Priest died 'saving Madonna statue'

2012-05-30 20:26
San Felice Sul Panaro - As Italy mourns its dead, a parish priest killed in an earthquake as he tried to save a Madonna statue has become a symbol for the loss of lives and devastation of cultural heritage.

Ivan Martini, a priest in the sleepy town of Rovereto sulla Secchia, went back into his damaged church with two firemen to rescue the statue beloved by his parishioners just after Tuesday's fatal earthquake hit the Emilia Romagna region.

Martini, 65, was crushed to death by a falling beam. Both firemen survived, though one was badly injured in the rush for the exit, witnesses said.

"I want to get the Madonna out of there," Martini is reported to have said, before plunging into the depths of the pink and white church, which had already been damaged during a first deadly quake that hit the region on 20 May.

Two tremors

A first tremor brought the church's 17th-century bell crashing to the ground, and a second toppled the building before the priest could escape.

"He put on his helmet and went in with the firemen... then, the Apocalypse hit," parishioner Rosanna Caffini told La Stampa newspaper.

Martini was pulled from the ruins by the firemen but could not be revived.

"When I got to him he was still breathing, but it was obvious he wasn't going to make it".

The story of Martini's death featured widely in Italian media outlets on Wednesday as the country struggled to come to terms with the two quakes which killed 23 people as well as destroying venerated churches, chapels and monuments from the skyline.

"Don Ivan dies to save the Madonna and Emilia Romagna loses its bell towers," said La Repubblica daily, while others lamented "the senseless death of a good man" and "the loss of revered places that were part of our identity."

Read more on:    italy  |  earthquake  |  religion
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