the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of
Antioch, 1st c. A.D
The Feast of Saint Rosalia
Saint Rosalia 1
Santa Rosalia, or la Santuzza
Italians -- is a Saint who is to Palermo, Sicily rather like St. George is to
England: very little is known about her life, but the regard with which
she is held, and the love had for her by the people for whom she is
patron, are so great that the honors given to her have acquired an
of patriotism in addition to basic Catholic devotion.
Saint Rosalia was the daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Quisquina and of
Rosa; she was
also a descendant of Charlemagne, the very first Holy Roman Emperor,
living a little over three centuries after he died, having been
born in Palermo, Sicily in 1130.
She was to have married, but, at the age of around fourteen, came to
know that her vocation was to
become a hermitess of the Basilian Order. She first went to live in the
woods of Palazzo Adriano. Then she went to Bivona and lived in a cave
there, on lands her father owned, for some time. On that cave's wall
Sinibaldi quisquine et rosarum domini filia amore Domini Mei Jesu
Cristi ini hoc antro habitari decrevi.
Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Monte delle Rose and
Quisquina, have resolved to live in this cave for the love
of my Lord, Jesus Christ."
But her father lost possession of the land on which her cave was
located, and she had been
getting too many visitors anyway, so she relocated
-- some say she
was led by two angels -- to a second cave in
Mount Pellegrino. Here she lived for rest of her life, dying there on
September 4, 1170. It is unknown to me how the date of her death became
known, or why her relics were left in the cave, but after she died, she
was immediately declared a Saint
the local Bishop; churches were built in her honor in Sicily as early
as 1237. She exploded in popularity, though, in 1624, when the
On May 7 of that year, a ship from Tunis brought the plague to Palermo.
In that same month, a woman who'd been struck by the disease had a
vision of Saint Rosalia, who told her she'd recover if she would go on
a pilgrimage to her cave in Monte Pellegrino. She did so, and then had
second vision in which the Saint told her where her bones could be
By June, it was forbidden by the Senate to leave the city, and in July,
things had gotten so bad that they requisitioned a nearby town to act
as a hospital for the sick.
On July 15, Saint Rosalia's bones were found exactly where she'd said
they'd be found, partially encased in one of the stalactites that form
by the slow drip-drip of water from caves' ceilings. The tenth volume
of Reverend S. Baring-Gould's sixteen
volume "The Lives of the Saints" relates:
With the body
were discovered some beads. The rosary was not instituted when S.
Rosalia lived, but the use of beads is more ancient than S. Dominic,
who only regulated their arrangement. Those of S. Rosalia are thirteen
in number—twelve small ones and a large bead, dividing the chain into
groups of six. With the body was also a terra cotta crucifix, the head
separate and very beautiful; also a little silver cross of equal arms,
A little over a week later, she was made patron of
Palermo, and a chapel to house her relics was dedicated to her in the
city's cathedral (her relics are there to this day, housed in a very
large, very ornate silver reliquary).
Seven months later, in February of 1625, a soap-maker who'd lost his
young wife to the
plague climbed Mount Pellegrino to go hunting with his dog. Santa
Rosalia appeared to
him, telling him that he would
become sick and die, but that he should go to the Archbishop and
her relics be carried in procession through the city so that the plague
would end. He did so, he died, and her relics were finally processed
city on June 4. When this was done, the plague ended.
Flemish master artist Anthony van Dyck was quarantined in Palermo when
plague struck and when the events just described took place. While
he made a number of paintings of Santa Rosalia, which paintings came
to set the standard for how our Saint is portrayed artistically.
