The Dante Center of Ravenna Medal
Commemorating the 700th Anniversary of the Death of Dante Alighieri

Following the 700th anniversary of the birth of the great poet in 1965, Friar Severino RAGAZZINI, OFM Conv., (1920-1986) founded the Dante Center of Ravenna. Faithful to tradition, he wanted to have an artistic bronze medal cast to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. The creation of this art object was entrusted to the young medalist Gionatan SALZANO, whose sensitivity and skill could produce a medal that would use Dante’s own language to teach at something about the life and work of this figure we are accustomed to calling “Ours.”
We affirm this, as St. Paul VI taught in his apostolic letter Altissimi cantus, “not to gain any ambitious trophy of egotistic glory, but rather, in order to remind ourselves of the duty we have to acknowledge it as such, and to explore in his work the inestimable treasures of Christian thought and sentiment. We are convinced that only if one penetrates into the religious soul of this sovereign Poet can one find in depth the understanding and taste of its wonderful spiritual richness.”
This is the contribution that the Dante Center would like to make amidst the vast array of prestigious initiatives being proposed this year, which extend even beyond that “fair land” (Inferno XXXIII 80).
It is a call to that dimension, at once human and spiritual, which characterizes not only the great Poet’s work, but his very life as well.
Therefore, Pope Francis, in his apostolic letter Candor Lucis aeternae, written for the 700th anniversary of the great poet’s death, says, “Dante, pondering his life of exile, radical uncertainty, fragility, and constant moving from place to place, sublimated and transformed his personal experience, making it a paradigm of the human condition, viewed as a journey – spiritual and physical – that continues until it reaches its goal. Here two fundamental themes of Dante’s entire work come to the fore, namely, that every existential journey begins with an innate desire in the human heart and that this desire attains fulfilment in the happiness bestowed by the vision of the Love who is God.”
Thus the “sacred poem / this work so shared by heaven and by earth” (Paradiso XXV 1-2) becomes a metaphor for the path to which every man is “called” to make that exodal passage from the “little threshing floor that so incites our savagery” (Paradiso XXII 151) to the goal dreamed and desired by all: “the Love that moves the sun and the others stars” (Paradiso XXXIII 144).

On the face of the medal, the artist wanted to depict “a young Dante full of determination to follow his wishes”. In her essay, “Il Paradiso di Dante: l’ardore del desiderio”, Anna Maria CHIAVACCI LEONARDI states that this “tension of the soul towards the maximum that can be reached (or ‘the ultimate object of desire’ as Dante wrote in his famous Convivio IV XII 17 [Banquet]), is, moreover, the primary, almost defining trait of Dante’s personality. His whole life was a search for this fulfillment, a raising up from desire to go towards its end, to the point that he could well call himself by the biblical expression, ‘vir Desideriorum’”- (as quoted in the Latin Vulgate version of Daniel 9:23). Dante was “vir Desideriorum,” meaning, a man composed of desires, who keeps his gaze fixed on the stars.
The artist explains that the stars on the medal were “inspired by those seen in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia” in Ravenna, the city that was Dante’s “final refuge,” but whose kind hospitality was not enough to appease his desire to return to what the Poet himself called the “fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb” (Paradiso XXV 5), that homeland from which he was unjustly barred.

It is no coincidence that each canto of the Divine Comedy ends with the word “stars.” When Dante exits hell, the commentary by Ms. CHIAVACCI LEONARDI helps us understand those distant lights, which Dante barely glimpsed, yet which gave him the hope and desire to come out and see them again (cf. Inferno XXXIV 139). From the peak of purgatory, the stars have already become a sure destination and their proximity makes us want to climb up and reach them (cf. Purgatorio XXXIII 145). At the summit of paradise, it is as if the poet were already part of the stars, sharing in their celestial life and splendor (cf. Paradiso XXXIII 145).
The stars on the medal are both engraved and rendered in relief, moving, according to the artist, “from the inside to realize themselves on the outside”—as it is when pursuing the object of one’s desire. It is at once absent and present, distant and close, a source of frustrating expectation and, at the same time, of intimate enjoyment.
Dante reaches the object of his desire in the last canto of Paradise where he affirms, “And I, who now was nearing Him who is / the end of all desires, as I ought, / lifted my longing to its ardent limit”(Paradiso XXXIII 46-48).
However, Dante is not the only “vir Desideriorum.” Pope Francis, in Candor Lucis aeternae, states, “Starting from his own personal situation, Dante becomes the interpreter of the universal human desire to follow the journey of life to its ultimate destination, when the fullness of truth and the answers to life’s meaning will be revealed and, in the words of Saint Augustine, our hearts find their rest and peace in God.”
During his general audience of December 13, 1972, St. Paul VI spoke with clarity, saying, “Modern man is forced to declare himself poor, a poor man with exaggerated deluded or disappointed desires. He remains even today, according to the biblical definition: “vir Desideriorum”, a man of desires, or desiring.”

Thus, “vir Desideriorum” can be applied to Dante’s work and even his life itself. On the reverse side of the medal, the artist has engraved some verses and we see Dante in the stillness of the starry sky, proclaiming his faith: “I believe in one God / sole and eternal, He who, motionless, moves all the heavens / with His love and His desire” (Paradiso XXIV 130-132).
In her commentary on the Divine Comedy, Ms. CHIAVACCI LEONARDI explains that Dante adds to the philosophical theme of the engine of the universe “the quality that makes a person out of that prime mover: he who gives life to the universe out of love, and the universe in turn is moved only by the desire – which is also love – to return to him.” Love comes from God and desire comes from creation. Therefore God always sustains and creates the world with love, and his love is matched by the corresponding force of desire that he arouses in men, the desire which constitutes man’s very identity. The divine component of creation and the human component converge between love and desire, which are the divine nature and human nature of Christ, who is the center, origin and life of creation, in the Trinity.

Beatrice, the “true praise of God” (Inferno II 103), is a sign of that love. She comes to Dante moved precisely by that Love to which she longs to return (cf. Inferno II 71-72). Her appearance in Eden, “clothed in flame red” (Purgatorio XXX 33), ignites the flame of ancient love in Dante. In the artist’s description of the reverse side, he points out that love as filling the space around the two figures with vibrant and dancing flames.
The flames, rising upward by their own force, depict that desire whose tension is described in Purgatorio XVIII 28-33: “Then, just as flames ascend / because the form of fire was fashioned to fly upward, / toward the stuff of its own sphere, where it lasts longest, / so does the soul, when seized, move into longing, / a motion of the spirit, never resting / till the beloved thing has made it joyous.”

The medal is being offered for sale by Proceeds from the sales will go to support the activities of the Dante Center. To purchase a medal, go to: