PHILADELPHIA — A nearly life-sized statue missing for decades from an Italian church is being returned by an American couple who finally solved the mystery of their family’s odd relic.

Ed Nader told NewsWorks (http://bit.ly/2tDlxC4 ) the statue of St. Pantaleon, considered the patron saint of physicians, spent years in his great-grandmother’s closet.

He recently discovered that it actually belonged to the church in Montauro, Italy, so Nader agreed to return it.

The statue of the saint bound to a tree came to the U.S. in 1946 when a group of Montauro parishioners brought it to Boston for a feast day parade, Nader said. For some reason, they left it with his great-grandmother in Philadelphia and never returned to retrieve it.

She kept it a walk-in closet on the third story of her rowhome and lit candles at its base.

“As kids, every time we went to the third floor to go to the bathroom, we’d run past that room,” Nader said. “We were so frightened of that statue. My mother, me, my aunt, her children, my children.”

When Nader’s great-grandmother died, the statue moved with him to Exton, where his wife kept it hidden under a sheet in the den.

“He’s not something you want to look at every day,” she said. “If he had more of a majestic pose, maybe I would keep him in the living room.”

Nader recently traveled to Montauro, his great-grandmother’s birthplace, and mentioned his family’s statue to the small town’s mayor.

The mayor instantly became excited, Nader said, and told them through an interpreter that it belonged to the church, where its place had been sitting empty for years.

The Naders paid to have it sent back in time for the saint’s feast day on Thursday. The Naders said they planned to be in Montauro for the celebration.

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