The article considers a cult that developed and still thrives in a small Abruzzo town in the years between the two world wars. During these decades, the mummified body of a baby became the object of worship and devotional practices. The epileptic Baby Donato died and after few months his body was given to the Sanctuary of St Donatus in Celenza sul Trigno. St Donatus is the saint who protects epileptics and in Italian Catholicism is therefore the master of disease. The name Donato means ‘given’ and the ailment (epilepsy) is given by the saint to his subjects in exchange for being cured they give him devotion and gifts. In this case, the sick child’s mother embarked on a much greater initiative, and actually gave the saint the dead body of the sick child dead. Analyzing the cult of the mummified child in Abruzzo allows us to understand not only the establishment of an autonomous expression of popular religion, but also illustrates anthropological mechanisms that expand a simple mythical individual invention into a wider scenario. A devotion expands into a large-scale dimension when it satisfies the needs of the imagination of a large group, as is the case of Baby Donato. By exploring the reasons for the affirmation, persistence and local diffusion of devotional practices of this unique extra-liturgical worship, this article offers some general considerations of Catholicism and Southern Italy.

Key words: Women, Catholicism, Italy, Disability, Epilepsy, Relics, Devotion.

IMG_6042.jpg (1130 kB)
“Baby Donato” in the church of San Donato in Celenza sul Trigno, Abruzzi, Italy (2020).

San-Donato_celenza_sul_Trigno_CH.jpg (147 kB)
St Donato statue in the church of San Donato in Celenza sul Trigno, Abruzzi, Italy (2020).