St Alessandro Longo – A New Dominican Saint

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On the 12th of May 2013, the Holy Father, Pope Francis will canonize those who have been known in history as the 800 Martyrs of Otranto (Lecce – Italy).

On the 28th of July 1480, the Turks landed in Puglia and besieged Otranto in an attempt to occupy the Kingdom of Naples. After 14 days of siege and constant bombardment of the city walls, the Turks entered the city on August 12 and instantly killed all those defending the city.

The Dominican Monastery dedicated to Our Lady of Candelora was the first to be occupied by the Turkish troop because of its proximity to the city walls. The brothers took refuge in the city. At the Cathedral, they killed the archbishop, the clergy and many lay faithful who refused to recant their faith. The killings continued the next day at the Hill of Minerva.

At the end, no one knows exactly the number of people who were killed because of their faith. However, tradition has always had it that they were 800 martyrs. It is even more difficult to ascertain their names individually, more so because their martyrdom has always been seen as a communal act in defence of their faith. They are known individually only to God. The only list available to us in history has on top of it, the name, “Alessandro Longo – a Dominican”. Perhaps more Dominicans were killed but we do not know their names. Also, there is no particular description of how Alessandro was killed.

It is believed that fr Alessandro Longo was born in Otranto around 1425. He joined the Dominican friars of the Convent of Lecce or Nardo and was ordained to the priesthood on the 30th of May 1450 in Bologna. In 1451, he was appointed the Master of Studies at the general house of studies of St Dominic in Naples. In 1458, he founded the Convent of Otranto and in 1474 he obtained the authority from the Master of the Order to give the Dominican habit and receive the profession of the brothers and sisters. In 1475, he was assigned permanently to Otranto to organize and consolidate the new convent. With an open mind, he was able to develop a refined culture, summarising the Greek tradition of his homeland with the Latin he learnt in Bologna and Naples. He was most likely a commentator on the plays of Aristophanes.

The Order has always had great devotion to the 800 Martyrs of Otranto. In 1574, some of the bodies of those martyrs were transferred to Naples and placed under the altar of St Mary of the Rosary at the Dominican Church of St Catherine of Formiello. In 1629, the General Chapter of Rome conferred the title of Prior of Otranto on the Socius of the Prior Provincial of Puglia. In 1694 he obtained from the Congregation of Rites the faculty for the celebration of the Office and the Mass of the Blessed Martyrs in all the convents of the Order.

The Postulator General of the Order

(april 30, 2013)