on many important documents which are still preserved in Imola, giving his interpretation of the laws of his time. In 1289 he became a court magistrate and eight years later was to use all his skills and experience to negotiate a peace between the rival Guelph and Ghibelline factions in Romagna. The Guelphs were predominately from wealthy mercantile families who supported the Pope while the Ghibellines tended to come from families with wealthy agricultural estates who supported the Emperor.  It was no easy task and took several years but at last Peter was able to persuade the Ghibellines to leave Romagna.

After successfully mediating this conflict and crowning what had been a successful secular career, Peter sought a new vocation dedicated to charitable works in helping the poor and the sick. He began working in one of the Order of St. John’s hospitals in Florence and was invested as a knight in 1310. His administrative skills were welcome and appreciated and put to good use as he assumed greater responsibilities working in the hospital. His talents were not unnoticed and after some years he was chosen Grand Prior of the Order in Rome. He again returned to Florence to the Commandery of St. James in Campo Corbellini. 

We do not know for certain if he became the Commander of St. James or assumed other duties. Nevertheless he continued performing great charitable works serving the sick who were either home-bound or in the hospital. Blessed Peter died in Florence on October, 5, 1320 and his loss was felt by everyone who knew him. He was buried in the Church of St. James in Campo Corbellini which still belongs to the Order.

One of the most remarkable stories about Blessed Peter occurred after his death. One day in preparation for the feast of St. James, the Church was being decorated by the brothers and a priest had placed a ladder against the tomb of Blessed Peter and was working high against the wall hanging some decoration. The priest lost his balance and the ladder began to fall. Suddenly the tomb of Bl. Peter opened slightly and his hand reached out and steadied the ladder, no doubt saving the life of the priest who was on it. This miracle was authenticated by several witnesses. Blessed Peter’s relics were later translated under the main altar of the Church in a reliquary that Commander Fra Augustine Mego had made for it, and the miracle-working arm was kept in a separate little box. After the flooding of the Arno river in 1557 the documents and reliquary were submerged and greatly damaged. However the box containing his arm survived and was still venerated with skin and nails intact centuries later.

O God, who gave to blessed Peter, Prior of our Order, the gift of healing discord and division, grant to us through his prayers the grace of striving for peace and so being called the children of God. Through the same Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(From: The Missal with readings of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, 
London 1997)

Top photo of the exterior of the Church of St. James is used with gracious permission of the photographer at http://www.flickr.com/photos/33115454@N04/5519987412/

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