Rita of Cascia

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Saint Rita of Cascia
Santa Rita Cascia.jpg
Patron Saint of the Impossible, abused wives and widows
(note the accurate portrayal of her Medieval religious habit, brown and white veil with brown ribbon borders). She is holding a thorn from the crown of Christ that pierced her forehead as a sign of penance
Mother, Widow, Stigmatist, Consecrated Religious
Born 1381
Roccaporena, Perugia, Umbria, Italy
Died May 22, 1457(1457-05-22)
Cascia, Perugia, Umbria, Italy
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church
Aglipayan Church
Beatified 1626 by Pope Urban VIII
Canonized May 24, 1900, Vatican City, Rome by Pope Leo XIII
Major shrine Cascia, Italy
Feast May 22
Attributes Forehead wound, Rose, Bees, grape vine
Patronage Lost and impossible causes, sickness, wounds, marital problems, abuse, mothers
Controversy Spousal abuse, Feud, Family honor

Saint Rita of Cascia (Born Margherita Lotti 1381 - May 22, 1457) was an Italian Augustinian nun, widow and saint venerated in the Roman Catholic Church. Rita was married at an early age. The marriage lasted for 18 years, during which she is remembered for her Christian values as a model wife and mother who made efforts to convert her husband from his abusive behavior. Upon the murder of her husband by another feuding family, she sought to dissuade her sons from revenge before their calamitous death.

She subsequently joined an Augustinian community of religious sisters, where she was known both for practicing mortification of the flesh[1] and for the apparent efficacy of her prayers. St. Rita is venerated due to various miracles attributed to her intercession, and is often portrayed with a bleeding wound on her forehead, which the Roman Catholic Church claims to have been a partial stigmata.

The Roman Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII officially canonized Rita on May 24, 1900, while her feast day is celebrated every May 22. At her canonization ceremony, she was bestowed the title of Patroness of Impossible Causes while in many pious Catholic countries, Rita came to be known to be as patroness for abused wives and heartbroken women.

Early life[edit]

Saint Rita was born as Margherita in 1381 in the city of Roccaporena (near Spoleto, Umbria, Italy)[2] where various sites connected with her are at present the focus of pilgrimage. At the time of her birth, her parents were known to be noble charitable persons, who gained the epithet Conciliatore di Cristo (English: Peacemakers of Christ).[1] According to pious sources, Rita was originally pursued by a notary named Gubbio but she initially resisted the offer. She was later married at age 12 to a nobleman named Paolo Mancini. Her parents (Antonio Lotti and Amata Ferri) arranged her marriage, a common practice at the time, despite her repeated requests to be allowed to enter a convent of religious sisters. Her husband, Paolo Mancini, was known to be a rich, quick-tempered, immoral man, who had many enemies in the region of Cascia. Rita had her first child at the age of twelve.

Saint Rita's Sanctuary at Roccaporena, Italy.

Rita endured his insults, physical abuse and infidelities for many years. According to popular tales, through humility, kindness and patience, Rita was able to convert her husband into a better person, more specifically renouncing a family feud known at the time as La Vendetta. Rita eventually bore two sons, Giangiacomo (Giovanni) Antonio and Paulo Maria, and brought them up in the Christian faith which Rita closely followed. As time went by and the family feud between the Chiqui and Mancini families became more intense, Paolo Mancini became congenial, but his allies betrayed him and he was violently stabbed to death[2] by Guido Chiqui, a member of the feuding family.

Paolo Mancini's brother, Bernardo, was said to have been responsible for continuing the blood family feud in hopes of convincing Rita's sons to seek revenge. Rita gave a public pardon at Paolo's funeral to her husbands' murderers.[2] As her sons advanced in years (one now 16), their characters began to change as Bernardo became their tutor. Later on, Bernardo convinced Rita's sons to leave their manor and live at the Mancini villa and ancestral home. Rita's sons wished to revenge their father's murder. Rita, fearing that her sons would lose their souls, tried to persuade them from retaliating, but to no avail. Accordingly, she petitioned God to take her sons rather than submit them to possible mortal sin and murder. Her sons died of dysentery a year later, which pious Catholic beliefs claim was God's act to take them by natural death rather than risk them committing a mortal sin punishable by Hell.

After the deaths of her husband and sons, Rita desired to enter the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia but was turned away. Although the convent acknowledged Rita's good character and piety, the nuns were afraid of being associated with her due to the scandal of her husband's violent death. However, she persisted in her cause and was given a condition before the convent could accept her: the difficult task of reconciling her family with her husband's murderers, a public act that ideally nullified the conflict. She was able to resolve the conflicts between the families and, at the age of 36, was allowed to enter the monastery.[3] Popular religious tales recall that the bubonic plague which ravaged Italy at the time, infected Bernardo Mancini, causing him to relinquish his desire to feud any longer with the Chiqui family.

