Magazine article The New Yorker

PIO'S RIDE; Postcard from Padua

Magazine article The New Yorker

PIO'S RIDE; Postcard from Padua

Article excerpt

Thousands of people made the pilgrimage to the northern Italian university town of Padua several weekends ago for the Auto e Moto d'Epoca, one of Europe's premier car shows. Everything from sparkplugs to Ferraris was on exhibit at the Fiera di Padova, a kind of industrial fairground a short walk from the train station. In one hall, Coys of Kensington, auctioneers of vintage motorcars, had assembled a fleet of pristine Jaguars, Porsches, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Lancias, MGs, and Austin Healeys, a green Vespa with sidecar, a collectible Fiat 500 or two--the ever popular Cinquecento, which Italians call the Topolino, or Little Mouse--and an irresistible sideshow: a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 D that had belonged to Padre Pio (1887-1968), a Capuchin monk who for fifty years bore the stigmata and in 2002 was canonized St. Pio of Pietrelcina.

Of course, Padre Pio had taken a vow of poverty, so he didn't actually own anything, much less a luxury automobile. The story is that the Mercedes was a gift from a wealthy family in gratitude for a miracle. Padre Pio is credited with countless miracles, some of them vehicular in nature: there is the story of a driver who survived a near-fatal accident, and also of a motorcyclist who sped ten miles on an empty tank to keep a lunch date at the monastery. Padre Pio's advice to people who came to him for help was "Pray, hope, and don't worry." For this reason, he has become known as the patron saint of stress relief.

Lot 234, the Ex Padre Pio, as the Mercedes was called, came up for auction at midday. Bidding had just wound down on a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTS Spyder whose estimated value was more than three hundred and sixty thousand euros, but there was no published estimate for the Ex Padre Pio. It was a car that, apart from its priceless (if undocumented) pedigree, had a lot of character: cream and brown, like the Capuchin habit, somehow bulbous, with a black flap like a toupee that folded back to reveal a moonroof, and grillework that resembled a mustache. It had Bari license plates. The owner, Giuseppe Favia, was at the show. A dealer in Bari, he had bought the car from one Francesco Tripoli, who had acquired it from Domenico Cristiani, who, while working near the monastery, had received it as a gift from Padre Pio, who apparently never had much use for it. …

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