Saint Rosalia of Palermo, Virgin

September 4

Today is the feast day of Saint Rosalia of Palermo.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Rosalia, born in 1130 at Palermo in Sicily, was the daughter of a noble family descended from Charlemagne. (2) The Holy Legend of Saint Rosalia suggests that she was born in Palermo at the court of Roger II, king of Sicily. Her father was Sinibald, Lord of Roses and Quisquina. In her youth, she was drawn to the Lord, and committed herself to him wholly, desiring to live in perfect union and remain chaste. (3)

Saint Rosalia is also called La Santuzza or “The Little Saint,” Virgin of the Church. Rosalia is the patroness of Palermo, Italy, and her feast is celebrated twice each year by the citizens of that city to this day. Saint Rosalia is credited with delivering Italy from the plague, and also in interceding in innumerable miraculous cures. She committed her life in service to the Lord, and through her sacrifice, mortification, and penance, lived a holy life and brought many blessings to those she encountered. (3)

At the young age of just fourteen, Rosalia took her crucifix, her discipline, and a few books and left her father’s castle by night. Two angels, one armed like a knight, the other disguised as a pilgrim, escorted her to the summit of Mount Quisquina. There they left her at the entrance of a grotto hidden among the trees, buried under the snow. In this secluded grotto was a cave, and upon the walls of her cave, Rosalia wrote: “I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.” She remained there entirely hidden from the world.  (3)

There, during sixteen years’ time, she completed the sacrifice of her heart to God by austere penance and manual labor, sanctified by assiduous prayer and the constant union of her soul with God.  (2)

After several months of contemplative seclusion, angels returned to warn Rosalia that her parents were searching for her. Seeking to avoid detection, she fled to the top of Mount Pellegrino, from which she could view her parents’ home. There, she lived a life of penance and mortification, praying daily, and being nourished only by the Eucharist, for the remainder of her life. Saint Rosalia died in her thirties, and her body—which her parents never stopped searching for—was not found until the 17th century.

In 1625, during the outbreak of the Black Plague, a hermit had a vision of Saint Rosalia, who instructed him to search for her remains. A group of monks, led by the hermit, did as she requested and found the cave on Mount Pellegrino where she had died. Discovered, sheathed in rock crystal, the relics of Saint Rosalia are treasured and numerous miracles have been attributed to their presence. Her remains were paraded through the streets, and the plague ended shortly thereafter. Saint Rosalia was credited with ending the suffering of the plague, and her feast days was raised to the rank of a holy day of obligation by Pope Pius XI in 1927, for local observance.  (3)

Palermo’s enthusiasm for Santa Rosalia has not ceased. Both of her hermit caves have been turned into devotional chapels. Her relics themselves repose in the Chapel of Saint Rosalia in the Palermo cathedral. Her sarcophagus, made of pure silver, weighs over 1400 pounds and is only exposed to public view on three liturgical occasions during the year.

Image: Santa Rosalia, depicted on the right, before St. Mary by Anthony van Dyck (4)

Research by REGINA Staff


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