Padre Pio's Missing Glove

Padre Pio

I grew up listening to tales about Padre Pio. In the world of hard-line, superstitious Catholicism, the arena of miracles and mythologies, he was the ne plus ultra. I learnt how he could cure people in the street, just by waving at them (what a cheery cove he must have seemed). That he could cure any disease, no matter how nasty or terminal. And that he could, if he wanted, mend a broken bottle just by looking at it (the saint as handyman). I heard that, during the war, Allied fighter pilots once saw him walking in the sky over Italy and waving at them. It sounds like a typical bit of celebrity showing-off to me, but they took it as a warning and zoomed off back to base.
We learnt stranger things about him: that he was a recluse, but could sometimes be spotted with fast women in fashionable nightclubs, and therefore (the only possible explanation) he must be capable of bilocation, or being in two places at once. (A likely story, I thought, even at the age of seven.) But the most enduring myth about him was the Glove.

Padre Pio's glove seems to turn up all over the place. It gets everywhere, like Zelig or Geri Halliwell. If you explore the scores of websites devoted to Padre Pio, the glove will feature in half of them.
Readers brought up Catholic will know how swoon-makingly disgusting were the little "relics" you used to find inside the crucifix on the end of your Rosary, like a toy in a bad-taste cereal packet; an unidentifiable lump of St Agatha's flesh, say, or something from between the toes of St Jerome. But Padre Pio's glove was the ultimate fetish object, because it had once covered a simulacrum of the blood of Christ. Hospitals in Pennsylvania, nursing communities in Brooklyn, credulous nuns in Sligo and converted zealots in Belize all claim to have seen, or to have known someone who saw, the glove being used to heal the sick before their very eyes.

The thing is, the saint did have a pair of gloves, which he used to conceal the signs of stigmata on his hands. But in the Padre Pio shrine in San Giovanni (his home town), there's only one of them, encased in a gold frame. And everyone who's seen it has presumably said to his or her neighbour, "'Ere, where's the other glove?" And thus a worldwide conspiracy is born. The Other Glove, like the Wrong Trousers, owes more to fiction than fact. It was lost at sea. No, it's being held captive by Basque separatists. No, it's owned by a spoilt priest who uses it as a freak show to make money. No, the priest who used to be Pio's minder in Rome brought it back to Brooklyn with him when he became a parish priest...

Whatever the truth, thousands of Catholics believe that it could heal them if only it were fitted over their quaking fingers. As a cult object, it has escaped from its owner's moribund embrace, and scuttled off (like the disembodied hand in The Addams Family) to find fame and stardom on its own. I expect there'll be a movie quite soon. Glove Story, starring Joe Pesci as the man with blood on his hands...

John Walsh

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