Saint Gabriel Shrine is one of the most attended places of worship in Italy. Its early origin dates to the thirteenth century, when St. Francis of Assisi, passing through the area after participating in the IV Lateran Council (1215), established a community of his friars. Next to the monastery a church was built, which until today is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
After various building transformations and the presence of different religious orders, the Passionists took over in 1847, just twelve years before St. Gabriel arrived as a student, in 1859. The church was enlarged to the present dimension in 1908. In 1920 an extension was added with The Chapel of St. Gabriel to host the relics of the young passionist canonized in the same year. While the church is neo-classic style, the Chapel tends to an English gothic style, embellished with rare polychromatic cement.
The shrine now consists of two basilicas. A new large structure has been built to welcome the ever-increasing number of pilgrims. The essential work has been recently completed, while refining and improvements can continue for years. The new church is in a modern style, able to accommodate six thousand people. The urn with the relics of St. Gabriel is located in the underground area. They are secured in a metallic statue of the Saint laying in a resting position. A visit to the modern, precious crypt leaves the impression of a personal encounter with a smiling friend. As a matter of fact, one of St Gabriel’s nicknames is the smiling Saint.
Pilgrims flock to the shrine all year long, but the summer season is more crowded. A new popular trend aims at combining religious practices with the enjoyment of excursions in the surrounding Gran Sasso National Park. Organised groups and individual families stop at the shrine for confession, the Eucharist and the visit to the urn of the Saint, then continue towards tourist destinations.
The shrine is a favourite meeting point for youth gathering. One hundred days before school exams (within the month of March), thousand of students arrive to seek protection from their young saint colleague. Likewise remarkable is the yearly gathering of the youth movement Tendopoli (city of tents), at the end of August. Throngs of young people live in tents for one week on the premises of the shrine for prayerful and cultural initiative concerning their Christian education.