Sunday, March 9, 2008
SANTA FRANCESCA ROMANA: SAINT FRANCES OF ROME
Many believers and non–believers are devoted to Francesca of Rome. They celebrate her feast day just a day after the International Day of the Woman – March 9th.
She was a beauty and a rich heiress. Her father, who had Patria Potesta, literally meaning power of life and death from ancient Roman law arranged for her to be married to the son of one of his business associates. Francesca was twelve. She did not like it but she obeyed. Three children came in quick succession. Two died just as rapidly. In her grief and in her pain she prayed for something to do, which would give meaning to her life.
“I am not interested in all these balls, outings and endless romances with cavaliers and courtiers.”
Her prayers were answered. She was thankful that God had granted her what she had prayed for. She paid no mind to the expression that answered prayers could prove to be a burden.
Francesca persuaded some of her friends bored with the Renaissance high life of endless parties and fornicating, to give up their frivolous and worldly existence to care for the poor and the sick of Rome. Then as now, sexually transmitted diseases abounded. Children with syphilitic ulcers and sores roamed the streets. Francesca knew that these children had been abused by their families, other relatives, or by prelates.
It was rare to find an abandoned child who had not been sexually assaulted by travelers or pilgrims. Rome was a city of 30,000 people and 100,000 male and female prostitutes and transvestites.
Francesca opened the first Emergency Room in modern history. She and her women became the Benedictine Oblate Congregation in a slum of Rome called Tor di Specchi. Bordellos could be found chocka-block, hence the name Tor di Specchi. Towers of Mirrors.
After her husband’s death she moved from his Palazzo into the convent. The nuns elected her Prioress. All of the nuns had knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants, herbs, trees and insects. Their wealthy doctors with mercury and silver usually treated the rich afflicted with syphilis and gonorrhea. Some survived until their forties.
Alas! The children in the care of the Oblates did not last a year. Tuberculosis was ever present as was leprosy. All Francesca and her nuns could do was wash them, feed them, make them comfortable and see that they did not suffer needlessly.
The work was hard and unceasing yet young socialites kept coming to Francesca’s convent to work as volunteers and to join her Order of Oblates.
When Francesca died on the 9th of March 1440, snow was falling, yet the many rose bushes she had planted were blooming. She was buried near the Roman Forum, not far from the Senate where Julius Caesar’s assassination took place. The church, which housed her remains, was then known as Santa Maria Nova. Today the church is called Santa Francesca Romana.
On her feast day, the 9th of March, the Oblate nuns hold an open house. They open the doors of their convent to the public for three days. They can visit the Saint’s room and the main hall, which served as the ER. This great hall is now decked with astounding frescoes depicting Francesca’s life as a workingwoman and a healer. In 1480, just think, twelve years before Columbus sailed to the Americas, the Renaissance painter Antonuzzo Romano was commissioned by the wealthy and noble families of Rome to do the frescoes in memory of Francesca. The Oblate Sisters accepted only on condition that they showed Francesca as she really was.
“Cara Santa Francesca, pray for us women and for our children. Amen.”
For more information about St. Frances of Rome, I recommend: http://www.umilta.net/francesca.html