Saint of the Day – 21 May – Blessed Pietro Parenzo (Died 1199) Layman Martyr, Husband, Mayor of Orvieto, Reformer. Born in the 12th century in Rome, Italy and died by being hit in the head with a hammer by Patarine heretic kidnappers on 21 May 1199 in a hut just outside Orvieto, Italy. After he was unconscious, others of the gang of kidnappers stabbed his body numerous times with knives and swords. Patronage – Orvieto, Italy.
Born to the Italian nobility – we know he had brothers and was married at one point but nothing else survives of his education or his life before his appointment to the administration of Orvieto. He served in the Court of Pope Innocent III.
During the late 12th century, the Orvietan bishopric underwent an economic crisis that resulted from the burden of defending the vast possessions it had amassed during the previous half century. Around that time, the Cathar heresy appeared in the City. It was also a City seriously divided by the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. This situation prompted the Papacy to support the Bishop of Orvieto more actively.
To help re-establish civil order, Pope Innocent III chose Pietro Parenzo, a member of a noble Roman family, to take charge of the City. He had been born in Rome, the son of Lord Giovanni Paranzo and his wife, Odolina, at an unknown date. His father had served as a Senator in 1157 and later as a Judge in the city in 1162. Little else is known of his earlier life, other than he was a man who had gained great respect in the City.
Pietro arrived in the City in February 1199, (it seems he left his wife in the safety of Rome), having the support of the Catholics in the City, despite their long tradition of independence. He immediately established a strict regime to take control of the civil situation.
At Easter of the same year, 1199, Pietro returned to Rome to brief His Holiness on his efforts. He also confided to him that his life was in danger. Pope Innocent lauded his good work and encouraged him to continue with caution but he also made a point of hearing the young man’s confession. Before saying good-bye to his wife and mother, Pietro made out his will.
His Holiness gave Pietro two goals: -strengthen the faith by fighting heresy and make peace between the different parties. Mayor Parenzo decided, that the best strategy, was to get tough with troublemakers, so the first thing he did on arriving in Orvieto, was to abolish the traditional carnival games, on the grounds that these sports were often used as a ruse to commit homicide.
Such law-and-order efforts cheered the Town’s Catholics but incensed the Cathari. To spite the Mayor and to flex their muscles, they came to the carnival festivities brandishing swords and other weapons and they started fights with people at random. Riots ensued.
Into this melee of flying sharp steel rode Pietro without receiving a scratch. Identifying the culprits, he authorised the destruction of their families’ towers—symbols of power in medieval Italy—and their palaces. Many people cheered, while the heretics seethed.
In all his efforts, Pietro worked closely with the repentant Bishop Ricardo, even living in His Excellency’s palace. At the time the good of the Church was the good of the state and vice versa, so this arrangement was not remarkable. Together they announced an amnesty program – Return to the Church by a certain date and all will be forgiven. Ignore the deadline, however, and face stiff fines.
Pietro also exacted a form of bail to ensure good behaviour on the part of some citizens. While the amounts were fair and did deter crime, he now had even more enemies and these began to plot his death.
A huge crowd greeted Pietro’s return on 1 May 1199. He told the people that if he were to die, it would be to defend the holy Catholic faith. On 21 May 1199, nearly three weeks later, a traitorous servant named Radulfo let the heretics into the Bishop’s Palace. They captured Pietro as he was undressing for bed, beat him and smuggled him out of the City to a house in the countryside. His captors offered him a deal – repeal the rules restricting their efforts, repay the fines and sureties he had exacted, resign his position and give their religious beliefs preferential treatment. Pietro agreed to return the fines out of his own funds but he had pledged to defend the faith and so refused to support them in their heresy. Enraged, one of his captors bashed his head with a hammer. The blood excited his captors, who fell on him in a demonic frenzy. Those who couldn’t land blows tore hair from his head. They dumped his corpse by a tree and fled.
Six Monks found Pietro’s body at dawn the next day. The whole City poured down the hill, weeping piteously at the gruesome sight. The Bishop and other clergy accompanied his remains back into the City with great pomp and buried him in the Cathedral. His death prompted a great reaction against the Cathari. Nonetheless, it was not until the late 1260s that the heresy was eradicated.
For the miracles that occurred on his Tomb, even just to invoke him, Pietro Parenzo was immediately venerated as a Martyr and a sant, not only in Orvieto but also in the Cities of Arezzo and Florence; various pilgrimages were organised to the Tomb and the pilgrims themselves, directed to Rome, stopped in Orvieto to pray at his Tomb. During the Middle Ages his Tomb attracted pilgrims by the millions. While his cause never went through the formal Canonisation process, Pope Leo XIII approved his cult on 16 March 1879 when he Beatified Pietro.
Pietro defied popular opinion, and the right thing and stood with the true faith and the Church against all opposition. The challenges that confronted Blessed Pietro are the same ones we encounter in our age. Help us to see, Lord, how you would have us imitate Saint Pietro’s constancy and fidelity to You and Your holy Church. Give us courage, strength, patience, stay with us and guide us through the mire in which we are sinkng!