Fresco of Fina painted by Benozzo Gozzoli
San Gimignano, Italy
|Died||12 March [O.S. 5 March] 1253|
San Gimignano, Italy
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Feast||March 12 and 1st Sunday of August|
|Attributes||Violets, depicted with Saint Gregory the Great, or lying on her wooden board|
|Patronage||physically challenged people, spinners|
Finadei Ciardi was born in San Gimignano in 1238. The Daughter of Cambio Ciardi and Imperiera, a declined noble family, she lived all her existence in a humble house located in the historic centre of the famous “city of beautiful towers” (today the small road on which her house stands takes her name). There is little record of the first ten years of her life, and what information available comes from legends narrated after her death. Some accounts note Fina's strong devotion to the Virgin Mary, and that she went out only to hear Mass. She was also said to be extraordinary kind.
In 1248, Fina’s life was changed by a serious illness, which began, progressively, to paralyse her (probably a form of tuberculous osteomyelitis). Her deep faith relieved her pain. She refused a bed and chose instead to lie on a wooden pallet. According to her legend, during her long sickness her body became attached to the wood of the table, with worms and rats feeding on her rotting flesh. During her illness, she lost her father and later her mother died after a fall. In spite of her misfortune and poverty, she thanked God and expressed a desire that her soul might separate from the body in order to meet Jesus Christ.
Fina's immense devotion was an example to all the citizens of San Gimignano, who frequently visited her. Visitors were surprised to receive words of encouragement from a desperately ill young girl who was resigned to the will of God. On March 4, 1253, after five years of sickness and pain, her nurses Beldia and Bonaventura were waiting for her to die. Suddenly, Saint Gregory the Great allegedly appeared in Fina’s room and predicted that she would die on the 12th of March. Fina died on the predicted date at the age of 15.
Miracles and veneration
Miracles attributed to Fina are mentioned in stories, paintings, poems and in notary documents. The most important miracle of Fina's life is her vision of Saint Gregory, also because she died on Saint Gregory's feast day (12 March) as he predicted.
When Fina’s body was removed from the pallet that was her deathbed, onlookers saw white violets bloom from the wood, and smelt a fresh, floral fragrance throughout her house. The violets grew on the walls of San Gimignano and still grow there today. For this reason, the townspeople call them “The Saint Fina violets”. The young girl’s body was brought to the Pieve Prepositura and during the transfer, the crowd proclaimed “The Saint is dead!”.
For several days, pilgrims went to the Pieve to see Fina’s remains and in the same period there were many evidences of her curative power. One was her nurse Beldia. The woman had a paralysed hand for the labour in supporting Fina’s head during her sickness. While she was near the body, the dead young girl cured Beldia’s hand. Legends say that, at the exact moment of Fina’s passing away, all the bells of San Gimignano rang without anyone touching them.
Many sick people who visited her grave during the following years were cured and some of these became some of Fina's most fervent devotees. The decision of Fina to lie down on a wood table is still a mystery. Some documents tell about her sympathy for a soldier: before her sickness she received an orange from him as a love token. After the disappointment of her parents for Fina having accepted the present she might have chosen the pain.
Another legend tells that during a walk with two of her friends she heard another young girl, Smeralda, crying. Smeralda had broken a pitcher that her mother had given her in order to fill with water from Fonti. While she was entertained by other children, she forgot the pitcher on the ground which unfortunately rolled down and broke. Fina told her to arrange the pieces and put them under the water: the pitcher became whole and full of water.
Another anecdote about Fina’s miracles is the one of Cambio di Rustico, the Ciardi family’s neighbor. On one anniversary of Fina's death, when the townsfolk had stopped working to remember her, Cambio went to cut wood and hurt his leg. Suffering, he asked forgiveness of Saint Fina and was very sorry for not having respected her memorial. His cut then miraculously disappeared.
Saint Fina is celebrated in San Gimignano on two separated days. Her first feast is on March 12 – the anniversary of her death – which has been a statutory holiday in the town since 1481. The second feast on the first Sunday of August commemorates her stopping two plagues that ravaged the town in 1479 and 1631.
On both days, her relics are carried in procession in order to bless the town. Her example of devotion has been handed down by the people of San Gimignano through her veneration, despite not being formally canonised by the Church. So, as written in some paintings dedicated to her, it would be correct to call her Blessed Fina. In fact, the official patron saint of her town is still Saint Gimignano.
The most important thing “produced” in the memory of Saint Fina is the “spedale” (hospital), which took her name and was built in 1255 thanks to donations given at her tomb. The hospital gave hospitality to old and poor people and pilgrims too. It became in the following century one of the best in Tuscany. The building changed its name[specify] in 1816 and remained in function until the end of the 20th century. In the hospital’s chapel, the original oak wood table where Saint Fina lay down for five years is preserved.
Iconography and biographies
The most important monument dedicated to Saint Fina is her chapel (designed by Giuliano da Maiano in 1468 and consecrated in 1488) located inside the Collegiata di San Gimignano where, inside the altar (built by the brother Benedetto da Maiano), the bones are kept. On the left and right walls of the Chapel there are two frescoes painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio: one shows the vision of Saint Gregory; the other shows the funeral where the violets in blossom on the towers are represented. We also see an angel ringing the bells, Beldia’s cured hand and the self-portrait of the painter and his brother-in-law Mainardi, who painted the Chapel’s ceiling. On the altar there is a bust with Saint Fina’s relics inside.
Inside the Civic Museum of San Gimignano there is a wood tabernacle (by Lorenzo di Niccolò 1402) depicting Saint Fina with the town on her lap, an icon of St Gregory and some of her anecdotes. Another image of Fina is in the nearby Sant'Agostino Church, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli. Other artists depicting the Saint’s life were Piero del Pollaiolo and Pier Francesco Fiorentino. In others small churches in the countryside other painting about Saint Fina were discovered.
The most credited hagiography of Saint Fina is the one of Fra’ Giovanni del Coppo (“Historia vita et morte di Sancta Fina da San Gimignano”, written on 14th century and translated from Latin by Jacopo Manducci in 1575), who lived closest in time to Saint Fina. Many others have tried to tell Saint Fina’s life (Enrico Castaldi, Giovanni Bollando, Filippo Buonaccorsi, Teodoro Ferroni, Ignazio Malenotti, Luigi Pecori, Ugo Nomi Veronesi Pesciolini, and Enrico Fiumi).
The best and most updated book is “Fina dei Ciardi”, written by Profesoressa Iole Imberciadori Vichi in 1979: a deep research of all documents and biography existing in San Gimignano archives.
Iole Vichi Imberciadori – Fina dei Ciardi (1979)
- ^ Likely a diminutive of Serafina; possibly of Iosefina.
- ^ Today is the Collegiata of San Gimignano (the main church).
- ^ The public natural springs in S. Gimignano.
- ^ Bishop of Modena, died in 387. In legend, saved the citizens of the little town from the onslaughts of the Barbarian hordes in the 6th century.
- ^ The old Italian name was “Lo spedale”, the modern name is “L’ ospedale”.