Key to Umbria: Spoleto

Blessed Peter Bonilli (5th January)

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A marble plaque in San Francesco, Trevi commemorates three men from Trevi who were beatified or canonised in the 20th century: 
  1. Blessed Peter Bonilli, who was the parish priest of Cannaiola, some 4 km west of Trevi, from 1863 until 1898, when he moved to Spoleto; and

  2. two men described in the pages on saints of Trevi:

  3. Blessed Placid Riccardi and

  4. St Antony Fantosati. 

Blessed Peter in Trevi

Blessed Peter was born in San Lorenzo di Trevi in 1841.  He came from a poor family, but managed to support himself while he studied as a young boy at the school near the Collegio Lucarini in Trevi.  He secured the patronage of Don Ludovico Pieri, who arranged for him to continue his education at the  seminary of Spoleto.  He was ordained in 1863 and became the parish priest at what was then the church of San Michele Arcangelo, Cannaiola. 

Blessed Peter devoted himself to the social care of his parishioners.  He opened two charitable institutions in his parish:

  1. an orphanage for girls, in 1884 ; and

  2. a school for deaf, dumb and blind girls, one of the first institutions of its kind in Italy, in 1887.

As part of his legacy from Don Ludovico Pieri, the Blessed Peter acquired a particular devotion to the Holy Family, which he saw as a role model for the poor families of his parish.  He asked the sisters of the Istituto delle Suore della Sacra Famiglia di Bergamo (which the future St Paula Elizabeth Cerioli had founded some 20 years earlier) for help in administering them, and when this was not forthcoming, he founded (in 1888) what became the the Congregazione delle Suore della Sacra Famiglia di Spoleto.  Blessed Peter persuaded Pope Leo XIII to approve the cult of the Holy Family in 1893.

Blessed Peter in Spoleto

Bishop Elvezio Mariano Pagliari of Spoleto persuaded the Blessed Peter to move to Spoleto in 1898, to become a canon of the Cathedral.  He also arranged for the sisters to move to the ex-Casa delle Convertite in Via delle Mura Ciclopiche.  He appointed the Blessed Peter as an administrator of the seminary in 1899, and the sisters moved to larger premises in the ex-Casa Eroli (renamed “Palazzo Buoncristiani”) in 1900.  The Blessed Peter had a bedroom there and an adjacent chapel.  Bishop Domenico Serafini appointed him as rector of the seminary in 1905.    

Blessed Peter became blind in 1929, but he continued to supervise the sisters’ charitable work.  He received a legacy in 1932 that allowed him to move what was then the “Istituto Nazzareno per Cieche e Sordomute” (Nazarene Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb) to dedicated premises in Via Vittori. 

In 1935, the convent next to Santa Maria delle Lacrime, Trevi passed to the Suore della Sacra Famiglia.  They still administer there the Istituto Medico Pedagogico, which cares for handicapped children.

Cult of Blessed Peter

Blessed Peter died in Palazzo Buoncristiani in 1935, and was buried in San Filippo Neri, in a chapel known as the Santuario del Beato Pietro Bonilli.   The process for his beatification was opened in 1944, and he was beatified in 1988.

San Filippo Neri was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1997.  The relics of the Blessed Peter were translated in the following year to a chapel in his original parish church of San Michele Arcangelo, Cannaiola.   This is now known as the Santuario del Beato Pietro Bonilli.

There are some good photographs in Bill Thayer’s page on this church.

Museo Don Pietro Bonilli

The sisters administer a small museum in Palazzo Buoncristiani that is dedicated to the Blessed Peter.  It contains an exhibition of photographs and other memorabilia, as well as:

  1. his bedroom, in which he died in 1935;

  1. his adjoining private chapel, which now serves as the sisters’ church; and

  1. a reliquary on its altar, which contains some relics of the Blessed Peter.