The blind brother’s little room is, in all its simplicity, probably even more touching than the beautiful small adjacent church with its 15th century frescoes. Frate Ave Maria as the monk was known, blind due to a shooting accident at the age of 12, lived there for four decades (till his death in 1964), ascetic, pious and content, praying and receiving pilgrims in search of comfort and advice. Even Pier Paolo Pasolini made his way up through the woods to the isolated monastery of Sant’Alberto di Butrio, in search of resolution for his everlasting struggle with religion, as a few lines of poetry from his hand testify.
The monastery is isolated still, in the hills of the Oltrepo’ Pavese, Lombardy, though it may now conveniently reached by car, in a day trip from Milan for example. The silence surrounding this religious monument is overwhelming, and prepares the visitor for the experience of simplicity, modesty and yes, religiosity awaiting inside. The construction consists of three interconnected churches, the oldest one originating from the 11th century. Legend has it that the first church was erected by the Malaspina family in reward for the healing by Sant’Alberto of their son of muteness.
After centuries of decay Don Orione housed his order of the Divine Providence here in the early 20th century and he also brought Frate Ave Maria here, after having consoled him as a boy with his tragic fate and having directed him to the life of faith. The simple bed of the blind brother is now covered with little notes of visitors, seeking help, strength and health for friends or family members.