Santa Rita de Cascia Can't Get No Respect

October 31, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I must confess that I had never heard of Saint Rita of Cascia until a recent trip to Seville, Spain. Around the corner from my hotel, I found a little park in a neighborhood of narrow, bumpy streets and many Catholic churches. A parish church with whitewashed walls was opposite the park.

On the church wall across from the park's fountain, I saw a striking portrait of a woman, in tones of brown and gold. Executed on ceramic tiles, it reminded me of Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch. I assumed at first that it was a rendering of the Virgin Mary. But upon a closer look, it turned out to be a portrait of Saint Rita of Cascia, identified as the "abogado de lo imposible." Normally, I would translate "abogado" as "lawyer," but in this case, perhaps a better choice would be "advocate." When I googled Saint Rita, I found that she was more commonly referred to as a patroness of the impossible. Her prayers on behalf of people with incurable diseases, it was said, led to many cures. 

There was no artist's signature. A kind of caption suggested that the piece was created in a ceramic factory named for Santa Ana, in the Triana quarter of the city. But there was no other information. A few feet below the icon was a slot in the wall, labeled "limosna," or charity. Two lamps, adorned with finely filigreed metal, lit the icon at night.

I found a little more information on Saint Rita in a biography published online in Argentina. She was born Margherita Lotti in 1381 in Roccaporena, Italy. As a girl, she wanted to be a nun, but he parents obliged her to marry a man named Mancini. She had two sons, Gingiacomo and Paulo. The biography rather cryptically suggests that she did not so much enjoy as withstand the act of procreation: "She suffered much at the side of her husband, but she shielded herself by means of prayer to God."

In any case, Saint Rita was evidently not given to sentiment regarding her family life. Her husband, it is said, converted to Catholicism, influenced by her example. (This suggests he was not a Catholic when he married her, which seems unlikely in medieval Italy, but this is the way the story goes.) Then, a few years later, he was murdered. The Mancini boys apparently were the "you don't mess with the Mancinis" sort, and they plotted vengeance.  Saint Rita found out about this. Rather than see them commit a serious crime and, worse, a sin, she prayed that God "would remove them from this life." Shortly thereafter, the sons died. I guess this showed that Saint Rita had a pretty direct channel of communication with the Almightly.

The deaths of her husband and sons freed Saint Rita to do what she had wanted to do as a child. She entered an Augustinian convent in Cascia, close to her home village. She spent the rest of her life praying for people with impossible problems and doing strict acts of penitence, the details of which I can only guess at. She died in 1457 and was canonized more than four centuries later. For some reason, devotion to her leapt the Tyrrhenian Sea between Italy and Spain, and she is revered in much of the Spanish-speaking world. 

Or, perhaps, it would be better to say that she was.

I cannot claim to have made a scientific survey, but I spent an hour photographing the interaction of passersby with the beautiful icon in their midst. There was one man on a motorcycle (at right) who put his hand on his chest as he passed, but the hand was not on his heart and he otherwise appeared not to notice Saint Rita. The majority of people who walked past seemed to feel inspired to check something on their phones. No one stopped. No one looked up. No one bowed a head or doffed a cap. No one slipped anything into the charity slot.

This was not really surprising. Spain is no longer the devout Catholic country is once was. Like those in much of Western Europe, its churches are often empty, even on Sundays. Modern Spaniards, particularly the young, are said to attend church mainly for weddings, baptisms, and funerals. 

The Spanish church indeed has some things to answer for. It was a pillar of the fascist regime of General Francisco Franco, who overthrew a democractically elected, socialist government in the 1930s and ruled Spain for nearly four decades. Some of its nuns, who ran its hospitals, dabbled in selling the infants of poor, leftist parents to well-to-do, conservative Catholics who could not conceive. So perhaps the church deserves its current low estate.

But I could not help but think that the icon of Saint Rita deserved better than indifference.



No comments posted.

January February (8) March (1) April May June July August September October (1) November December (3)
January (2) February March (1) April May June (1) July (1) August September October (1) November December
January (2) February (2) March April May June (1) July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August (1) September October November December
January February March April May June July August (1) September October (1) November (4) December