The Temple of Saint Emidio at the Grottoes, in the province of Ascoli Piceno, is a baroque structure from the early 18th century, named after the city’s patron saint – who was its bishop and was martyred during Diocletian’s anti-Christian persecutions.
Emidio was born in Treviri in 273 and lived until the early 4th century; today, the people of Ascoli Piceno consider him their protector against earthquakes. Tradition has it that after being decapitated, he picked up his head and walked to the nearby grottoes, which today are inside this small church designed by Giuseppe Giosafatti. There he died and was buried until, some 700 years later, his mortal remains were transferred to the Ascoli Cathedral.
Here is how the episode was reported in a biography of the saint, published in the early 1800s:
“Once he was decapitated […] as soon as the scoundrel’s sword split his neck from his bust, immediately people saw the holy body lift from the ground and stumble to pick up the venerable head, which still repeated the sweet name of Jesus Christ amidst the blood and dust […].
While the prodigious body ‘suscipiens caput suum in birro ambulavit’ [went along carrying its own head in its cape’s hood], it walked confidently towards the hill of the three grottoes […], and once there, the hill opened up on its own […] and welcomed him inside, returned the blessed spirit to its Creator, and closed back up again” (translated from P. A. Appiani, “Vita di S. Emidio vescovo d’Ascoli”, Ascoli 1832).