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Reliquary for Louis and Zelie Martin

Rome, Italy - 2015

architect Vincenzo Zuppardo

painting Roberto Alabiso

silver Piero Accardi

Reliquiario argento e vetro

Reliquary for Louis and Zelie Martin - Collaboration Experience



On 18 July 2015, the request to make the reliquary for the canonization of the spouses Zelia and Luigi Martin arrived at the Opificio delle Arti. We note that it is an exceptional opportunity: my son, the architect Vincenzo Zuppardo, starting from the iconographic indications of the vice-postulator Father Antonio Sangalli, develops the project;  the silversmith Pietro Accardi, who has reliquaries experience, he begins to work in the silver structure and the painter Roberto Alabiso in the glass panels painted with the allegories of the theological and cardinal virtues. The work is intense, even in mid-August, the deadline is peremptory. But at a certain point it has to be interrupted because the commemorative medal, not yet ready, that Father Antonio wants to insert at the base of the reliquary does not arrive. I had asked for the measurements of the relics to make the case. Instead, the relics of the Holy Spouses arrive. We don't know what to do. Letizia suggests praying, I call my wife who, being a surgeon, certainly knows how to treat them. Angela, in overalls and gloves, does the reconnaissance, I measure them with the caliper. Then we take them to Syracuse where Nino Terzo seals them in glass cylinders with precious brocades.

Meanwhile, the fire-painted glass with allegories of virtues, as out of fashion as they are necessary today, are ready but the silversmith's work is at a standstill because the medal hasn't arrived yet.


Less than a month from the date foreseen for the canonization, I propose to find an alternative: an inscription or an engraving, perhaps with the design of the medal; it could be an opportunity to get in touch with the sculptor who modeled it.  But Fabio Regazzoni, collaborator of the vice-postulator, tells me Father Antonio's determination to insert the medal in the reliquary._cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ This arrives ten days after the fateful October 18, too late! But we said to ourselves: "We have to do it!". And two hours before the ship leaves for Naples, Friday 16th, the custody of the Di Fresco box factory is also ready.

Four of us leave: my wife and I, and our friends Rino and Letizia. 

On the ship we carry  the big box to the cabin where we pray: "Louis and Zelia pray for us".

Along the highway from Naples to Rome I receive a phone call: "You have to take the reliquary to St. Peter's Square where Father Antonio is waiting for you". We find him nervous: "You should have arrived yesterday!" He takes the box and after having unpacked the reliquary, to do not put it in the metal detector, he runs towards the churchyard. After a few hours he was happy and calm under Bernini's colonnade, with Regazzoni loaded with the reliquary to take to San Luigi dei Francesi and with the nuns of Lisieux to whom he introduces me. The Mother Superior , in French he thanks me and I: "We Sicilians owe a great debt to you Normans; without you we would not be Christians". Father Antonio translates and the nun lights up with a smile.

In the evening the church of San Luigi dei Francesi is packed, an imposing procession, with various bishops, presbyters and acolytes travels along the central corridor, followed by Father Antonio Sangalli with the reliquary which is solemnly placed on the altar.

The vigil takes place in French but the testimonies on the two miracles are in Italian. The first of a doctor from Monza where twelve years ago, as a newborn, Pietro Schilirò was hospitalized who inexplicably recovered. At the end of the vigil, a queue of Frenchmen patiently wait  to stop for a few seconds in front of the reliquary which they caress and kiss. What an impression: to see our work so respected! Of course, veneration is not directed to the reliquary but to those two little bones which show the most ambitious and reasonable of ideals: holiness. Holiness which, as I meditate during the liturgy in the French that I have not studied, is not only a matter of spirit but also of body and matter; I wonder the meaning of so much veneration. Certainly it has to do with the faith in the resurrection of the body that we profess every Sunday at Mass; those two little bones will recompose and come back to life. A few meters from the reliquary which strangely does not disfigure in comparison, the famous paintings by Caravaggio: the Martyrdom of San Matteo, San Matteo and the Angel and the Calling of San Matteo.  

Sunday, October 18, in St. Peter's square is a grandiose event and when everything seems over and the square is cleared I meet Father Antonio Sangalli tired but happy. When we take the road back, by car, without the relics, we feel a strong sense of emptiness and we realize that presence that accompanied us on the outward journey and that, for a month, we kept at home revealing the secret only to a few trusted friend. On the ship we recite the Rosary and it is like shouting at someone who has remained in Rome and yet is still with us. 


Calogero Zuppardo

(Written while sailing from Naples to Palermo on the night between 18 and 19 October 2015)

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