Friday, 9 March 2007

Santa Francesca Romana

Today is one of my favourite Lenten feasts - St Frances of Rome (1384-1440). When I was a seminarist in Rome, I would often skip the boring Greg lectures and go with some friends to the magnificent Tor de'Specchi convent, almost opposite the Ara Coeli. This was normally inaccessible but on 9 March it was open all day and crowds of Romans and seminarists would crowd into the monastery. There were many opportunities to honour the saint as you visited her rooms (littered with relics), the chapel with fifteenth century frescoes, the conventual chapel (where a succession of Masses would be celebrated, including one by a Cardinal), the cloister, even the entrance (where pilgrims could help themselves to leaves from a tree which the saint planted).

The saint, like St Bridget of Sweden, was both a married woman (with two sons and a daughter) and founder of a community of women (the Oblates of the Tor de'Specchi - which still exists, though they never founded many houses and it's not strictly speaking a religious order). She suffered many trials - not least of which were the sufferings of her family due to the unstable political conditions of Rome at the time (Lorenzo was severely injured in one street battle and her son, Giovanni Battista, was taken hostage). She also had to cope with the deaths of another son, Evangelist, from the plague when he was just nine years old, and her daughter, Agnes. Yet St Frances became known for her works of charity, her efforts to promote peace in war-torn Rome and her many miracles, which she attributed to the constant presence of her Guardian Angel (visible to her alone) at her side, which became her iconographic symbol. When she committed a sin the angel would hide himself until she made an act of contrition.

Her miracles and supernatural gifts are celebrated in a series of fine frescoes at the Tor de'Speechi. For example, a globe could often be seen above her head after the reception of Holy Communion, a sign of the Real Presence:

One January, as she and her religious sisters were pruning the vines, they became so thirsty that the saint miraculously made a vine bear nine ripe bunches of grapes:

During a famine, having given all her grain to the poor, she found the granary miraculously full of good quality grain:

And rather like the early Desert Fathers, she had many battles with demons:

St Frances, along with St Philip Neri, is one of the great Roman patrons of recent times (well, recent compared to the time of the Apostles), and altars can be found dedicated to her throughout the Eternal City. The Oblates still make the oil of St Frances, a powerful sacramental for use with the sick:

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Blogger Hebdomadary said...

I'm glad you linked her with St. Philip. His rooms in the Chiesa Nuova are regularly open to the public, and the room in a family home in Rome, where he miraculously raised a young man from the dead is open once a year as well.

11:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Father for a lovely posting on this Saint about whom I knew nothing until a sermon this morning at Mass. I will pray to her for you today.

11:40 am  
Anonymous Christopher said...

Thanks for that Father! Saint Frances is the patron saint of our parish church and people are always asking about her. One controversy is whether her body is housed in Trastevere or somewhere off the forum (I don't remember the names of the churches, sorry!)... Do you know, by any chance?

12:23 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Hebdomadary - yes, the miracle of St Philip at Palazzo Massimo was another unofficial day-off for me when I was a student. I will do a post on that sometime.

Christopher - the saint is buried at Santa Francesco Romana near the Forum, her skeleton being visible under the High Altar. I think they were moved to this church in 1638.

1:41 pm  
Blogger Quo Vadis said...

Thanks for the post Father.

It is always good to read your blogs. Does make me want to be in Rome again though.

My mother will be going soon for the first time and making a list for her is a terrible task. There is so much!

Thanks for the reminder.

4:37 pm  

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