St. Rita of Cascia (Born Margherita Lotti 1381 – May 22, 1457) was an Italian widow, and Augustinian nun. She is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. St. Rita of Cascia was married at an early age. The marriage lasted for eighteen years, during which she is remembered for her Christian values as a model wife and mother who made efforts to convert her husband from his abusive behavior. Upon the murder of her husband by another feuding family, she sought to dissuade her sons from revenge.
St. Rita of Cascia subsequently joined an Augustinian community of religious sisters, where she was known both for practicing mortification of the flesh and for the efficacy of her prayers. Various miracles are attributed to St. Rita of Cascia intercession, and she is often portrayed with a bleeding wound on her forehead, which is understood to indicate a partial stigmata.
Pope Leo XIII canonized Rita on May 24, 1900. Her feast day is celebrated May 22. At her canonization ceremony, she was bestowed the title of Patroness of Impossible Causes, while in many Catholic countries, Rita came to be known to be as the patroness of abused wives and heartbroken women.
St. Rita of Cascia was born Margherita Lotti in 1381 in the city of Roccaporena (near Spoleto, Umbria, Italy) where various sites connected with her are the focus of pilgrimages. Her parents, Antonio and Amata Ferri Lotti, were known to be noble, charitable persons, who gained the epithet Conciliatore di Cristo (English: Peacemakers of Christ). According to pious accounts, Rita was originally pursued by a notary named Gubbio but she resisted his offer. She was married at age twelve to a nobleman named Paolo Mancini. Her parents arranged her marriage, a common practice at the time, despite her repeated requests to be allowed to enter a convent of religious sisters. Her husband, Paolo Mancini, was known to be a rich, quick-tempered, immoral man, who had many enemies in the region of Cascia. Rita had her first child at the age of twelve.
St. Rita of Cascia endured his insults, physical abuse, and infidelities for many years. According to popular tales, through humility, kindness, and patience, Rita was able to convert her husband into a better person, more specifically renouncing a family feud known at the time as La Vendetta. Rita eventually bore two sons, Giangiacomo (Giovanni) Antonio and Paulo Maria, and brought them up in the Christian faith. As time went by and the family feud between the Chiqui and Mancini families became more intense, Paolo Mancini became congenial, but his allies betrayed him and he was violently stabbed to death by Guido Chiqui, a member of the feuding family.
Rita gave a public pardon at Paolo’s funeral to her husbands’ murderers. Paolo Mancini’s brother, Bernardo, was said to have continued the blood family feud and hoped to convince Rita’s sons to seek revenge. Bernardo convinced Rita’s sons to leave their manor and live at the Mancini villa ancestral home. As her sons grew, their characters began to change as Bernardo became their tutor. Rita’s sons wished to revenge their father’s murder. Rita, fearing that her sons would lose their souls, tried to persuade them from retaliating, but to no avail. Accordingly, she petitioned God to take her sons rather than submit them to possible mortal sin and murder. Her sons died of dysentery a year later, which pious Catholics believe claim was God’s answer to take her prayer, taking them by natural death rather than risk them committing a mortal sin punishable by Hell.
After the deaths of her husband and sons, Rita desired to enter the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia but was turned away. Although the convent acknowledged Rita’s good character and piety, the nuns were afraid of being associated with her due to the scandal of her husband’s violent death. However, she persisted in her cause and was given a condition before the convent could accept her: the task of reconciling her family with her husband’s murderers. She implored her three patron saints (John the Baptist, Augustine of Hippo, and Nicholas of Tolentino) to assist her, and she set about the task of establishing peace between the hostile parties of Cascia. Popular religious tales recall that the bubonic plague, which ravaged Italy at the time, infected Bernardo Mancini, causing him to relinquish his desire to feud any longer with the Chiqui family. She was able to resolve the conflicts between the families and, at the age of thirty-six, was allowed to enter the monastery.
Pious Catholic legends later recount that she was transported into the monastery of Saint Magdalene via levitation at night into the garden courtyard by her three patron saints. She remained at the monastery, living by the Augustinian Rule, until her death from tuberculosis on May 22, 1457.
The “Acta” or life story of Saint Rita was compiled by the Augustinian priest, Father Jacob Carelicci. Rita was beatified by Pope Urban VIII in 1626. The pope’s private secretary, Cardinal Fausto Poli, had been born some fifteen kilometers (nine miles) from her birthplace and much of the impetus behind her cult is due to his enthusiasm. She was canonized on May 24, 1900 by Pope Leo XIII. Her feast day is May 22. On the 100th anniversary of her canonization in 2000, Pope John Paul II noted her remarkable qualities as a Christian woman: “Rita interpreted well the ‘feminine genius’ by living it intensely in both physical and spiritual motherhood.”
She has acquired the reputation, together with St. Jude, as a saint of impossible cases. She is also the patron saint of sterility, abuse victims, loneliness, marriage difficulties, parenthood, widows, the sick, bodily ills and wounds.
Her body, which has remained incorrupt over the centuries, is venerated today in the shrine at Cascia, which bears her name. Many people visit her tomb each year. French painter Yves Klein had been dedicated to her as an infant. In 1961, he created a Shrine of St. Rita, which is placed in Cascia Convent.
Various religious symbols are related to Saint Rita. She is depicted: holding a thorn, symbol of her penance and stigmata; holding a large Crucifix; holding a Palm leaf with three crowns (representing her two sons and husband); flanked by two small children (her sons); holding a Gospel book; holding a skull, symbol of mortality; and holding a flagella whip, symbol of her mortification of the flesh.
When St. Rita was approximately sixty years of age, she was meditating before an image of Christ crucified. Suddenly, a small wound appeared on her forehead, as though a thorn from the crown that encircled Christ’s head had loosened itself and penetrated her own flesh. For the next fifteen years she bore this external sign of stigmatization and union with Christ.
It is said that near the end of her life, St. Rita of Cascia was bedridden at the convent. While visiting her, a cousin asked if she desired anything from her old home. Rita responded by asking for a rose from the garden. It was January, and her cousin did not expect to find one due to the season. However, when her relative went to the house, a single blooming rose was found in the garden, and her cousin brought it back to Rita at the convent. St. Rita is often depicted holding roses or with roses nearby. On her feast day, churches and shrines of St. Rita provide roses to the congregation that are blessed by the priest during Mass.
In the parish church of Laarne, near Ghent, Belgium, there is a statue of St. Rita of Cascia in which several bees are featured. This depiction originates from the story of her baptism as an infant. On the day after her baptism, her family noticed a swarm of white bees flying around her as she slept in her crib. However, the bees peacefully entered and exited her mouth without causing her any harm or injury. Instead of being alarmed for her safety, her family was mystified by this sight. According to Butler, this was taken to indicate that the career of the child was to be marked by industry, virtue, and devotion.