By NICK PISA
Last updated at 16:19 04 March 2008
The body of a controversial mystical monk who became a saint was today exhumed from his grave 40 years after his death and his corpse was said to be “intact”.
Padre Pio claimed to suffer from stigmata or the wounds of Christ – holes in his hands and feet where the nails were used at the Crucifixion – and was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
He enjoyed a massive following with thousands visiting him and even today, years after his death he has millions of devotees around the world and he is especially popular with Italian celebrities such as Sophia Loren and Andrea Bocelli.
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Early this morning his grave at the monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo near Foggia in southern Italy where he was buried was entered and his coffin lifted from the ground and opened.
The exhumation was authorised by the Vatican in January and was granted so that Padre Pio’s body could be “prepared” when it is put on public display next month to commemorate the anniversary of his death 40 years ago.
Local Archbishop monsignor Domenico D’Ambrosio, who was present at the exhumation, said: “The upper part of the skull was skeletal while the forehead was in perfect condition.
“The rest of the body is also well preserved. You can clearly see the beard, knees, hands, the nails – if Padre Pio will forgive me it’s as if he has just had a manicure.
“The signs of the stigmata are not visible. The robes are also still intact and his feet are visible because as is customary capuchin monks are buried shoeless.”
Despite the early hour and the biting cold a small crowd who had gathered outside the church cheered and clapped when news that the coffin had been exhumed filtered through.
Besides local church dignitaries medical experts from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints were also present to verify the state of the corpse.
The saint’s body is planned to be displayed for several months, after which it will be returned to the tomb in Santa Maria delle Grazie church in San Giovanni Rotondo, which neighbours the friary where Saint Pio lived.
When news of the exhumation was announced in January monsignor D’Ambrosio had said:”I am convinced that we all have the duty to allow future generations the chance to venerate the mortal remains of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and to conserve them as well as possible.”
Initially there was opposition from Padre Pio’s family but they later gave the go ahead although there was a last minute appeal from the Padre Pio association to block the exhumation.
The saint was shunned by church authorities and recognised only after massive popular devotion to him.
He is especially popular in Australia and Ireland.
Padre Pio’s shrine draws close to one million pilgrims each year, and the hospital he founded in San Giovanni Rotondo is one of the biggest in southern Italy.
In October last year an Italian author published a book claiming that the stigmata were faked and there was evidence in the Vatican archives to prove this.
However officials in Rome dismissed the suggestion and insisted their own investigations had ruled that the wounds were not caused by “external forces.”
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