Augustine died in Hippo, North Africa, and his tomb is now in the Augustinian church at Pavia, Italy. The history of the movement of Augustine’s mortal remains over the centuries and on two different continents is intriguing.
Between his death in 430 and the present time, Augustine’s mortal remains have rested in Hippo, Caligiari (Sardinia), the Church of St Peter in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, the Pavia Cathedral, and finally once more in the Church of St Peter in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia. In May 428, which was just two years before the death of Augustine of Hippo, the Vandals under Genseric with an army of some eighty thousand mercenaries sailed from Spain to Africa at the invitation of Count Boniface, the inept ruler of Numidia (a large section of North Africa) in the then-crumbling Roman Empire.
Once admitted to African shores, these ferocious Vandal poured over the land, marauding and perpetrating every atrocity imaginable. Boniface, realizing his mistake in releasing so devastating a force, attempted to retrieve the loss of Africa and draw off these barbarians, first by money and then by force of arms, but was unsuccessful. After being defeated in battle in May 430, Boniface fled to Hippo, the strongest fortress in Africa, and there he prepared for the siege of the city. Hippo was where the aged and ailing Augustine lived. It was in the third month of this siege that St Augustine was seized with a fever, the beginning of his last illness, and, on 28th August Augustine died: in the words of Possidius, "he sank into sleep with his fathers, having reached a good old age." The body of St Augustine was first entombed in Hippo either in his own cathedral, the Basilica of Peace, or in the adjoining chapel of St Stephen, a distinct oratory which Augustine had built to receive the relics of the Protomartyr.
Eventually many of the citizens with capital fled Hippo and withdrew into foreign countries, abandoning Hippo to the barbarians who then entered and burned part of it. The burial place of St Augustine was left intact and unharmed by the barbarians, and here the remains of Augustine remained for nearly seventy years. In the year 496, Trasamund, successor to Guntamund and nephew of Genseric, mounted the throne. He was Arian, and in his hatred toward the Catholic Church he resolved to destroy it. To accomplish his purpose without recourse to a bloody persecution, he renewed the prohibition of providing successors to dioceses left vacant by the death of their Catholic bishop. When the African prelates ignored this edict and continued to appoint titulars to the vacant sees, Trasamund seized not only the newly consecrated bishops but also their consecrators, and banished them all to Sardinia. About two hundred bishops were thus sent into exile. Among the banished prelates were the bishops of Numidia and among these, Eugene of Carthage and Fulgentius of Ruspe. It was these latter two who conceived the idea of removing the relics of Augustine, together with his incomparable written works which had been saved from the fires of Hippo and were already of universal renown and esteem, thus saving them from the immediate danger of destruction
They enclosed his precious remains in a reliquary of carved wood lined with lead, and, according to the custom of the day, covered them with a veil of brilliant colour, two phials full of nard and perfumes and a cross of wood (most probably Augustine’s pectoral cross). The relics were then taken to a site either inside or near the Basilica of St Saturninus in Cagliari, on the island of Sardinia. The relics were placed in an urn of white marble, which is still extant and much revered because of the relics it had once contained. Here they remained for nearly two hundred and twenty-two years, until the beginning years of the eighth century. According to Bede (672 – 736), the ancient English ecclesiastical historian, the body of Augustine was moved fifty years after his death. It was taken to the city of Cagliari on the island of Sardinia by the bishops whom Huneric, a Vandal, had expelled from North Africa.
Bede, wrote in his "True Martyrology," that the body of Augustine was subsequently redeemed out of the hands of the Saracens there, and deposited in the church of Saint Peter at Pavia, Italy, about the year 720. Peter Oldrad, Archbishop of Milan, wrote a history of this second transfer of body of Augustine. He wrote that this happened because Sardinia was no longer a safe resting place for Augustine’s bones. This was the case because, during this era of the Moslem invasion of Western Europe and the Islamic occupation of Spain and all of Southern Gaul, troops who were returning to Africa disembarked at Sardinia and pillaged on the island. Luitprand, the king of the Lombards, became gravely concerned and fearful lest the relics of Augustine should suffer profanation. In all haste he sent to the island a commission of eminent personages charged with the duty of procuring at all costs the venerable remains. They obtained the relics for sixty thousand gold crowns and returned to Genoa with the sacred remains.
Luitprand himself met the returning ship, and, together with a party of his troops, a large number of bishops and priests and a huge throng of people accompanied the remains of Augustine to Pavia where they were placed in the crypt of the Church of St. Peter of the Golden Ceiling. This was probably in the year 720. Pavia was Luitprand’s capital city, and the Church of St Peter was at some time its cathedral. Liutprand took care to have the body of Augustine hidden with the utmost care under a brick wall in a coffin of lead enclosed in another of silver. (Liutprand is also buried in this church.) All of this was then placed within a coffin of marble, upon which in many places was engraved the name Augustinus. Liutprand entrusted the bones of Augustine and the Church of Saint Peter in Ciel d'oro to the Order of Saint Benedict (the Benedictines). In the twelfth century, Pope Honorius III (pope in 1216-1227), who himself had been one of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, insisted that the church be placed in the charge of the Augustinians Canons.(More information on the next page.)
For the Augnet photo gallery containing images of Pavia (including Augustine’s tomb), click here.
LinksLa tomba di sant'Agostino – Pavia. An official blog on the tomb of St Augustine in Pavia, and is updated regularly. Written in Italian, but it has wonderful images. https://santagostinopavia.wordpress.com
The tomb of Augustine. (This web page is written in the Italian language by P. S. Bellandi o.s.a.) Le vicende del Corpo di Sant'Agostino attraverso 15 secoli.Al centro del presbiterio della Basilica di S. Pietro in Cel d'oro in Pavia, sopraelevato sulla cripta, domina l'Arca marmorea di S. Agostino, capolavoro della scultura lombarda del Trecento. Ornata da 95 statue e 50 bassorilievi, l'opera fu commissionata dal pavese Bonifacio Bottigella, Priore degli Agostiniani. http://web.tiscali.it/ghirardacci/bellandi/bellandi.htm
Idle Speculations. A blog in April 2007 about St Augustine and his tomb. Photographs included. http://idlespeculations-terryprest.blogspot.com/2007/04/saint-augustine.html