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The saint who loved roses

A popular, early modern portrait of St Rita

Saint Rita of Cascia was an Italian Augustinian nun. Born as Margherita in 1381 in the city of Roccaporena, she was married at the age of 12 to a nobleman called Paolo Mancini. The marriage was arranged despite Rita’s protestations that she wanted to become a nun. Her husband was known to be bad tempered and immoral and made many enemies in the town of Cascia, in Perugia.

Although her husband treated Rita very badly she managed to convert him into a better person and persuaded him to renounce a family feud known as La Vendetta. Rita bore two sons Giangiacomo Antonio and Paulo Maria. Her husband was eventually stabbed to death by rival family members, but Rita gave a public pardon to her husband’s killers at his funeral.

Rita knew however that her sons planned to avenge their father by murdering his killer. Therefore she prayed that the Lord would take them by other means, rather than them dying in a state of mortal sin. Her sons died a year later of dysentery.

She later entered the monastery of St Mary Magdalene in Cascia and was accepted only on the condition she officially reconciled her family with her husband’s murderers. She implored her three patron saints, John the Baptist, Augustine of Hippo and Nicholas of Tolentino, for help and the feud eventually ended. She remained at the monastery until her death on May 22, 1457.

Rita was beatified by Pope Urban VIII in 1626. St Rita’s Cause was championed by the Pope’s personal secretary, Cardinal Fausto Poli, who was born only nine miles from her birthplace. She was canonised on May 24 during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII.
Along with St Jude, she is known as the patron saint of impossible cases. Her intercession is also sought by abused women, and her body is still venerated today at her shrine in Cascia.

St Rita is also associated with roses and is often pictured holding them. According to a story about the end of her life, when she was bedridden in a convent a cousin visited her and asked if she would like anything. She said she would like a rose from the garden and although it was January, her cousin discovered one single blooming rose. Her cousin brought it back to Rita.