Saint of the Day – 9 May – Blessed Giovanni Benincasa of Montepulciano OSM (1375-1426) Religious Friar of the Servite Order, Hermit, Mystic, Penitent – born in 1375 at Montepulciano, Siena, Italy and died on 9 May 1426 at Monticchiello, Italy of natural causes. Patronage – Montepulciano.
Giovanni Benincasa (cousin of Caterina Benincasa birth name of St Catherine of Siena) was born in Montepulciano in 1375 and fulfilled his vocation in 1400 by professing his vows as a religious of the order of the Servants of Mary at the convent of his hometown. He obtained permission from superiors to lead a solitary life in penance.
After a few months’ stay in the hermitage of Bagni San Filippo at Monte Amiata, he moved to Monticchiello where the Servants of Mary owned the plot of land next to the cave, in whose upper entrance he chose his hermit’s home. Here he spent twenty years in prayer and penance doing humble work necessary and died there on 9 May 1426, aged 51,revered by all the people.
A dispute arose between the Servite fathers who wanted to move the body into the convent and the inhabitants of Monticchiello who wanted it in their church. The “judgement of God” was used – the coffin was hoisted on a cart pulled by white oxen, leaving them the choice. The oxen went to Monticchiello stopping right in front of the church. The people attributed many miracles to him and the shrine and remains of his body was long disputed. In 1600 the Servants of Mary of Florence came forward to reclaim his relics and obtained the them, leaving to the villagers only one arm as a relic. Countless other diatribes followed until in 1822 when the body was returned to the community of Monticchiello where it is still preserved in a valuable urn in the church of St Leonardo.
Every year the villagers go in procession to the upper entrance of the cave to pray in the place designated as “the bed of the Blessed,” where a plaque and a cross (still existing) were walled on the occasion of the fifth centenary of the death, 9 May 1926.
The most famous miracle of Blessed Benincasa is that of the “footsteps of the devil” – it is said that the saint was frequently prey to the temptations of the devil who presented himself in the classic appearance of a goat. With his ascetic strength, Benincasa chased him away and forced him to leave, taking a leap beyond the deep abyss that overlooks the stream. The devil left his footprints in the living rock and these are visible not far from the upper entrance.
According to the records of the time, when Blessed Giovanni died, all the bells of Monticchiello and the nearby districts began to ring by themselves.
His Beatification received formal approval from Pope Pius VIII on 23 December 1829, after the Holy Father issued formal ratification of the late friar’s local ‘cultus’ – otherwise known as popular and enduring veneration.