The Holy Thorn
The Holy Thorn in Vasto, belonging to the class of the so-called “contact relics” (brandea) relative to Christ’s crown, was granted between February, 1562 and March, 1563 by the pontiff Pius IV to the marquis of Vasto Ferrante Francesco II d’Avalos in recognition of his fine diplomatic skills demonstrated as ambassador of the king of Spain Philip II and delegate to the Council of Trent. An ancient tradition wants the Holy Thorn to blossom, sending forth a very delicate down, like cotton wool, white-coloured, between 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. on Good Fridays, when they coincide with March 25th, feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. Around 1590/91 the son of Ferrante, Alfonso Felice, donated the relic to the Deanery Church of Vasto, with the name of St. Mary Major, in order to build a specific chaplaincy and obtain the jus praesentandi in the election of the Dean. Always in the Thorn’s honour, a particular Office (liturgy of the hours) was granted in 1718, according to the model of the German cathedral of Freising. On Maundy Thursdays (in Cena Domini), with the replacement of the Blessed Sacrament in the Holy Thorn chapel, it was possible to gain plenary indulgence by an ad hoc visit. That was on the basis of the prescriptions contained in the bull of Pope Gregory XIII dated February 10th, 1582 conferred to the Brotherhood of the Gonfalon. There are no reasonable doubts about the authenticity of the Holy Thorn, in spite of the loss of the bull donated and authenticated by the Supreme Pontiff, which was burnt in 1566 together with other deeds in the fires that Turks set to many churches of this city, among which the one in Saint Mary Major’s church where all archives were burnt. This was for two main reasons: the authoritativeness of the donor, that is to say the Pope, and the motivation of the gift: the fine diplomatic skills shown by d’Avalos as ambassador of the Spanish king at the Council of Trent. Catholic theology defines very precisely the sense and value attributed to the relics; “indirect cult”: that is to say that the cult is turned to the person that “rest” or that object is attributed to; in the specific case, to the suffering Christ, God the Father’s merciful immense loving gift to sinful humanity. Witness of this is the rich liturgy composed for the feast, preceded by a preparatory quinten. A last remark: it should be underlined that the Holy Thorn is a gift to the whole city, it is a religious patrimony of Vasto; to Saint Mary Major’s church the distinguished honour and duty of a careful custody and a more and more authentic cult, so that Christ the Redeemer bestows a more and more affluent future of honesty, concord, civil solidarity, transparency at all levels on the city, even in a more and more solid economical prosperity.
The Brotherhood of the Holy Thorn and of the Gonfalon
Custodian of the Holy Relic
Within Saint Mary Major’s Church in Vasto, the Brotherhoods of the Gonfalon, of the Blessed Sacrament and of the Holy Thorn had uninterruptingly and efficaciously operated since the Fifties of the Twentieth century. Active in the outgoing century under the heading of “congregations”, they had historically organized the attendance of lay citizens to the cultural and administrative management of this ecclesia, seat of collegiate chapter until 1808, the year of its suppression. These brotherhoods had economically guaranteed for over a century (1809 – 1920), until 1921, the upkeep of the church which had been excluded for a long period from every public service (parish, care of souls, etc.). Thus, once closed the chapter experience in 1808 (because it moved to “St. Augustine’s church” in 1809 which then became “St. Joseph’s church”), with the last archpriest Raffaele Roberti, it was recognized as a parish in 1921 with the appointment and establishment of the first parish priest Fr. Pio Pomponio who was followed by Father Nicola Di Clemente in 1954 and Father Decio D’Angelo in 1989. One thing must be repeated: in the long vacatio between the chapter and the parish, the brotherhoods bore the full brunt of the administration of the Marian temple entitled to our Lady of the Assumption, protectress of Vasto until 1827. The Brotherhood of the Gonfalon (or of the Confraternity of St. Mary of Purity) has been active since the end of the Fifteenth century and it has been enrolled at the Roman Brotherhood of the Disciplined. On the contrary, the Brotherhood of the Blessed Sacrament (or of Christ’s Body) has been documented since the first half of the Sixteenth century, reformed with the heading of the Blessed Sacrament and of the Holy Thorn in 1730 and recognized by the diocesan ordinary Filippo Valignani. It was provided for the ascertainment of exclusive cult aim, with regard to the two Brotherhoods, by a Royal Decree on February 14th, 1935 No. 706 registered at the Audit Court on May 17th, 1935 and published in the Official Gazette on May 29th, 1935 No. 126 after a proposal of the Prime Minister Secretary of State for Home Affairs. Granted that, a new vitality was given to these Brotherhoods and, for the changed conditions of times, they wanted to update old decrees to canons of the new Code of Canon Law, enacted by His Holiness John Paul II at the Vatican Council on January 25th, 1983; to become adequate to the new General Statute for Brotherhoods of the Archdiocese of Chieti-Vasto approved by Msgr. Edoardo Menichelli on May 11th, 2002; to conform to the several statements in matter of ecclesiastical associations and, in consideration of the current pastoral needs of Saint Mary Major’s Parish Church, to enhance the collaboration of lay people belonging to it, in the context of the religious tradition of the city of Vasto. The two Brotherhoods were refounded through merger in January 2000 and they assumed the present name of “The Brotherhood of the Holy Thorn and of the Gonfalon of Vasto”.