The video game-loving teen who was made a saint – and immortalised in a Wiltshire church window

The stained glass window of Carlo Acutis's represents modern day sainthood within Catholicism
The stained glass window of Carlo Acutis's represents modern day sainthood within Catholicism - John Lawrence

If you step inside the Roman Catholic Church of St Aldhelm in Malmesbury, there’s a stained glass window of a type we’ve all seen countless times: it depicts a medieval bishop, crozier in hand, and a mitre on his head. But turn away from this image of St Aldhelm and you’ll spot a very different character in another stained glass window. This one is of a young teenage boy, with a modern watch on his wrist and a mobile phone attached to his rucksack. This is Carlo Acutis, the boy dubbed “God’s influencer” and the “Millennial saint”, a teenager who loved computers – and loved God even more.

The Malmesbury church was quick off the mark: they had the image of Carlo installed in 2022, two years after the Vatican had declared that the teenager was blessed – a step on the road to sainthood. “He spoke to young people”, says parish priest Father Thomas Kulandaisamy, “That’s why we chose him”.

Now the Catholic Church has declared that Carlo, who died in 2006 aged 15 of leukaemia, is indeed a saint. They have saluted his short life as evidence of holiness, highlighting his clear love of God, his kindness to others – as well as his dedication to spreading the word about religion through designing websites for his school and church. He became known for launching a website days before his death, in which he wanted to document every reported miracle linked to the Eucharist.

Carlo Acutis
In his lifetime, Carlo Acutis was entirely devoted to the messages of the Catholic Church - Alamy

But the key issue for Rome to accept someone as a saint is that they have to be linked to miracles – such as the sudden healing of a person close to death. Acutis was linked to the restored health of a man in Brazil when he was declared blessed. Now, the curing of a university student in Florence who suffered brain trauma has been confirmed as due to Acutis’s intercession, so he will be canonised by Pope Francis. 

Among those who will attend the canonisation ceremony will be his mother, Antonia Salzano, his father Andrea Acutis and their twins, Michele and Francesca. According to Salzano, the twins themselves were as remarkable a miracle.

“Carlo was my only child. I thought it was too late for me to be a mother again. Then four years after he died Carlo appeared to me in a dream. He said I would be a mother again. I was 44. But then I became pregnant and I had twins, a boy and a girl.”

Carlo had already changed his mother’s life when he was very small.

“When he was just three years old he wanted to visit churches to pray. I was very religious myself but when Carlo was five I had a crisis because my father died. Carlo inspired me to change.”

“In that way Carlo saved me. He helped me understand that in receiving Holy Communion we have the real presence of God, It is not just a symbol. This was the discovery of my life”.

“I could see always that there was something special about him, yet he was also an ordinary boy. He liked sports, having friends, he loved animals and then when he was six years old he first used a computer. From the age of nine he was studying computer programming and he knew he could use the internet for evangelising.”

People holding sign of Carlo Acutis
Acutis has been linked to two individuals who remarkably covered from health issues - Alamy

Back in St Aldhelm’s in Malmesbury, its parish priest and its congregation were never in any doubt that Acutis was a very special person. The idea for the window came about because the church’s one was plain glass, thus a suitable candidate was needed to fill it. It was Father Thomas who suggested Acutis, because he wanted someone depicted who would resonate with children and young people.

Father Thomas, who worked and studied in Rome for many years knew it is not easy to secure permission to depict  someone who is neither saint nor linked to the local community. However, convinced of Acutis’ message to young people and his connection with the United Kingdom (Acutis was born and baptised in London when his Italian parents were working in business here), he went ahead and applied. The Diocese of Clifton, which oversees Malmesbury, readily agreed, accepting how much Acutis’s story – a boy with a love of gaming and computers who created his own websites – would mean to younger people.

“I wanted them to hear about this young boy who had struggles and joys like them and that they could relate to”, says Father Thomas. Just how much Acutis resonated with young people was evident last year when his mother Antonia Salzano came to London to talk about her son’s life. Bishop Nicholas Hudson, of the Diocese of Westminster, who invited her, recalls how packed the churches were where she spoke. “There were hundreds and hundreds of them, some sitting on the floor of the churches,” he said. “He is of their era, there are photos of him, some film on YouTube, he looks just like them.”

Father Thomas with Carlo Acutis's stained glass window
Father Thomas: "I wanted them to hear about this young boy who had struggles and joys like them" - John Lawrence

But Bishop Hudson believes Acutis will still appeal as a saint as time goes by. “There is something timeless about his joy and also his courage. He was realistic about dying”.

In Malmesbury, children from the nearby Catholic school hear about Blessed Carlo but the rest of the congregation love him too, says Father Thomas.

“We have many parishioners who are praying that he will intercede for those who are sick,” he said. Stained glass artist Michael Vincent was commissioned to make the Carlo Acutis window using traditional techniques, starting with a full-sized drawing called a ‘cartoon’ that offered a blueprint of the window that could be used for glass cutting and lead lines.

Vincent’s Wiltshire business doesn’t just provide people with repairs to their double glazing and installing new windows. He also restores stained glass and creates new images, including one of 20th-century saint Maximilian Kolbe, who was killed by the Nazis in Poland during the Second World War. But this was the first time he had taken on a church commission of a person who had not yet been declared a saint.

“What I heard about Carlo Acutis was really inspiring,” he said. “I am not a Catholic but I think he speaks to all young people. A marvellous young boy.”

Back in his studio, he has kept his original cartoon of Acutis from which he designed the window. He also has an extra pane of glass with the words “Saint Carlo Acutis”. The window currently says on it Blessed Carlo Acutis, “but Father Thomas was so confident he would become a saint, that I made it”, he explains.

“When the canonisation takes place, I will take the blessed pane out and install the one confirming he is a saint”.