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The Satanist on the path to sainthood

Angelo Stagnaro visits the resting place of Blessed Bartolo Longo, the turbulent occultist who become a champion of the rosary

By on Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The tomb of Blessed Bartolo Longo in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Pompeii. About three million pilgrims visit the basilica each year

The tomb of Blessed Bartolo Longo in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Pompeii. About three million pilgrims visit the basilica each year

Pompeii has more to offer than dusty ruins filled with plaster casts of people, and one unfortunate puppy, frozen in time. It is also, coincidently, home to the only church in Christendom built by an ex-Satanist.

It’s the same old story: boy from a religious family goes away to university, falls in with a bunch of New Age Satanists, becomes a satanic high priest, thinks better of his decision and ultimately reverts to the Church; it’s the basic satanic-rags-to-saintly-riches story.

I didn’t believe this story when I first learned about Blessed Bartolo Longo either. Having grown up the son of Italian immigrants, I was regaled with all of the lurid stories of El Barto’s excesses, debauchery and general dissoluteness. I came to Pompeii not just for the ruins but also to see if the stories were true.

Bartolo Longo was born on February 10 1841 to a wealthy family in the small town of Latiano, near Brindisi in southern Italy. His parents, Dr Bartolomeo Longo and Antonina Luparelli, were devout Catholics who prayed the rosary together daily.

When Longo’s mother died in 1851, he slowly drifted away from his Catholic faith. He was left to his own devices when he studied law at the University of Naples and became involved with a New Age pagan group which ultimately “ordained” him a satanist priest. He participated in séances, fortune-telling and the de rigueur orgies. Unsatisfied with merely practising his new pagan religion, he felt it important to publicly ridicule Christianity and did everything within his power to subvert Catholic influence. He even convinced many other Catholics to leave the Church and participate in occult rites.

But none of these activities brought him joy. In fact, his life was marked by extreme depression, paranoia, confusion and nervousness. He even began to show signs of demonic obsession, as opposed to demonic possession, which included being inflicted by diabolical visions and continually declining poor health. He ultimately experienced a mental breakdown.

In his despair, he heard the voice of his deceased father urging him to “Return to God! Return to God!” In fear and desperation, Longo turned to Professor Vincenzo Pepe, a friend from his home town, for guidance. Vincenzo convinced Longo to abandon Satan and introduced him to the Dominican priest, Fr Alberto Radente. Fr Radente heard his Confession and helped him to further reclaim his life.

One evening, as he walked near-chapel at Pompeii, Bartolo had a profound mystical experience. He wrote: “As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘If you seek salvation, promulgate the rosary. This is Mary’s own promise.’ These words illumined my soul. I went on my knees. ‘If it is true… I will not leave this valley until I have propagated your rosary.’”

To prove his new-found commitment to Christ and His Church Bartolo even attended a séance. In the midst of it, he stood and raised a medal of the Blessed Virgin Mother and cried out: “I renounce spiritism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood.”

On March 25 1871, as part of his self-imposed penance, Longo became a Third Order Dominican, taking the name Brother Rosario in honour of the rosary. He joined a charitable group in Pompeii and worked alongside Countess Mariana di Fusco, a wealthy local widow whom he married a year later on Pope Leo XIII’s recommendation.

The happy couple decided to start a confraternity of the rosary. To serve as a spiritual focus for this group, Bartolo needed a painting of the Blessed Virgin. Sister Maria Concetta de Litala of the Monastery of the Rosary at Porta Medina offered him one that she got at a Neapolitan junk shop. She paid only 3.40 lire – a tiny, insignificant sum even at the time.

The painting portrayed Our Lady of the Rosary with St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena. Though it was of modest artistic accomplishment and in very poor condition, it served Bartolo’s purpose. He described it in his journal: “Not only was it worm-eaten, but the face of the Madonna was that of a coarse, rough country-woman … a piece of canvas was missing just above her head … her mantle was cracked. Nothing need be said of the hideousness of the other figures. St Dominic looked like a street idiot. To Our Lady’s left was a St Rose. This I had changed later into a St Catherine of Siena … I hesitated whether to refuse the gift or to accept … I took it.”

In addition, the sorcerer turned born-again Catholic restored a ramshackle church in October 1873 and then sponsored a feast in honour of Our Lady of the rosary. He installed the repaired painting in this very church. Within hours of its installation miracles began to be reported and people came to the church in droves. Seeing the devotion of the pilgrims, the Bishop of Nola encouraged Bartolo to construct a larger church. He approached architect Giovanni Rispoli to build it, making the following appeal: “In this place selected for its prodigies, we wish to leave to present and future generations a monument to the Queen of Victories that will be less unworthy of her greatness but more worthy of our faith and love.”

