Pope Celestine V and the Courage to Resign

The verb “resign” can be a loaded word.

The word can connote giving up or giving in. When a person is said to have resigned themselves to a situation, it often implies waving a white flag to something beyond their control or their liking.

Then, there is choosing to resign when a person realizes something isn’t working for them, or when they’ve explored a path and gracefully backed out and said, “No, thank you.”

Enter Pope Celestine V

I knew nothing about the man who was chosen as Pope during the 13th century and during the last non-conclave choosing of the Holy Father—that is until I visited L’Aquila with my dear friends Novelia and Peppe. I had, just the day before, visited Celestine’s remote hermitage in the Morrone mountains and seen the small, cramped cell where he had slept. In L’Aquila, I saw Santa Maria di Collemaggio, the inspiring basilica born of his dream. There, I learned the fuller story of the first Pope to resign. I won’t attempt to do what Wikipedia does so well, but I will point out that he’d been chosen after a two-year vacancy of the Papacy. He served in Naples for five months. Historians opine that he wasn’t such an effective or good Pope. But, this was a man thrust into a position that really didn’t fit with his values. It was a position at odds with his soul. Hence, as Pope, he passed an edict that allowed a Pope to resign. And, resign he did, realizing that he preferred a very different life.

Are we willing to resign to what isn’t working for us in our lives?

This has been a gift of Celestine V to me. I’ve been so busy trying to do everything and be everything that I don’t pause and ask myself the above question.

It takes guts to lay aside what society has told us is its measure of success, of having arrived. It takes courage to say “no” in a way that casts a hearty vote for ourselves, for our true nature. I’m too easily influenced by the markings of a full life instead of an authentic one.

Be ready to edit. Be ready to set aside what doesn’t bring you joy.

Life conspires to get needed messages to us. Of this, I’m increasingly convinced. My dear sister, on a recent vacation together, distilled “things” down to this all-important issue. I’d been caught in a mental treadmill of questioning areas and aspects of my life and where I was placing my energies. She calmly asked, “Does it bring you Joy? Or does it rob your energy?” Wow, I kicked myself for having made things so complicated.

Choose the life, the things that feed your soul.

Celestine V learned very quickly that the role of Holy Father, with all its responsibilities, its complexities, its political responsibilities, were at odds with what his soul craved. So, he resigned and attempted to return to the simple life before he’d become Pope. History tells a daunting tale as he relinquished his post and eventually was imprisoned by his successor (I’ll leave you to Wikipedia to learn more).

A modern-day letter to Celestine V conveys his legacy succinctly and shows that his message isn’t lost.

During my visit to Santa Maria di Collemaggio, I passed by the sarcophagus of Celestine V and saw a letter affixed to the ironwork surrounding his crypt. It was from local school children. Simone began translating it for me, and I stood transfixed. Yes, this is his legacy, I thought. Not only did he say “No” to a position that many men would covet, but he literally created a door of redemption for people to make peace with themselves. I love that.

Celestine V

“A Letter to Celestine” from local school children.

Here is the letter and its translation:

Caro Celestino, ti vogliamo bene. Hai fatto bene a costruire questa Chiesa perché ci sta le Madonnina e perché ci hai regelato una Chiesa bellissima nella nostra cittá, l’Aquila. Tu volevi essere povero e stare con i tuoi amici, percio non sei diventato Pape! E hai fatto bene! Hai lasciato tutti I vestiti da Papa e sei tornato povero. Grazie per aver fatto la porta magic ache si chiama Porta Santa perché chi ci passo sotto diventa buono. Chissá dove si trova il tesoro che I Templeri hanno nascoto qui! Ti lasciamo questa letterina come ricordo della nostra vista qui.

Dear Celestino, we love you. You did well to build this Church because there is the Madonnina and because you have given us a beautiful Church in our city, L’Aquila. You wanted to be poor and to be with your friends, so you did not become the Holy Father!  And you did good! You have left all the clothes of the Pope and you came back poor. Thank you for having made the magic door you call the Holy Door because all who step under it become good. Who knows where is the treasure that the Templars have hidden here! We leave you this letter as a memory of our visit here.

I bambini della Scuole dell’Infanzie Torrione.

My visit to Santa Maria di Collemaggio

In closing, I leave with you a short video sharing my brief story of Celestine V and the visit to the basilica that he inspired.

