||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Fifth in a series of six articles
The Redemption of Hell
By: Dale Recinella
Sitting in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy,
I am reminded that one of the greatest mysteries underlying our faith is the
concept of redemption. The walls and ceilings of this overwhelming edifice are covered with frescoes by Giotto, visual depictions of scenes
from the Old Testament, the life of Christ and the life of Francis of Assisi. Notwithstanding the two felled ceiling vaults, destroyed by an
earthquake in 1997, this basilica is a monument to the spirituality of St. Francis and the beauty of Godís creation.
This magnificent 13th century church is located on a steep rise just outside the city walls.
In one of those not so uncommon paradoxes that are sprinkled throughout Godís ways, the very hill that supports this church has itself been redeemed. Before the
year 1230 AD, the plot of ground beneath this basilica was known as Colle dí Inferno, the Hill of Hell. This was the place of public executions for the city
of Assisi. Our Catholic understanding of reality invites us to see the grace of Godís saving hand moving through the temporalónot to destroy it, but rather to redeem
it. That grace is remarkably apparent in the history of the Hill of Hell.
Francis of Assisi died in 1226.
His body was initially buried in the church of St. George, the parish where he had attended school. God had a different story in mind. Almost immediately throngs
of pilgrims from all over Europe began the journey to the gravesite of St. Francis. The relatively diminutive church of St. George was totally overwhelmed. A much
larger church was needed. But where would it be placed? There was no large tract of buildable land available inside the walls of the medieval city. The church would
need to be located outside the walls but as close to the city as possible, preferably adjacent to it. The premier site was obvious.
Not unlike the city of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, Assisi staged their executions in public
on the closest hill outside the wall. This allowed all the residents to assemble on the walls and fearfully witness the defining power of those in authority to destroy
and extinguish what only God can giveóthe gift of human life. The Hill of Hell, Assisiís version of Golgotha, stood empty and available just outside the corner of the
city wall. On March 30, 1228, the Hill of Hell was offered to Pope Gregory IX as the place to build the new church of St. Francis.
When the construction of the lower portion of the church had been completed in 1230, it was time
to consecrate the now sacred site. Gregory IX, formerly Cardinal Hugolino, a dear friend and supporter of Francis, knew that an intermediate step was necessary before
the formal act of consecration and the interring of Francisí remains. In the papal bull Is qui ecclesiam suum, dated April 22, 1230, the Hill of Hell was formally
Henceforth it would be known as Colle dí Cielo, the Hill of Heaven.
Almost 800 years later I find myself sitting in the lower church atop the Hill of Heaven.
The spirituality of this place is palpable, a legacy of the hundreds of millions of pilgrims who have journeyed to this ground from every corner of the earth over the
last millennium. My thoughts turn to the plots of ground south of Highway 16 between Raiford and Starke in north Florida, ground dedicated to the living hell of death
row and solitary confinement. And to the death house and execution chamber, our modern version of Golgotha and the Hill of Hell, the place where our legal killings are
I canít help but wonder: is redemption still possible? Can the hells of Florida be redeemed just like
the hell of Assisi was redeemed?
First published:The Florida Catholic,July 10, 2003
© 2003 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed