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|Saint Maria Goretti|
Saint Maria Goretti
|Virgin and Martyr|
October 16, 1890|
Corinaldo, Province of Ancona, Marche, Kingdom of Italy
|Died||July 6, 1902
Nettuno, Province of Rome, Lazio, Kingdom of Italy
|Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||April 27, 1947, Rome by Pope Pius XII|
|Canonized||June 24, 1950, Rome by Pope Pius XII|
|Major shrine||Nettuno, Province of Rome, Lazio, Italy|
|Attributes||Fourteen lilies; farmer's clothing; (occasionally) a knife|
|Patronage||Victims of rape, Crime victims, teenage girls, modern youth, Children of Mary|
Maria Goretti (October 16, 1890 – July 6, 1902) is an Italian virgin-martyr of the Roman Catholic Church, and she is one of the youngest canonized saints. She was born on the eastern side of Italy to a farming family, but increased poverty forced the family to move to the western side of the country when she was only six. Her father died when she was nine, and the family had to share a house with another family, the Serenellis. Maria took over household duties from her mother, while her mother and the rest of her family worked in the fields. One afternoon, Alessandro, the son of the Serenelli family, made sexual advances to her, but when she refused to submit to him because that would be a mortal sin, he stabbed her multiple times. She was taken to hospital, but died after forgiving him. He was promptly arrested, convicted and jailed. After three years he repented, and when eventually released from prison, he visited her mother begging forgiveness, which she readily granted. He later became a lay brother in a monastery, eventually dying peacefully in 1970. Maria was beatified in 1947, and canonized in 1950. Her mother attended both ceremonies.
Goretti was born Maria Teresa Goretti on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Province of Ancona, then in the Kingdom of Italy, to Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini. She was the third of seven children: Antonio (who died in infancy), Angelo, Maria, Mariano (Marino), Alessandro (Sandrino), Ersilia and Teresa.
By the time she was six, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers. So in 1896 or 1897, they moved to Colle Gianturco, near Paliano and Frosinone, about fifty miles outside Rome; and then in 1899 to Le Ferriere, near modern Latina and Nettuno in Lazio, where they lived in a building, "La Cascina Antica," they shared with another family which included Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro. Soon, Maria's father Luigi became very sick with malaria, and died when Maria was just nine. While her brothers, mother, and sister worked in the fields, Maria would cook, sew, watch her infant sister, and keep the house clean. It was a hard life, but the family was very close. They shared a deep love and faith for God.
On July 5, 1902, eleven year-old Maria was sitting on the outside stairs of her home, sewing one of Alessandro's shirts and watching her infant sister Teresa, while Alessandro was threshing beans in the barnyard. Knowing she would be alone, he returned to the house and threatened her with death if she did not do as he said; he was intending to rape her. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning Alessandro that he would go to hell. She desperately fought to stop Alessandro, a 19-year-old farmhand, from raping her. She kept screaming, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" Alessandro first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. The injured Maria tried to reach the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.
Teresa awoke with the noise and started crying, and when Serenelli's father and Maria's mother came to check on the little girl, they found the bleeding Maria and took her to the nearest hospital in Nettuno. She underwent surgery without anesthesia, but her injuries were beyond the doctors' help. Halfway through the surgery, Maria woke up. She insisted that it stay that way. The pharmacist of the hospital in which she died said to her, "Maria, think of me in Paradise." She looked at the old man: "Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first?" "You, Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," said Maria. Maria also expressed concern for her mother's welfare. The following day, 24 hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for her murderer and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, Maria died of her injuries, while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary, and clutching a cross to her chest.
Writing in 2002 based on his own interviews with Alessandro Serenelli and Maria's sister Ersilia in 1952, journalist Noel Crusz provided a more detailed account:
- On July 5 in 1902, exactly a hundred years ago, at 3 p.m. whilst [Maria's mother] Assunta and the other children were at the threshing floor, Serenelli who persistently sought sexual favours from the 12-year-old [sic] girl approached her. She was taking care of her infant sister in the farm house. Allesandro [sic] threatened her with a 10 inch dagger, and when Maria refused, as she had always done, he stabbed her 14 times.
- The wounds penetrated the throat, with lesions of the pericardium, the heart, the lungs and the diaphragm. Surgeons at Orsenigo were surprised that the girl was still alive. In a dying deposition, in the presence of the Chief of Police, Maria told her mother of Serenelli's sexual harassment, and two previous attempts made to rape her. She was afraid to reveal this earlier since she was threatened with death.
A third account of the assault was presented by Italian historian Giordano Bruno Guerri in 1985. He asserted that, while in prison, Alessandro Serenelli stated that he did not complete the assault and Maria died a physical virgin. Guerri identifies the weapon as an awl rather than a dagger.
Serenelli's imprisonment and repentance
Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after the attack: the police taking him to prison overtook the ambulance carrying Maria to hospital. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life, but since he was a minor at that time the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison; judges even considered he was not as mature as he was expected to be for a 20-year-old young man, and that he grew up in a poor, neglectful family, with several brothers and relatives suffering from madness and an alcoholic father. It has also been suggested that it was due to her mother’s plea for mercy that he was not sentenced to death. Alessandro insisted he had attempted to rape Maria several times and decided to kill her because of her refusal and desperate crying. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. Serenelli wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, "in which Maria Goretti gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands."
After his release, Alessandro Serenelli visited Maria's still-living mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed then she could not do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as "my little saint." He attended her canonization in 1950.
Beatification and canonization
On the evening of the beatification ceremonies in Saint Peter's Basilica, April 27, 1947, Pope Pius XII walked over to Assunta. She almost fainted. "When I saw the Pope coming, I prayed, Madonna, please help me. He put his hand on my head and said, blessed mother, happy mother, mother of a Blessed!" They both had eyes wet with tears.
Three years later, on June 24, 1950, Pius XII canonized Goretti as a saint, the "Saint Agnes of the 20th century." Assunta was again present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. She was the first mother ever to attend the canonization ceremony of her child. Alessandro Serenelli was also present at the canonization.
Owing to the huge crowd present, the ceremonies associated with the canonization were held outside of Saint Peter's Basilica, in the Piazza San Pietro. Pius XII spoke, not as before in Latin, but in Italian. "We order and declare, that the blessed Maria Goretti can be venerated as a Saint and We introduce her into the Canon of Saints". Some 500,000 people, among them a majority of youth, had come from around the world. Pius asked them: "Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of grace of God?" A resounding "yes" was the answer.
All three of her brothers would claim that she intervened miraculously in their lives. Angelo heard her voice telling him to emigrate to America. Alessandro was reportedly miraculously given a sum of money to finance his own emigration to join Angelo. Sandrino died in the United States in 1917, and Angelo died in Italy when he returned there in 1964. The third brother, Mariano, said he heard her voice telling him to stay in his trench when the rest of his unit charged the Germans in World War I. Mariano, the only survivor of that charge, lived until 1975 and had a large family.
Her body is kept in the crypt of the Basilica of Nostra Signora delle Grazie e Santa Maria Goretti in Nettuno, south of Rome. It has been often reported that her body is incorrupt but this is not the case. Her remains are kept inside a statue which is lying down beneath the altar, which has been mistakenly believed by some to be her entire body.
Goretti's feast day, celebrated on July 6, was inserted in the General Roman Calendar when it was revised in 1969. Maria is the patron saint of chastity, rape victims, girls, youth, teenage girls, poverty, purity and forgiveness.
Goretti is represented in art as a wavy-haired young girl in farmer clothes or a white dress, with a bouquet of lilies in her hands, and she is sometimes counted among the ranks of the Passionist order since her spiritual formation was guided by the Passionists. Both lilies and white garments are traditional icons of virginity in Catholic iconography.
Santa Maria Goretti is an Italian film based on the true story of Maria Goretti.
Heaven over the Marshes (Cielo sulla palude) is another Italian film based on her life, filmed in 1949 and directed by Augusto Genina. Ines Orsini plays Maria and Mauro Matteuci plays Alessandro. It was awarded a prize at the 10th International Exhibition of Cinema Art at Venice in 1949, as the film which contributed most to the spiritual and moral betterment of mankind.
Marcel Delannoy wrote a radiophonic opera, Maria Goretti, in 1953.
Aileen la Tourette, in her fictionalized account of Maria Goretti (The Oldest Girl, Gariband Press, 2011), presents a picture of her which she believes allows Maria to express a more challenging and likely personality than the one associated with the Catholic Church's depiction of her. She also creates a back story for Maria's mother as an orphan and suggests the political reasons for her canonization in 1950. The style of the book is reminiscent of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, where the narrator (also a dead child) looks down on events unfolding; in The Oldest Girl this occurs between chapters.
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- O'Grady, Desmond. Maria Goretti: A Rush to Judgment?, February 25, 1985 in The Age newspaper of Melbourne, Australia. Accessed April 11, 2010.
- Crusz, Noel. Maria Goretti - Saint Under Siege, July 7, 2002, The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka. Accessed April 11, 2010.
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