Work on the larger building began on May 8 1876 and was consecrated in May 1891 by Cardinal La Valetta who represented Pope Leo XIII. In 1906, he and his wife donated the Pompeii shrine to the Holy See but this didn’t diminish his evangelistic zeal. Bartolo continued promoting the rosary until his death in1926, at the age of 75. To spread devotion to the rosary and to the Blessed Virgin Mary Bartolo would evangelise young people at parties and in local cafes, explaining the dangers of occultism. He would witness continually as to the glories of Christ, the munificence of His mother and the beauty of the Catholic Faith.

In 1939 the church was enlarged and re-consecrated as a basilica and officially renamed the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii. It soon became a focus of pilgrimages for more than a century as most Catholics and non-Catholics alike found a church built by a reformed ex-Satanist to be devilishly irresistible.

Bartolo had died a saintly death and his Cause for canonisation was almost immediately called for. He was beatified by John Paul II on October 26 1980 who called him the “Apostle of the Rosary”. More than 30,000 people attended the ceremony, and 50,000 pilgrims attended Pope Benedict’s historic pastoral visit to the shrine on October 19 2008. He consecrated the world, entrusting it to Mary’s hands, offering the Blessed Virgin a golden rose. In his homily, Benedict XVI likened Bartolo Longo to St Paul of Tarsus, who also initially persecuted the Church, described Bartolo as being “militantly anticlerical and engaging in spiritualist and superstitious practices”.

He continued by saying: “Wherever God comes in this desert, flowers bloom. Even Blessed Bartolo Longo, with his personal conversion, bears witness to this spiritual power that transforms man from within and makes him capable of doing great things according to God’s designs. This city which he re-founded, is thus a historical demonstration of how God transforms the world: filling man’s heart with charity.”

It’s not easy to get lost in Pompeii but I somehow managed to do exactly that. I finally spied the famous bronze cross that adorns the Basilica’s campanile. Apparently I am not the only person in the Sarno Valley to use it to orient myself. Technically speaking, every Christian uses the cross to orient himself so I wasn’t in the least bit ashamed for having to do so.

The white surface of the domed basilica and its lateral chapels both strike and comfort the visitor. The façade is only a little more than a century old, having been re-pointed by the architect Rispoli in 1901. As I passed the long passageways adjacent to the basilica, I noted that this is where Bartolo and his wife would stand to hand out food to the poor who would gather daily.

Upon entering the church one is struck not by its silence but rather the pervasive hushed susurration of pilgrims who stand in awe at the church’s beauty and God’s presence. The walls are replete with frescos, marble ornaments, mosaics, paintings and the ever-present votives. These small silver or tin plaques in the shape of heads, hands, legs and eyes hang everywhere as tokens of thanksgiving for Mary’s received protection and prayers.

The neoclassical Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii is decorated in the stereotypically exaggerated, over-the-top, pietistic art of the Italian peasantry that makes you smile and secretly wish you were Italian. It is, for good or bad, the art one associates with ancient churches and an even older faith. Stepping into this basilica reconnects one with 2,000 years of Christ’s presence in the world and in our hearts.

I asked as to the whereabouts of Blessed Bartolo and soon found myself face to beatified face with the Apostle of the Rosary himself. Like every other pilgrim standing next to me, I realised that this former, self-professed enemy of the Church rests peacefully in a tomb in its bosom of the very church he had hoped to destroy. More delicious and blessed irony one can hardly imagine.

As I looked at the oversized painting of Our Lady of Pompeii hanging over the church’s altar, I recalled St Maximilian Kolbe’s poignant words: “If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.”

One can’t but be moved when seeing this painting of him and recall the pain, horror and revulsion that this satanist-turned-saint experienced when he was confronted by his own sins.

Every student knows what happened to the city of Pompeii on August 24 79 AD. But most people don’t realise that the “new” Pompeii rose from the destroyed city’s ashes 1,796 years later because of Our Lady of the Rosary and her devotee. In his The History of the Shrine of Pompeii Bartolo wrote: “Next to a land of dead appeared, quite suddenly, a land of resurrection and life: next to a shattered amphitheatre soiled with blood, there is a living Temple of faith and love, a sacred Temple to the Virgin Mary; from a town buried in the filth of gentilism, arises a town full of life, drawing its origins from a new civilization brought by Christianity: the New Pompeii!… It is the new civilisation that openly appears beside the old; the new art next to the old; Christianity full of life in juxtaposition to long-surpassed paganism.”

