Seeing Red (Cross)

The sacristan (equivalent to verger) at St Gemma’s sanctuary pointed out to us that the heart of Saint Camillus was on show at the nearby church of Santissima Trinità as part of the commemorations for the 400th anniversary of his death.

Saint Camillus is a perfect foil to Saint Gemma. Where she sought suffering to be nearer to Jesus his mission was to  allieviate suffering. Where she was submissive and retiring, he was hot-blooded and fiery. Indeed, his misspent youth was largely spent in drinking, gambling and fighting the Turks before his damascean conversion in 1575. However, because of a war wound in the leg which refused to heal (probably a rodent ulcer) Camillus was not admitted into the Capuchin order he wanted to join since it insisted on only physically fit candidates. Instead, he became a care worker at St James hospital in Rome and was ordained in 1583 by Thomas Goldwell (bishop of St Asaph, Wales and last survivor of the pre-reformation church hierarchy in the UK).

De Lellis established the ”Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers to the Sick” to care for wounded soldiers.  In the battle of Custozza, in 1601, the order’s hospital supplies tent burnt down and just a piece of cloth with a red cross on it survived. St Camillus took this cross and sewed it on his gown thus giving precedent to the symbol later adopted by the International Red Cross (founded after another battle, that of Solferino, during the second Italian war of independence in 1859). All members of the order wear a red cross on their habits.

I became an out- patient, indirectly under their care, on several occasions since a female order inspired by De Lellis’ example was formed by Maria Domenica Brun Barbantini (born and bred in Lucca, and founder of  the Barbantini clinic near Porta Elisa – an example of excellence, together with that founded by another religious order, that of Saint Zita in the NW part of the walled city. Although both private clinics, they form part of Lucca province’s health system so one can easily be referred to them without extra charge because of reciprocal arrangements with the Italian National Health organizations).

Anyway, to get back to the heart of the matter. St Camillus’ pulmonary organ was on display for three days this week (on loan from the  order’s main church in Rome) at Santissima Trinità, the mother church of the Barbantini order (where Maria Domenica is buried). I entered the beautiful interior (decorated in a sober proto-baroque style and completed in 1595) where the refulgent reliquary containing St. Camillus’ heart stood to the right of the high altar, and near the remains of Mother Barbantini. The Mass was officiated by Monsignor Banducci who talked interestingly about Camillo’s life and times. The church was filled with lay persons and also with the order of nuns, with their white wimples, founded by Barbantini.

Health care in Italy owes so much to religious orders and I felt that here religion was doing a really useful thing. I did not attend the medical conference planned for later that day “La professione medica come vocazione e l’etica del rapporto con il paziente” but am sure it must have discussed some interesting themes.

In case you hadn’t reached that conclusion yet, Saint Camillus De Lellis is patron saint of doctors, health workers …. and gamblers.


2 thoughts on “Seeing Red (Cross)

  1. Pingback: Four Great Luccan Spiritual Women | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and beyond)

  2. Pingback: Milan’s San Camillo | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

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