ST. ROSE of VITERBO:
Teenage Revolutionary Saint
It is interesting to note that the list of Franciscan saints includes quite a few who really did not accomplish anything quite extraordinary. So have hope because you too can be a saint even if you’re only what you consider ordinary and if you’re only in your teens.
St. Rose of Viterbo, Italy was such a saint and a revolutionary one at that.
Vision of the Virgin Mary
When only eight years old Rose, daughter of poor and pious parents, became very seriously ill. One night she had a vision of the Virgin Mary who told her to wear the clothes of a Franciscan but to remain at her parents’ home so that she could continue to be a good example to her neighbors by both word and deed. In the meantime she kept on thinking about how much the Lord suffered for us and how much thoughtless sinners were unappreciative and ungrateful for it.
Rose, who even as a child of seven years was already practicing penitential austerities and living as a recluse, when she recovered she did exactly as the vision bade her to do. First she donned the habit of a lay penitent and began a life of penance while living at home. She also prayed a lot and did all she could to aid the poor. She was as generous to them as she was strict with herself.
It was when she reached ten years of age that Rose joined the Third Order of St. Francis. Young as she was she would daily preach in the streets of Viterbo about sin, the sufferings of Jesus and public penance.
But it was not enough for Rose to be just an inspiring example of a saintly life. Political controversy also inspired her.
So when Emperor Frederick II of Germany, who was just excommunicated for the second time, decided to wage war against the pope and the papal states he sent his forces to occupy the town of Viterbo, Rose’s native city. Because Rose as a child had a vision of Our Lord telling her to fight without ceasing for God and the people to remain faithful to the Pope and Church she went out into the streets denouncing her fellow townspeople as cowards for putting up with the presence of Frederick’s troops. At this time Rose was only twelve years old.
The spirited young girl took the pope’s side against the emperor and exhorted her fellow citizens to remain faithful to him. But when she started preaching revolution accompanied by remarkable miracles this caused great tension and alarm not only for her own family but for the other villagers. They feared that she was a serious threat needlessly antagonizing the soldiers. So as the crowds gathered around the home of Rose – some out of just sheer curiosity – the situation increasingly grew tense.
This situation continued for several years until some people felt that she should be condemned to death for putting them at needless risk. Unsurprisingly to settle the matter the imperial prefect banished her family and her from the city to Soriano, the nearby town because he considered her a serious threat to his own authority. Rose however assured her parents that Christ would reward those who were persecuted for justice’s sake. So she continued her crusade for the Pope not only from Soriano but from all the neighboring cities and towns.
Then Rose having the gift of prophecy predicted that the emperor was dying and peace would soon be restored. He did die 10 days after just as she foretold.
Combats a Witch
When she was informed that a sorceress in the town of Vitorchiano had succeeded in perverting the minds of many of the townspeople Rose managed to bring about their conversion as well as that of the witch by a miracle which was well attested. Standing on a flaming pyre she preached unscathed for three hours! She then led the witch and followers back to the sacraments.
When the pope’s side won in Viterbo in 1251 and the papal supporters returned to power Rose was finally allowed to return to her beloved city. She returned in triumph.
Attempts to Found a Religious Community
But Rose’s life of controversy did not end here. When she petitioned to join the local convent of Poor Clares she was turned down because her father was not rich enough to give her a dowry. Besides that the abbess was reluctant to admit such a celebrity and revolutionary as she.
“Very well” said Rose ever humble. “You will not have me now, but perhaps you will be more wiling when I am dead – when I can be no danger to the humility of the convent. Then she will know that I only did what God told me.”
So Rose then tried at age 15 to found her own religious community. In time the kindly parish priest gave Rose and a few companions a house and a chapel. Unfortunately the property was near a convent of nuns who protested to the pope that they had exclusive rights to be the only order of nuns in the area.
Since they had the legal right Rose and her companions had to leave. Having failed in her attempt Rose returned to live with her parents where she continued her life of prayer and penance.
She got gravely ill at the age of eighteen. When she was dying she gave the world a valuable lesson when she told her parents: “I die with joy for I desire to be united to my God. Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening, but sweet and precious.”
Like St. Francis she saw death as the gateway to a new life. She died on 6 March 1251 at the tender age of 18. She was buried at first in the parish graveyard at the Church of Santa Maria in Podio. Later she was transferred to the church of the Poor Clares, the convent of St. Mary of the Roses as she had once foretold. It was Pope Alexander IV who on 6 March 1252 ordered her body to be interred there in the convent that had rejected her because she appeared to him three times in dreams telling him that it was God’s will that he do so.
And even if the church was burnt down in 1357 her body was preserved. Every year 70 men carry her body in triumphal procession through the streets of Viterbo on the eve of her feast on September 4.
So while Rose did not influence kings and popes and never got to establish the religious order of her dreams she nevertheless was not afraid to stand up for her spiritual values and practices. It was because of this that she was canonized in 1457 by Pope Callistus III.
During the 750th anniversary of her birth in 1984 John Paul II visited Viterbo.
Let us all follow Rose’s advise: “Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening but sweet and precious.”
SOURCES of REFERENCE
ST. ROSE of VITERBO
Butler’s Lives of the Saint – Vol. III – pp 487 – 488
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints – p 247
Saint Companions – pp 329 – 330
The Big Book of Women Saints – p 265
The Way of the Saints – pp 396 – 397