By Jean Marie Carey

Today is the feast day of San Giovanni da Capestrano (Kapisztrán János in Hungarian). Associated with strife, even the canonization date of “the Soldier Saint“ (24 June 1386–23 October 1456) is in dispute, with some accounts attributing the elevation to Pope Alexander VIII in 1690 and others to Pope Benedict XIII in 1724.

The Franciscan friar and Catholic priest from Capestrano, Abruzzi, in Naples was a vicious anti-heretical inquisitor who incited violent pogroms against the Jews of southern and central Europe. At age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire in Belgrade. He became particularly popular in Hungary and Croatia.

In addition to many works of art devoted to his exploits, the saint has a redeeming association with a natural miracle, the annual nesting of hundreds of cliff swallows at the Mission San Juan Capistrano in California.

Reference: John Everett-Heath, “San Juan Capistrano.” In The Concise Dictionary of World Place-Names: Oxford University Press,

Cliff Swallow (petrochelidon pyrrhonota) with the early makings of a nest at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California. Photo by Ingrid Taylar.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, first construction c. 1770, California. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The altar devoted to San Giovanni da Capestrano at his namesake church in Ilok, Croatia. Photo by Goran Smith.

Alois Niederstätter, Johannes Capistranus, c. 1500, Historisches Museum Bamberg.

Capestrano had a legacy of battling clerics. The “Warrior Priest of Capestrano,” c. 520-500 BCE, Etruria. Photo: University of California, San Diego.

Statue of San Giovanni da Capestrano at the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Photo by Michal Manas.

Further Reading: Lydian Bruton. The Swallows of San Juan Capistrano. San Juan Publishing Group: Ouray, CO, 1986

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