[pexyoutube pex_attr_src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oayuep5GF7c?rel=o” pex_attr_width=””][/pexyoutube]


By |2019-01-17T22:59:03+01:00September 11th, 2018|Abruzzo, Personal musings|16 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Rita Di Nardo August 4, 2020 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Hello Jed. I was born in Roccamorice, Abruzzi, just after the second world war. Roccamorice is the town where Papa Celestino built the Monestary of Santo Spirito a Maiella. I, as a child went to this place hundreds of times and explored as a little girl just about every corners of this unique place even in the Ossario, where all the bones of the dead monks still reside. Still as a little girl my parents came to Canada but I have returned there many times. I almost feel it calls out to me. I was doing some research on Papa Celestino, (prior Father Pietro) and came across your Web here and was very happy to know that there are still people like you and me that still like to know about old history that do not make it in the History School Books. I was told by the Town people of Roccamorice that an American Movie crew was in town for some time filming the Monestario di Santo Spirito a Maiella which is part of this magnificent little town Roccamorice and they were told that is was to be a follow up or a sequel of the Young Pope. Whether that is true or not I do not know but the whole town was sworn to secrecy and I only know a bit about it through some very close friends I have who live there and in fact one of thembought and lives in the house that Papa Celestino lived while building the church and monastery of Santo Spirito a Maiella on the side of our mountain.

    • Jed August 6, 2020 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Hi Rita, It’s so nice to hear about your history and love of Abruzzo. The story of Papa Celestino really captured my attention and was told to me with great passion by my dear friend Novelia who worked close by at the Abbazia Celestino. I will be sure to inquire about secret filming when I speak with her next. I’ll be sure to share if I learn anything! I hope to be back in that area before long because it is one of my favorite parts os Italy! Jed

  2. Rosa Verrocchi - Miot September 24, 2018 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    I was born in Sulmona just after WW2. Came to Australia 1952. Have returned several times. Abruzzo is a beautiful region of Italy. Pope Celestine is an inspiration . Coincidently, Sulmona produced 2 Popes . The other is Pope Innocent (7th) . He was not considered of great intellect ….. I have not been into the hermitage ……hopefully on my next trip back

    • Jed September 26, 2018 at 3:22 pm - Reply

      This so cool to hear that you were born in Sulmona and have returned several times. I feel as though I’m just scratching the surface with all that Sulmona and Abruzzo offers. I love being there and the friends I’ve made!

  3. Rich DelSignore September 19, 2018 at 3:37 am - Reply


    Awesome post!
    I have also been fascinated with St Celestine since my trip to Sulmona two years ago.

    Thanks for keeping the story alive!


    • Jed September 19, 2018 at 10:10 am - Reply

      So much to be fascinated about with St. Celestine. Another friend from Sulmona hinted at some stories pertaining to his death and a small square hole found on his scalp. So much history and so many conspiracy theories develop over time! But, I’m most fascinated by his courage to step down.

  4. Novelia September 13, 2018 at 6:48 am - Reply

    Yes, Jed, it takes a lot of courage to RESIGN. When somebody does it, it means that within himself he has done such an interior work, in trying to find an answer to his doubts, like CELESTINE THE V who was not happy at all of his role of Pope, because somebody else decided for him. It takes a lot of courage to break free, he did it, paying with his own life. This should be an example for us because only by resigning from something that does not make us happy, we will be able to live a fulfilled life and give the best of ourselves. Novelia

    • Jed September 13, 2018 at 10:17 am - Reply

      Beautifully expressed, Novelia. And, so true. Grazie mille, come al solito! xoxox

  5. Angela September 12, 2018 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I’ve got some question asking to do. “Life conspires to get needed messages to us.” Message received. Now to do something real with the information. Easier said than done, eh?

    • Jed September 13, 2018 at 10:14 am - Reply

      Oh yes! Easier said than done. I believe we’re so conditioned to drift back to sleep (our old ways) that we have to train ourselves to keep waking up!

  6. Taffy September 11, 2018 at 7:08 pm - Reply

    Love your insights!
    Beautiful video!

    • Jed September 11, 2018 at 7:18 pm - Reply

      Grazie mille, Taffy! Glad you like the video!

  7. Marilyn September 11, 2018 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Hi Jed,
    Yes, it is a great story and the children’s letter was most interesting. There is a movie that came out a few years ago, titled “Habemus Papum” (“we have a Pope”) and it is about the process of Pope selection and the Pope who is selected that doesn’t want to be selected. I saw this movie before my first visit to Sulmona, so it was interesting to find myself in the “home” of Pope Celestine who did resign! You may be able to find it on a streaming service, it has been on Netflix. Due to weather I couldn’t get all the way up to the Hermitage, but I will see if I can do it on an upcoming trip.

    • Jed September 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm - Reply

      I will have to watch “Habemus Papum.” I’ll check Netflix in Italy to see if they have it. Thanks for the suggestion. When you do make it to the hermitage, first confirm the hours they’re open. We went on a Sunday morning with a friend from Sulmona who knew the hours. We met someone coming down the path who said it hadn’t been opened yet. We did the ten-minute hike up (wear good shoes with ankle support) and fortunately, the caretaker opened it after another ten-minute wait. The man was very kind and gave us an impromptu tour. It’s such a “must” to round out the story of Celestine!

  8. Tia White September 11, 2018 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    Beautiful story!

    • Jed September 11, 2018 at 6:33 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Tia!

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