In November, I discovered Santa Francesca Romana (St. Frances of Rome), and wrote a lengthy post about her. Today is her feast day, so why not repost? (I added one photo and updated the text)/
My eight-year-old was maybe thinking about how he's going to be picked up to go to a slumber party this afternoon, just before rush hour, and so he asked me: "Who is the patron saint of traffic?"
I was (and am) sitting at the computer, having my coffee, so I googled it. Didn't find the patron saint of traffic, but I did find the patron saint of automobiles and driving, Saint Frances of Rome.
Turns out she is pretty interesting and cool, and would be a fine saint to recommend to your daughters.
Saint Frances of Rome, Obl.S.B., (Italian: Santa Francesca Romana) (1384 – March 9, 1440) is an Italian saint who was a wife, mother, mystic, organizer of charitable services and a Benedictine oblate who founded a religious community of vowed oblates.
I'm a sucker for any saint who was a wife and mother. It's not that virgin martyrs aren't cool, too, but at this point I have some difficulty relating to them. Also the wives and mothers stand out because there seem to be so few of them among the famous saints.
Frances was born in 1384 in Rome to a wealthy and aristocratic couple...When she was eleven years old, she wanted to be a nun, but, at about the age of twelve, her parents forced her to marry ...Although the marriage had been arranged, it was a happy one, lasting for forty years, partly because Lorenzo admired his wife, and partly because he was frequently away at war.
I'm also a sucker for arranged marriages that turn out to be happy. Unlike the virgin martyrs, I can relate to that. All true marriages are arranged marriages, because our younger selves set them up for the older men and women we will become.
Frances experienced many sorrows in the course of her marriage with Lorenzo. They lost two children to the plague. In their case, it sensitized them to the needs of the poor....During the wars between the pope in Rome and various anti-popes in the Great Schism of the Catholic Church, Lorenzo served the former. However, in his absence during a period of forced exile, much of his own property and possessions were destroyed.
Political intrigue and infighting within the Church: you think it's bad now, how do you think it was in the early 1400s?
Here's a miracle story with some provoking subtexts. (Wondering about the term "superstitious" used here? It's from Wikipedia.)
According to one legend, their son, Battista, was to be delivered as a hostage to the commander of the Neapolitan troops. Obeying this order on the command of her spiritual director, Frances brought the boy to the Campidoglio. On the way, she stopped in the Church of the Aracoeli located there and entrusted the life of her son to the Blessed Mother. When they arrived at the appointed site, the soldiers went to put her son on a horse to transport him off to captivity. The horse, however, refused to move, despite heavy whipping. The superstitious soldiers saw the hand of God in this and returned the boy to his mother.
There's more of those back at the article. Moving on,
Although a mystic, Frances was not oblivious to the civil chaos which ruled the city ...With her sister, Vannozza, as a companion, Frances prayed, visited the poor and took care of the sick, inspiring other wealthy women of the city to do the same. She turned part of the family's country estate into a hospital.
On 15 August 1425, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, she founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary, a confraternity of pious women, attached to the Church of Santa Maria Nova in Rome, but neither cloistered nor bound by formal vows, so they could follow her pattern of combining a life of prayer with answering the needs of their society.
Okay, now there's something I'm really a sucker for: finding some way to blend life in the world with the devout life. Sounds like she and St. Francis de Sales would really have gotten along well.
Eventually the group of oblates got more organized and even obtained a monastery-like community house that is still active. Here's a picture from the outside:
Such community life, complete with white veils and black habits, seems kind of unusual for people calling themselves Oblates:
In March 1433, she founded a monastery at Tor de' Specchi, near the Campidoglio, in order to allow for a common life by those members of the confraternity who felt so called. This monastery remains the only house of the Institute.
On 4 July of that same year, they received the approval of Pope Eugene IV as a religious congregation of oblates with private vows, under the authority of the Olivetan monks who serve at Santa Maria Nova. The community thus became known as the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. When her husband died in 1436, she moved into the monastery and became the group's President. She died in 1440 and was buried in that church.
According to this site run by Benedictine Oblates attached to St. Scholastica up in Duluth, "Some consider St. Francis of Rome to be a patron saint of all Benedictine Oblates." Her feast day is March 9.
This site has some photographs of the frescoes in Rome's Tor de'Specchi depicting Santa Francesca's life. Here is one that shows the saint pouring out grain for the poor. The writer of the site points out the lovely detail of the last of the grains spilling out, white "against her dark habit."
From that site:
Santa Francesca Romana's Tor de' Specchi is very strictly cloistered, only opened to the public on two days of the year. 'We are not a museum', they sternly and rightly said. But their work of charity continues, their cloister filled not only with themselves but the elderly poor and poor young students with whom they share their wealth. As Oblates they ask for no privileges from the Church, they pay all taxes, and hence are loved down the centuries, theirs the only convent not subject to attack by angry mobs. They continue Benedict's Rule of work, study, and above all, prayer. Their faces today have the same contemplative beauty that is seen in these frescoes.
She was canonized in 1608 even though nobody knew where her body was buried because it had been hidden to protect it. A search ensued, and her body was eventually found -- I would like to know more about that particular mystery! -- and reburied later. Since 1869, when she was exhumed again, her body has been displayed in a glass coffin in the Church of Santa Francesca (was: Santa Maria Nova).
So after all that, why is she the patron saint of automobiles and driving, and presumably of traffic? What could have led to this situation, in which every March 9, Rome gets a little more congested as cars drive past the Church of Santa Francesca to the nearby Piazzale del Colosseo to get a special blessing?
(this is from 1952. Source)
In 1925 Pope Pius XI declared her the patron saint of automobile drivers because of a legend that an angel used to light the road before her with a lantern when she traveled, keeping her safe from hazards.
Because the Pope said so, capisce? Nevertheless, I bet you won't forget Santa Francesca the next time you are stuck in traffic, fuming about the chaos in the city, the car in front of you no faster than a stubborn horse. And remember: however bad the traffic is here, it's probably worse in Rome.