Saint Romedius and Pope Luciani’s bear
The Sanctuary of Saint Romedius – in the Non Valley, in Predaia, province of Trento – is a magnificent Christian building that clings to steep mountainside rock. It comprises no less than five churches, built one next to the other – or, actually, one over the other – over the millennium between the 11th and the 20th century.
The Sanctuary is dedicated to a Bavarian hermit who lived between the 4th and the 5th century in this corner of Trentino. Legend has it that his horse was attacked and devoured by a bear while he was on his way to Trento – but that Romedius was able to pacify the enormous beast, and even ride it to destination.
Pope John Paul I – born Albino Luciani – wrote a letter to Saint Romedius’s bear: it was one of the many imaginary letters he wrote in the early 1970s, when he was Patriarch of Venice, to a range of historical and legendary figures. The letters are now gathered in a book titled “Illustrissimi”, which includes the excerpt below:
When I left the sanctuary, my prayer was (can you believe it?): ‘Tame me, Lord! Make me more helpful and less of a bear!’
Don’t be upset by this last expression of mine. Brown or black bears, with long bodies, short legs and thick coarse pelts, seem clumsy, inelegant creatures to us men. We consider ourselves infinitely attractive, slim and graceful by comparison. If you try dancing it’s a disaster, whereas our dancers are miracles of musical grace and those in our ballet so light and agile that they could dance on the flowers of the field without crushing them.
Well, what of it? Yesterday I was tempted to turn my month-old prayer right round and say: ‘Lord, make us all become bears!’