In the interest of coherence, I’m posting the trip a bit out of order, but the last two sites to discuss are the Shrine of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotundo and Pompeii. Both were lovely and if you’re in the area, I’d heartily recommend stopping by each.

Here’s Anita in Pompeii:

She was a BIG HIT with the tourists, but more on that later, because first, we did the three hour drive from Sorrento to San Giovanni Rotundo to see the Shrine of Padre Pio. It’s second only to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City for number of pilgrims each year, but you wouldn’t have known it the day we were there. We had the place pretty much to ourselves. Although you could see the new hotels under construction all over town.

Our first stop was the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, built in 2004. It looks like a spaceship.

Designed by the Genoan architect Renzo Piano, it can accommodate 6,500 people seated at worship and 30,000 people standing outside.

The mosaics on the outdoor altar were done by Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, a Slovinian Jesuit based in Rome. And they are really beautiful. But they are NOTHING compared with the Golden Crypt beneath the church. It is, since 2009, the resting place of the body of St. Pio and great googly moogly you’ve never seen anything like it.

The walls on the way to the crypt are decorated on one side with the life of St. Pio and the other side with the life of St. Francis.

Plus this Holy Family at the beginning.

The child Jesus comforts St. Pio after his battle with the devil.

But all that is just leading up to the crypt itself, covered walls and ceilings with mosaics, some gold, some of the life of Jesus.

You can find large photos of many of the mosaics here, I recommend taking a closer look. They are quite extraordinary.

Then we walked down to the Church of Our Lady of Grace. There we saw the original church from St. Pio’s time, and his actual confessional!

Plus, the addition made during his lifetime to accommodate the many pilgrims who came to see him. This is the site of his original tomb and his relics.

There is also a Way of the Cross, built up a steep hillside, with beautiful views of the Adriatic Sea on the way back down.

We prayed for your intentions in the crypt. And I personally received a little favor that day that I attribute to St. Pio’s intercession. I hope you have too! St. Pio, pray for us.

Then our last stop in Italy was Pompeii. I really didn’t know what to think ahead of time. Everyone has heard of it, of course, and the kids and I checked out some books from the library before the trip ’cause, you know, homeschool. But really nothing prepared me for how amazing it really was in person.

This was the gladiator arena:

It seems more glamorous until you learn that the gladiator lived in these jail cells on the premises. But our gladiators were ready to go.

These decorations are from one of the theaters:

in some places, you can still see the original frescoes on the walls, the original paint, and the ceilings are even intact in some areas.

Apparently the “solution” to their sewage problem were these crosswalk humps. Mmmmm. I’ll bet ancient Pompeiian kids ALSO enjoyed them.

And it’s BIG, we walked the whole city (except for the naughty parts), from upperclass homes to lesser ones, the business district, and the entertainment district. It really felt like we were living in Ancient Rome.

The drinking fountains still work!

This French Latin teacher and his highschoolers totally out-geeked us by coming in TOGAS.

There were impressive frescoes and mosaics in the fancy houses.

The plaster casts of the victims were a poignant reminder or what happened, but the place didn’t feel macabre.

And Mt. Vesuvius watched over us the whole time.

So did this guy. Also menacing.

There was a group of Japanese tourists that finished their tour about the same time we did. Then the ladies all lined up to get their pictures taken with Anita. She was very obliging.

And that was that. We headed home very early the next morning. And after a very long day (we departed in the morning and the sun didn’t set for eighteen hours!) we arrived home with all our luggage and all our children. Also some great memories and excellent souvenirs. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

In case you missed them, the early installments of our travelogue can be found here, here, and here.