Download Newsletter Issue 23, April-June 2005
“Around Padre Pio, the supernatural became fused with the natural.
One could not distinguish where one ended and the other began.”
– Padre Eusebio Notte
The Extraordinary Perfume of Padre Pio
Padre Clemente da Postiglione, Capuchin, lived in the same friary with Padre Pio for many years. He wrote:
On October 3, 1923, the vigil of the feast of St. Francis and the day I was to leave San Giovanni Rotondo for Montefusco, I went to see Padre Pio, to take leave of him after my short stay at the friary.
I found him in the sacristy of the old church, where he received me with a smile and full of kindness. When I went towards him to embrace him and to say goodbye to him, I was surrounded by an intense odor of violets, so intense that I was almost overcome. At the same time this perfume bound me so tightly to the Padre that I could not succeed in moving away from him.
When, after many efforts, I sought to take leave, this perfume became so strong and drew me nearer to the beloved Padre, who did not tire of smiling at me and embracing me. So it was for about ten minutes. For me it was an experience as welcome, pleasant and unforgettable as could be.
As to the question of perfume, this is what happened to me on another day. I was in residence at San Giovanni Rotondo and I was bringing Holy Communion to the sick. One winter morning it was snowing. As God willed, I arrived at the home of Dr. Sanguinetti, the doctor who was instrumental in building Padre Pio’s hospital, “The Home for the Relief of Suffering.”
When I rang the bell I found myself surrounded by a strong perfume. To tell you the truth I thought it came from the ladies of the house, and I said to myself, “Those blessed ladies! They are always thinking of putting perfume on themselves!”
Returning to the friary [after realizing that the fragrance did not come from the ladies], I told the story to Padre Pio and asked him, “Padre, why did you make me smell your perfume?” Padre Pio replied, “Because I love you.”
In October, 1919, Dr. Georgio Festa, a skilled and highly esteemed surgeon from Rome, was commissioned by the Capuchin General to conduct a medical examination of Padre Pio’s wounds. Dr. Festa first visited the provincial of the Capuchins in Foggia and examined the documents that were available on Padre Pio. Afterward, he and the provincial traveled together to San Giovanni Rotondo.
As a guest in the monastery, Dr. Festa was able to closely observe Padre Pio’s behavior in the religious community. As he watched Padre Pio go about his daily duties he noted his cheerfulness, his good sense of humor and his participation in the conversations during recreation. Dr. Festa remarked that Padre Pio seemed transformed whenever the conversation turned to spiritual matters. He noticed his total consecration to prayer and his desire to be of help to those who sought his counsel. Dr. Festa observed Padre Pio’s very small daily intake of food and his ability, despite his meager diet, to spend long hours every day hearing confessions and greeting the many visitors who came to the monastery. Dr. Festa said, “On the whole, the person of Padre Pio above all, as regards his face and his glance, reveal something so simple, so good, sometimes so childlike, that it inspires liking, and gives the impression of great sincerity. The life he leads in the friary is austere and simple. Humility and modesty characterize his spirit, and they constitute one of the greatest attractions to those who approach him.”
Dr. Festa told Padre Pio that he wanted to take a sample of his blood to examine under the microscope. He took from Padre Pio’s side wound a small piece of cloth soaked with blood. The side wound, as Dr. Festa described it, was in the form of an oblique cross. He put the blood-soaked cloth in a small case. When he left the monastery he shared a taxi with several other people. Although the people in the taxi knew nothing about the cloth enclosed in the case, and despite the strong ventilation in the moving vehicle, they noticed a beautiful fragrance and commented on it.
In Rome, Dr. Festa put the blood-soaked cloth in one of the drawers in his office. During the following days and for a long time afterward it filled the whole area with perfume to the extent that many patients who came to consult him, noticed it and asked for an explanation. The fragrance was described as a combination of violets, lilies, and roses.
The extraordinary charism of perfume in the life of Padre Pio is well documented. On certain occasions when Padre Pio celebrated Mass, the entire church would be pervaded with his characteristic fragrance and all of the people in attendance became aware of it. When his blood-stained garments were laundered, the water often gave forth a wonderful perfume.