She implored her three patron saints (John the Baptist, Augustine of Hippo, and Nicholas of Tolentino) to assist her, and she set about the task of establishing peace between the hostile parties of Cascia with such success that her entry into the monastery was assured.[4] Pious Catholic legends later recount that she was transported into the monastery of Saint Magdalene via levitation at night into the garden courtyard by these three saints. She remained at the monastery, living by the Augustinian Rule, until her death on May 22, 1457.[5]

Saint Rita's tomb with her incorrupt body at the Basilica of Cascia.

Veneration[edit]

The "Acta" or life story of Saint Rita was compiled by the Augustinian priest, Father Jacob Carelicci.[6] Rita was beatified under the Pontificate of Pope Urban VIII in 1626.[7] The pope's own private personal secretary, Cardinal Fausto Poli, had been born some 15 kilometers (9 miles) from her birthplace and much of the impetus behind her cult is due to his enthusiasm. She was canonized on May 24, 1900[1] under the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII and her feast day was instituted on May 22.

She has acquired the reputation, together with St. Jude, as a saint of impossible cases. Many people visit her tomb each year.[7] French painter Yves Klein had been dedicated to her as an infant. In 1961, he created a Shrine of St. Rita, which is placed in Cascia Convent.[8]

Her body, which has remained incorrupt over the centuries, is venerated today in the shrine at Cascia, which bears her name.[5]

A popular religious depiction of Saint Rita during her partial Stigmata, though historically inaccurate, she is wearing a black Augustinian habit instead of the brown robe and white veil of Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene from the 13th century.

Iconography[edit]

Some criticism has addressed Rita's portrayal in an inaccurate religious habit. While most common images of Rita show her in a classic Augustinian traditional black habit, historical accuracy shows that the religious sisters in the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in 14th-century Cascia, Italy wore beige or brown habits, particularly with a white veil with a brown edge ribbon. This correction was particularly noted in the 2004 film Santa Rita da Cascia.

Various iconic religious symbols are attributed to Saint Rita, chief among them are the following:

  • Bleeding forehead
  • Holding a thorn, symbol of her penance and stigmata
  • Holding an enlarged Crucifix
  • Holding a Palm leaf with three crowns (representing her two sons and husband)
  • Flanked by two small children (her sons)
  • Holding a Gospel book
  • Holding a skull, symbol of mortality (Colonial iconography)
  • Holding a flagella whip, symbol of her mortification of the flesh

The forehead wound[edit]

One day when she was about 60 years of age, she was meditating before an image of Christ crucified, as she was accustomed to do. Suddenly a small wound appeared on her forehead, as though a thorn from the crown that encircled Christ’s head had loosened itself and penetrated her own flesh. For the next 15 years she bore this external sign of stigmatization and union with the Lord.

Roses[edit]

A story is told that near the end of her life, Rita was bedridden at the convent. A cousin visited her and asked her if she desired anything from her old home. Rita responded by asking for a rose from the garden. It was January and her cousin did not expect to find anything due to the weather. However, when her relative went to the house, a single blooming rose was found in the garden and her cousin brought the rose and fig back to Rita at the convent.[4] St. Rita is often depicted holding roses or with roses nearby. On her feast day, churches and shrines of St. Rita provide roses to the congregation that are blessed by the priest during Mass.

The Bees[edit]

A Tagalog novena to Saint Rita, published by the Catholic Trade Manila in 1981.

In the parish church of Laarne, near Ghent, Belgium, there is a statue of St. Rita in which several bees are featured. This depiction originates from the story of her baptism as an infant. On the day after her baptism, her family noticed a swarm of white bees flying around her as she slept in her crib. However, the bees peacefully entered and exited her mouth without causing her any harm or injury. Instead of being alarmed for her safety, her family was mystified by this sight. According to Butler, this was taken to indicate that the career of the child was to be marked by industry, virtue and devotion.[3]

Legacy[edit]

A large sanctuary of Saint Rita was built in the early 20th century in Cascia. The sanctuary and the house where she was born are among the most active pilgrimage sites of Umbria. Her intercession is also sought by abused women.

French singer Mireille Mathieu adopted St. Rita as her patron saint on the advice of her paternal grandmother. In her autobiography, Mathieu describes buying a candle for St. Rita using her last franc. Though Mathieu claims that her prayers did not always come true, they inspired her to become a strong and determined woman.[9]

The story of Rita became popular in the 2004 film "Santa Rita da Cascia", filmed in Florence, Italy and adhering both to the pious tales of Rita shot in a historical setting of 14th-century Italy.[10]

St. Rita is often credited as also being the unofficial patron saint of baseball due to a reference made to her in the 2002 film The Rookie.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]