While strolling through the huge Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples, the Church of San Francesco di Paola with its grand colonnades is one of the city’s most eye-catching sites. It was built in the early 19th century and dedicated to Saint Francis of Paola by Bourbon King Ferdinand I.
Right there, surrounded by the history of Naples and so much of southern Italy, I was transported back to the little village of Paola in Calabria’s province of Cosenza. Paola is known as the birthplace of Saint Francis, who is the patron saint of Calabria. (As well as mariners, boatmen and naval officers, in case you were curious!)
Francis was born in a religious family in Paola, and was tied to Saint Francis of Assisi from his birth. Tradition says that his parents prayed to Saint Francis of Assisi to help them have a child. When Francis was born with an eye infliction, they once again prayed to the saint. After a full recovery and a vision of a Franciscan Monk when he was 13, Francis went off to the monastery.
When he returned to Calabria, Francis created an order of Hermit Monks and dedicated his life to poverty. A sanctuary to Saint Francis of Paola sits in the hills above the village. If your travels bring you south to Paola, you can visit Devil’s Bridge (one of the many miracles of Saint Francis), a historic chapel, a modern church, a garden area with beautifully intact frescoes and Saint Francis’ cave.