Hundreds of thousands of people have testified that, on occasion, they experienced suddenly and without explanation the strong and penetrating perfume associated with Padre Pio. Padre Pietro da Ischitella, provincial of the Capuchin monastery during the first years of the stigmata, stated that the origin of the fragrance came from the blood from Padre Pio’s stigmata. Padre Pietro described the blood as “very pure and perfumed.” Dr. Festa reported that he saw luminous rays coming from the blood of the stigmata. He described it as “brief, but evident radiations of light that emerged from its contours.”
The perfume, at times, would be perceived directly from Padre Pio’s person, his clothing, his belongings, on the things which he touched and in places which he passed through. It would sometimes be perceived from a distance, even hundreds of miles away. Most of the people who were close to Padre Pio sooner or later experienced the characteristic fragrance.
Brother Modestino, who had the privilege of serving Padre Pio’s Mass, recalled, “I accompanied Padre Pio to the altar of St. Francis and, the little gate being closed, he began to say Mass completely recollected. At the “Sanctus” I had an unexpected desire to smell again that indescribable scent that I had already experienced many times when kissing Padre Pio’s hand. The wish was immediately granted. A cloud of scent enveloped me. It kept on increasing until I could hardly breathe. I gripped the balustrade so as not to fall. I was about to faint and mentally I asked the Padre to prevent me from making a fool of myself in front of the people. At that precise moment the scent disappeared. That evening as I accompanied Padre Pio to his cell, I asked him for an explanation of the phenomenon. He said to me, “My son, it is not I. It is the Lord who acts. He allows it to be smelled when and by whom He wishes. It all happens as and how He wishes.”
The perfume signified to the faithful that Padre Pio was present to them in spirit. It often served to communicate a message of a grace or blessing and could also act as a warning of impending danger or as a signal of his protection. It often was simply a sign of his love. Sometimes called “the aroma of paradise” it frequently acted as an irresistible call for certain people to visit him in his monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. Padre Pio once described it as “sweets for the children.” Many people have experienced it since his death.
Padre Rosario of Aliminusa, who was the Superior of the monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo from September,1960 to January,1964 noticed the fragrance associated with Padre Pio every day during Vespers for almost three months. He said that the aroma was strong and pleasant but difficult to describe. Once when he was in the old sacristy he noticed it issuing from the chair used by Padre Pio for the men’s confessions. At other times he found that it was emanating from Padre Pio’s hands.
The bishop of Monopoli, Msgr. Antonio D’Enchia wrote, “In many cases I was told of the phenomenon of the perfume emanating merely from a picture of Padre Pio. One of Padre Pio’s spiritual sons once said to him that he had not experienced the perfume for a long time. “You are here with me and so you don’t need it,” Padre Pio replied.
The aromas included the scent of roses, carnations, pine, violets, lilies, perfume, incense, camphor, lavender, carbolic acid, fine oriental tobacco, and more. It was often experienced as coming in waves, bursts or wafts and it could linger for a long time. Some described the fragrance as similar to a peaceful and gentle breeze which uplifted the spirit. It was a phenomenon which was contrary to every law of nature and science and was inexplicable by human logic. It was “of the Lord.” Dr. Giuseppe Gusso was one of five people who stood at the door of Padre Pio’s cell one evening when all present experienced the aroma. However, it was not the same fragrance for everyone. The individuals standing with Dr. Gusso perceived different fragrances. When Padre Pio opened his door to greet them, it instantly disappeared.
Padre Pio was extremely reluctant to speak about the mystical phenomena which marked his entire life. Even when his spiritual director questioned him regarding these matters, he answered with the greatest reserve and discretion. His attitude was always one of humility. He acknowledged that the exceptional gifts he received were exactly that: gifts. He never felt worthy of them. When a friend once asked him about the many favors the Lord had given him, Padre Pio said, “You know, they are a mystery to me too.”
Padre Pio once told his spiritual director, Padre Benedetto, “I attach no importance to my extraordinary state. For this reason I never stop asking Jesus to lead me by the ordinary way followed by everyone else for I am well aware that the way by which Divine Mercy is leading me is not suitable for my soul, accustomed as it is to very material food. On another occasion he said, “God made all things. His creation includes the stars and the humblest domestic utensils. I belong to the second category.”
