23 October 2016

Saint John of Capistrano

Patron saint of lawyers and chaplains

St John of Capistrano as  depicted by the German- Hungarian artist Karoly Lotz
St John of Capistrano as
depicted by the German-
Hungarian artist Karoly Lotz
The feast day of Saint John of Capistrano (San Giovanni da Capestrano) is being celebrated today in Abruzzo and is marked by Catholics in the rest of Italy and the world.

The patron saint of the legal profession and military chaplains, St John is particularly venerated in Austria, Hungary, Poland and Croatia as well as in different parts of America.

St John was born in Capestrano, about halfway between L’Aquila and Pescara in the Abruzzo region of Italy, in 1386.

He studied law at the University of Perugia and was then appointed Governor of Perugia by King Ladislaus of Naples.

When war broke out between Perugia and the Malatesta family in 1416, John was sent to broker peace, but ended up in prison.

While in captivity he decided not to consummate his recent marriage but to study theology instead.

He entered the Order of Friars Minor at Perugia in 1416 and a few years later began preaching all over Italy as a Franciscan friar.

He was particularly effective in Germany, Austria, Croatia and Poland and, because the churches were not big enough for his audiences, he had to preach in public squares.

St John's willingness to lead troops into battle saw him dubbed 'the Soldier Priest'
St John's willingness to lead troops into
battle saw him dubbed 'the Soldier Priest'
Unhindered by such constraints as apply today, he preached against Jews, encouraging cities to expel their Jewish population, and wrote many tracts against heresy, while helping to reform the Franciscan Order.

At the age of 70, St John was sent by Pope Calixtus III to Germany to preach against the invading Turks. He moved on to Hungary and gathered together enough troops to march into Belgrade, which was under siege to the Turkish forces.

Although by then old and frail, St John managed to lead a contingent into battle, earning the nickname ‘The Soldier Priest’.

He survived the battle but fell victim to the Bubonic Plague and died on October 23, 1456 in Ilok in Croatia.

Nearly 200 years later, John was made a Saint and his feast day was fixed for March 28. But in 1969, Pope Paul VI moved his feast day to October 23, the day of his death. There are Catholic missions in California and Texas named after him and there is a statue of St John in Hungary and a monument to him in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

Capestrano commands a hilltop location in Abruzzo
Capestrano commands a hilltop location in Abruzzo
Travel tip:

Capestrano, where St John was born, is a small town in the province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo. It is within the area of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. The Benedictine Abbey of St Peter ad Oratorium is on the bank of the Tirino river, six kilometres from Capestrano. It was originally built in AD 752 as part of a monastery. There is also a 13th century castle on the hill above the river and the lake of Capodacqua, which contains the submerged ruins of mills.

Travel tip:

Perugia, where St John was Governor, is the capital city of Umbria and is well known for being a University town, with its own 14th century University of Umbria, the popular University for Foreigners (Universita per Stranieri), which hosts about 5,000 students a year, some smaller colleges and institutes and the Music Conservatory, which was founded in 1788.


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