The newly constructed basilica attracted new families, a railway station, postal and telegraph services, the police, roads, water, electricity, hotels, restaurants and shops. About three million pilgrims come to the basilica every year, thus bringing to life the long-dead city of Pompeii.

Thus, the resurrection and salvation of Pompeii is now eternally linked with the resurrection and salvation of Blessed Bartolo Longo; the prodigal son returned home.
In God, all things are possible. Thankfully.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZBH6TUVQ56WL3EF643447JSVEQ tripp

    Great story about Bartolo. There is excellent, orthodox Catholic commentary by Deacon Dan Gannon on http://www.catholicurrent.com/​#/

  • Jurinne

    Absolutely beautiful story that fills me with hope badly needed right now.  Thank you.

  • Aidan Coyle

    To equate ‘paganism’ with ‘Satanism’ and ‘the occult’ is deeply problematic. Contemporary ‘neo-paganism’ in its various forms has as its primary characteristic a focus on nature. It’s interesting to see how contemporary pagans/Wiccans work hard to locate their beliefs and rituals within an ancient tradition. This is not terribly convincing but equating paganism with Satanism is simply misplaced. Also, the idea of a ‘New Age pagan group’ would have been meaningless in the mid-19th century as the notion of ‘New Ageism’ is a relatively recent construct. What IS interesting about the story is that it raises questions about Bartolo Longo’s mental health. It’s always risky to attempt to retrospective diagnoses but I do wonder about the possibility of mental health explanations for his experiences. Of course this isn’t to suggest that his experiences were not spiritual (people with mental health problems can and do have experiences that are genuinely spiritual, whether or not these experiences are connected to their health condition); it simply raises another line of inquiry in what sounds like a fascinating life.

  • Amylia

    neo-paganism, new-ageism, and satanism are three different religious classifications. How on earth did this man supposedly end up a part of all three? doesn’t make much sense; whoever wrote this article needs to do some better research – wicca, neo-paganism and new-ageism all have nothing to do with Satanism. 

  • Richard5374

    He was convinced of the great value of the Rosary.

  • Anonymous

    They have one thing in common: they’re all wrong.

  • li lin

    I like your article.And you can have a good see in true religion jeans.welcome to true religion jeans outlet!

  • Anonymous

    Aidan, your observation is noted, but equating paganism with Satanism and the occult isn’t problematic if you’re Catholic, because none of them lead to the one, triune God.  The pluralism isn’t necessary in the context of this article.

  • Honeybadger

    Boy, do we need Blessed Bartolo’s prayer right here, right now!

  • Martin C.

    A great story of conversion through the Grace and Mercy of God and the Holy Rosary. I myself have been converted from a similarly sinful life by the Grace of God and through the intercession of his Holy Mother. Pray the Rosary people, it is a powerful weapon against Satan and his mignons and their evil influence. And like the “Gloria” at the end of each decade, Our Lady always leads you to the Glory of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Prayer, Confession, Penance, Holy Mass and offering ourselves in loving service to our families and our fellow man can and will change the world, we just have to take part, and participate in God’s plan. Thank you for this inspirational story. Blessed Bartolo Longo, pray for us.

  • Susan K.

    Anyone can be forgiven and Brought back to Our Lord’s Blessed Truth!! Put your Trust In Jesus and His Blessed Mother!!! Our Lady of The Rosary, Pray for Us! I Love You!

  • Sandy

    Your various paganisms are destractions from the Truth, therefore encouraged of Satan.

  • http://twitter.com/contemprisma Faith Flaherty

    Apostle of the Rosary and Lay Dominican!

  • http://twitter.com/NEWFRIENDSEEKER BRIAN GREGORY

    It shows until their deaths there is hope for everyone to find Jesus, both, those who do not know Him and for those who have strayed to return to Him.

  • http://twitter.com/NEWFRIENDSEEKER BRIAN GREGORY

    they are not three separate classifications – new-ageism, paganism and satanism all come from the Devil.

  • http://gadel4u.blogspot.com Godwin Delali Adadzie

    From
    Mary we learn to surrender to God’s Will in all things. From Mary we
    learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love
    Christ her Son and the Son of God! ~Blessed Pope John Paul II

  • david

    Aidan  They all come from the same source.  New Agesim is a remake of paganism and the occult and it keeps popping up through out history and the devil’s attempt to constantly subvert God and the Catholic Church.  This form of New Ageism is the direct precursor of what we know as New Age which sprung up as an official word in the 1930′s.  But “spiritualism” is almost identical to New Age and can be used synonymously.