John McCaffrey, the Irish journalist, business man and teacher wrote the book, “Blessed Padre Pio: The Friar of San Giovanni.” He made a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo as a skeptic but came home as a believer. He became one of Padre Pio’s closest English-speaking friends. He experienced the strong and exquisite perfume on many occasions, while alone or in company, at the monastery or far away. He also noticed the deep humility of Padre Pio. Once he told Padre Pio about a new publication that was coming out about him and Padre Pio’s eyes filled with tears. “You are all so mistaken,” he said. He added, “I realize to the full the greatness of the gifts that God has bestowed upon me. But that terrifies me because I know only too well what miserable use I have made of them. I dread the thought of death and having to answer for them.”
The Capuchin priests and brothers who lived with Padre Pio were well aware of the many graces and favors he had received from God. They said that it was not his supernatural gifts that attracted them to him but his naturalness, his spirit of prayer, his simplicity, and his love for people. One who knew him said, “His life as a Capuchin friar was so humble and hidden, that if it was not for all the extraordinary phenomena about him, we would hardly have noticed him.” Dr. Festa reiterated this sentiment when he said, “The very marks he bears in his body, far from being a motive of pride, are for him a real source of mortification, to which it appears he submits himself out of a spirit of humility.”
Testimony of Kevin Hale
Kevin Hale, who currently lives in Chicago, IL., is the co-moderator of a 200 member internet prayer and discussion group centered on the life and spirituality of Padre Pio. The address is: email@example.com .
I spent a week in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1965 and had the honor to attend Padre Pio’s Mass on my 21st birthday, January 8th, 1965. There were not many visitors to the monastery at that time of year. I got up every morning while it was still dark and was able to enter the church about 4:30 am. The Mass began at 5:00 am. Padre Pio’s Mass was unforgettable, with long silent pauses in which Padre Pio appeared to be in ecstasy. He took off his half gloves during the Mass and from my vantage point where I was sitting in the trancept of the church, I was able to clearly see the stigmatization of his hands.
One morning I went into the church to make a visit to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. As I was leaving, I looked up and saw Padre Pio at his place in the choir. He looked down at me and smiled. He held up his Rosary for me to see and pointed at it. I took my Rosary out and held it for him to see. I knew that he was encouraging me to pray the Rosary.
One night before going to sleep at my hotel, I prayed and asked my guardian angel to go to Padre Pio and tell him of all my spiritual needs. The following night I joined the villagers outside in the square below Padre Pio’s cell. They gathered there every evening to bid goodnight to Padre Pio. He came to the window and gave everyone his blessing and spoke to the group in Italian. I asked the woman next to me who spoke English to tell me what Padre Pio said. She told me that Padre Pio said that he had been kept awake the previous night by a guardian angel from America.
I would describe Padre Pio as serious yet approachable. My impression of him was that he was a man totally immersed in God and God in him. The experience of meeting Padre Pio deepened my faith in a very real way. It gave a new meaning to the words of the creed that we say every Sunday at Mass, “We believe in one God the Father the Almighty.”
“Have great devotion to this good angel. How consoling it is to know that near us is a spirit who, from the cradle to the tomb, does not leave us even for an instant, not even when we dare to sin. And this heavenly spirit guides and protects us like a friend, like a brother.”
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina
From our Spiritual Director
Padre Pio was a mystic and as all the mystics, he experienced a great light, the light of God. Light shown around Padre Pio and also from within and indicated a high degree of sanctity and great intimacy with God. As we know that the purpose of our life is unity with the divinity, we know that Padre Pio became one with God. God became a consuming fire in Padre Pio’s life. When God enters a soul with such intensity what sometimes follows is a heat that raises the bodily temperature so that the ardor of love becomes almost unbearable. This fire of love began for Padre Pio in 1917 when his temperature reached 108.5 degrees. Another time his temperature reached 125.6 degrees. A doctor was summoned and found no specific illness to explain the high fever.
Dr. Giorgio Festa said that these extraordinarily high fevers broke all natural and scientific laws. In one instance Padre Pio’s temperature was so high that it actually broke the thermometer. Dr. G. Avenia wrote a note in a small package that he sent to Padre Mariano: “. . .I include also the thermometer that broke when I visited Padre Pio when he suddenly fell ill. The Father Guardian Padre Damaso and Padre Ezechia of Pietrelcina were both present. Many years have since gone by and I have always jealously preserved this as a relic. I am sorry to have to part with it, but I realize the necessity of its being collected together and kept in the friary.”
This thermometer is now preserved in the Padre Pio archives of the Friary at San Giovanni Rotondo along with other thermometers which show the mercury at its extreme.
– Fr. Louis Solcia, CRSP