About fifty kilometres south of Milan in Italy is a small town called Pavia. At least, it is a small town today, but in the Middle Ages it was for centuries the capital of the Lombard Kingdom, and later home to one of the earliest and most illustrious universities in Europe.
Overlooking a quiet, tree-shaded piazza not far from Pavia’s train station is a beautiful church called San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. The church has much to recommend it.
For example, the great late Roman Christian statesman and philosopher, Boethius (Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius [480 – 524 or 525 A.D.]), is buried in the crypt of this church. But the church’s main claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of St Augustine of Hippo.
St Augustine’s tomb draws many pilgrims to the church every year. There are many grand European tombs, but few come close to matching the dignity and tender glory of the tomb of St Augustine.
Saint Augustine died at Hippo in North Africa, and how his remains were transferred to Italy many centuries is told elsewhere in Augnet.
The church where his remains now rest is San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro - "Saint Peter's with the gold ceiling."
It receives this name because of the golden background that was previously part of the roof mosaics of a previous early-Christian wooden church that stood on the site.
This gold-painted wooden ceiling of earlier times was noted by the famed Italian humanist writers Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.
A tablet on the right side of the façade of the basilica cites the passage from Il Paradiso where the church was mentioned by Dante.
In addition to its reference in this classic book by Dante, there is a scene in one of the chapters of the Decameron by Boccaccio. In a short story of his Decameron Boccacio sets in this church the story of a nobleman named Torello da Strada who was magically brought back to Pavia from the prison of the sultan, Saladin.
The sumptuous bed of Thorello, soundly sleeping, is magically transported to San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro, where the sacristan discovers him at the following morning.
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Pictures (at right):
Picture 1: Pope Benedict XVI & urn of Augustine's bones, April 2007.
Picture 2: The Pope greets Augustinians in the church's sacristy.
Picture 3: The Pope in the church on 22nd April 2007.