  • Aunt Raven

    New Age beliefs are simply Gnosticism in modern dress. . . .(look it up in Catholic Encyclopedia online)

  • Mair

    Excellent article

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.r.rellihan James R. Rellihan

    Satan really got his head crushed by our Blessed Mother for Blessed Bartolo and  with such a humble weapon the Holy Rosary! His life is a call to arms under the the humble handmaid of the Lord who is like an army in battle array. May we all find and pray the Holy Rosary daily for peace in our world and the salvation of souls especially our loved ones.

  • Carr_sun

    NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GOD 

    INSTANT CONVERSION — JUST LIKE UNTO THE THIEF WHO WAS BESIDE HIM ON THE CROSS – - JESUS FINDING HIM DISPOSED –  CALLED HIM.

    THE THIEF SAID: “LORD, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM”.
    JESUS REPLIED:  “TOMORROW YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE”.

  • Ian G

    Agreed: 1. there was no such thing as ‘New Ageism’ in the 19th century; 2. Satanism is and was a very extreme form of anti-Christianity and relatively rare. 3. whilst I do not accept that neo-paganism is simply ‘another way to God’ as so many modern liberals in various churches would have, at least their acceptance of non-materialism challenges many so-called Christians. 4. I have learned much orhtodox Christian truth from two so-called occultists: Valentin Tomberg, author of ‘Meditations on the Tarot’ and Gareth Knight, especially his ‘Experience of other worlds’.

  • RyanC.

    It’s ridiculous that you allowed yourself to listen to any so-called occultists. This is how evil works, a little truth to entice and soon enough you’re swallowed whole.

  • JPII fanatic

    I hope that you are not critical of the article because you yourself are involved in any of the three?  I don’t mean to sound arrogant but I have first hand experience working with a exorcist and myself being delivered from demonic ‘obsession’.  All things that are “not of God’ are from Satan PERIOD!!!  If it is not FOR God it is against!  Do not be fooled, the New Age movement, wicca and paganism as well as many other cult like ‘belief movements’ are from the Devil himself!  If you are skeptical of this, it means you have already been blinded by his cunning.  I will pray for your freedom and hope that you are at least open to the TRUTH, which is JESUS!!!  That goes for buddhism as well as hinduism (esp. yoga) and any other false religion.  Heck even islam is not of God.  No GOD would want a prophet to marry 7 year olds and ‘kill all the infidels’.  Sorry to sound so much like a bigot, but when you know you have the TRUTH, JESUS, then why dance around it?  May God bless all of you and protect you from satan’s very subtle deceptions (Harry Potter – not so subtle)
    JPII FANATIC

  • JPII fanatic

    If you are interested in a person’s first hand experience of many of the new age practices and this is a suggestion for many of the post’ers here, try Moira Noonan’s “Ransomed from Darkness”.  She herself was a ‘master’ of many of these practices…wicca, diving, seeing, tarot card reading, astral projecting, spirit consulting, yoga, and many many more!  Its an amazing first hand expose.  She spent 30 years in this underworld.  Check it out for yourselves.  http://www.spiritbattleforsouls.org/

  • Ian G

    Have you read them? Tomberg was a Catholic and Knight an Anglican; By the way, I am a priest for over 20 years, NOT a liberal, but I would urge all to know what they are talking about before jumping to conclusions let alone judgements which are a little too free on these pages; so much easier when it’s not face to face.

  • James H

    Belissimo! I had no idea the modern town of Pompeii owed its origin to the church. Great stuff!

  • Séamas Choilm Chille

    In Blessed Bartolo Longo’s story, I see my own story. I too was lost in the poisonous mire of the occult and a life of sin and depravity, and I too hated and openly ridiculed Christianity. 

    And I too was converted by God’s grace and the the intercession of Our Lady, with the help of her rosary. As the old Irish saying goes:Tá Dia láidir is Mathair mhaith aige (God is strong and He has a good mother).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anca-Diaconu-D/100000768490616 Anca Diaconu D
  • Aisake

    What a great story of conversion, we pray that Blessed Bartolo Longo will intercede on our prayer for conversion to the Lord, Pray for us and pray for the conversion of all souls of human kind especially those who don’t believe in Jesus.

  • wayneg87

    He didnt convert, he just changed the names and the costume. He was still a Satanist. Bowing to graven images and ordering god down from heaven to climb into his golden cage. Same thing

  • wayneg87

    Hey JPII fanatic, come to my site
    cherrybombcoutour.blogspot.com/

  • Be Elzebub

    He was useless as an occultist when he worked for me.

  • TwilightYagami

    It is all propaganda and a tall tale in my humble opinion just to instill faith in all the devout/crazy Christians. 

  • Dipdismystic

    Shame on you li lin for this blatant advertising!

  • Reiserof2006

    This is an inspiring story!!;) May God and Mary be for ever praised!;)