Sunday, March 9, 2008


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:

1 comment:

  1. Just a peccadillishly (is that a word? Or my newly coined Italo-English word of which Shakespeare would approve?) pedantic note on how "Some (of the infected rich) survived into their forties":

    Actually, although the statistical life expectancy in circa 1400 was something like 25 or 30, the NATURAL life SPAN was considered to be the same as today: somewhere between 70 and 100. 70 was considered to be the conservatively LOW margin of an age of venerability.

    In those centuries - of Dante, and Chaucer, etc - a natural life span and personal maturity was equated with the seasons (and astrological signs):

    Birth to age 6: From the solstice (around late December) until midwinter; Capricorn time, the symbolic time of Christ's birth.

    6-12: Aquarius time, midwinter.

    12-18, Pisces time, the margin of Spring.

    Age 18: Aries time, the Spring equinox. In years 1100 to 1600 or so, a man of 18-24 was still considered to be an adolescent (even if he was engaged in combat - and is that much different from how
    America sent men of that age to war without allowing them to vote? Personally I think the voting age should be raised to at least 24, and should include literacy tests - which GW Bush would fail...)

    Age 24-30: Taurus time, mid-spring. In the time of St Frances, circa 1400, a man was not considered to be truly "adult" until around age 25 - and that included combat veterans, and I think they were right about that.

    30-36: Gemini, when some kind of genuine erudition begins to express itself.

    36-42: Cancer, early summer, when the Sun is highest. Dante's "Divine Comedy" took place "Midway through life's journey" SUPPOSEDLY when he was 35; I think he really meant 36. Close enough. Jesus Christ (who was born in 5 BC) was 38 when he died; Muhammed was 40 when his mission began, and so was The Buddha.

    42-48: Leo time, midsummer. (That's where I'm at now, chronologically anyway.) The time
    of transition from warriorship (the spirits of youth ruled by Mars and/or Venus) to Leadership (the Sun, and/or Moon). Muhammed's transition from inspired prophet to Wordly Leader was in those years.

    48-54: Virgo time, late summer, a time to nurture and defend what has been planted.

    54-60: Libra time, a time of balance between the vitality of youth versus the coming descent into loss of temporal powers. Most of the world's heads of state bcome heads of state at around that time of life.

    60-66: Scorpio time, a paradoxically erotic time of the harvest - and one's duty then is to ensure that the harvest is distributed wisely. Churchill was age 64 when he saved Western Civilisation in May 1940.

    66-72: Sagittarius time, when the
    ammunition of "arrows" you have accumulated can begin to be tossed outwards - far away, all across the world - so that the seeds (the good ones) of your live can begin to take root in whatever good soil they might fall upon.

    Age 72 and after: Capricorn time again, when an old man or woman begins to think of his/her own rebirth, and begins to think and to act like a newborn child once again.

    Of course, those "ages" are all a BIT flexible, and not everyone ages in the same way or at the same rates. But that's the basic pattern, which was known to the Medievals and the Ancients.

    And as for statistical "life-expectancy", has it really changed much? Today, MOST babies born in today's world don't have much STATISTICAL chance of living to age 70 - or if they do, then very few of them ever get the chance to show the world what God intended to incarnate in them. (And this is not even to mention the millions - or billions? - of aborted children.)

    MOST children born in the world today, don't have much chance of living out their natural life-span - and even less chance of living the kinds of lives which God intended them to live, as free, creative, dignified, brothers and sisters of Christ.

    So, it seems to me, that not much has changed in the World AS A WHOLE, since the time of St Frances. But then I think, God's retort to that dilemma, is: "Yes,
    nothing has REALLY changed in the past 600 years - or in the past 2000 years - because the only change that will ever endure, is the change that I and my two brothers - I and the Holy Spirit and our Son, the Christ - made on Good Friday in year 33."

    In that sense, Isabel, I think that on the ONE hand your article about St Frances is NOT calling for any kind of revolutionary "change" - but on the other hand, yes your article is very "revolutionary" indeed, because it is a continuation of the one and only "revolution" that will ever endure.

    So there you go. And I hope, maybe you like my newly coined word
    (like Shakespeare often coined new words)" "peccadillishly?" :-) Heh, in a funny way, doesn't that word sound very ENGLISH after all?
    ("Non Angli, sed Angeli!" Those words about my race - spoken by the Pope when my People were Barbarians - tell a lot about the peculiar role my English people have played - and will continue to play - in God's plan. But now I've had just one too many pints of
    John Smith's beer (made in my provenance of Yorkshire), so I'll close on that note, "lower than the Angels." :-)


Isabel Van Fechtmann

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