The best of van Dyck's paintings of her are, in my opiniion, the
two below, with the second painting showing Rosalia pleading with God
people of Palermo:
Van Dyck always seemed to have painted her in Francsican brown, but she
would have worn the Basilian Order's black.2 And the
aforementioned book by Rev. Baring-Gould recounts a story of a
miracle that gives us an even clearer idea of what St. Rosalia looked
In 1663 Francis
Castaglia, of the Society of Jesus, lay dying in the Jesuit College at
Palermo, when he saw S. Rosalia appear to him. And she said, "Francis,
I have prayed for thee, and thou shalt live." He was healed on the
spot. He afterwards had the face of the angelic maiden painted as she
appeared to him. The Bollandists give an engraving of the picture, it
is that of a girl of perhaps eighteen, with long flowing hair, and a
dress sown with wild pinks,3
such as grow on
the rocks of her loved
mountains. The face is singularly sweet and somewhat sad.
She is often depicted with a skull or Crucifix as well, and is
typically shown crowned with flowers.
Saint Rosalia's feast day is on September 4, the date of her death (or
heavenly birthday, as we Catholics prefer to think of it), and many
Catholics prepare for it by praying the Novena
to St. Rosalia starting on August 26 and ending on September 3. But
the people of Palermo celebrate her also -- celebrate her the most --
in a six days-long
festival 4 around the anniversary of when her bones were
found on July 15.
The celebrations begin on July 10: the first four days are marked by
Masses and such things as the solemn opening of the cathedral chapel
dedicated to her and moving her great silver reliquary to the nave,
marionettes and religious dramas re-enacting
the events of St. Rosalia's life and miracles, and
the firemen of Palermo paying floral tributes to her at her
statue in the Palazzo delle Aquile. Then, on July 14 is a procession
that includes the Carro della Santuzza,
a huge -- that is, a 33-feet long -- oxen-pulled vehicle that is
shaped like a ship, contains musicians, and is topped by a
statue of St. Rosalia. The procession starts at the cathedral,
and winds through the city, finally making its way down to the sea
where it is greeted by fireworks.On July 15, there is a Mass followed
by a procession of her silver reliquary, once
again from the cathedral.
The procession is walked by clergy, religious orders, confraternities,
and city authorities, and is filled with devotional songs played by
marching bands. The feast ends when her relics are returned to the
cathedral at midnight. All throughout the feasting, cries of "Viva
Palermo e Santa Rosalia!" can be heard.
Months later, on September 4, her actual feast day, it is the custom to
make l'acchianata, a pilgrimage -- barefoot -- to the Santuario di Santa Rosalia, which
was built partially inside her cave on Mt. Pellegrino. Tradition holds
that one begins the ascent on the night between September 3 and 4,
sleeping in the churchyard at arrival. After visiting the sanctuary --
which contains a
gilded marble Baroque statue of Santa Rosalia that sits under a marble
canopy -- one leaves some sort of ex-voto.
Many married couples make the same pilgrimage to the sanctuary on their
wedding day, with young brides leaving their wedding bouquets for the
A song for the July and September festivities -- Inno a Santa Rosalia:
Diva cui diedero
lor nome i fiori:
O santa, o nobile
stirpe di re!
Tu il puro anelito
dei nostri cuori
tu il faro vigile
di nostra fè.
O rosa fulgida
che dolce olia,
o giglio candido
accogli il palpito
del nostro amor!
accogli il palpito
del nostro amor!
Tu che di gelida
caverna in seno
scolpivi il nobile
Tra cento ostacoli
che della grazia
serbiamo il fior.
Tu che sui
Tu fa che il fervido
avvampi ogni anima
bruci ogni cuor.
Tu che sollecita
de la tua terra
la lue malefica
fugasti un dì.
O pia, difendici
da fame e guerra
che ci colpì.
Tu che con l'anima
in Dio rapita,
sorella agli angeli
della tua vita:
sognar la Patria,
As to foods during the Santa Rosalia celebrations, the people of
Palermo eat eggplant parmigiano, babbaluci
(boiled snails with
garlic), peaches steeped in wine, watermelon, almonds, scursunera (a jasmine sorbetto),
and càlia e simenza -- a
salty, crunchy snack made of roasted chickpeas and a type of pumpkin
Càlia e Simenza
1 lb. dried chickpeas
2 cups pumpkin seeds
Sea salt, to taste
Paprika to taste
Optional spices: cumin, a touch of cayenne pepper
Soak the chickpeas overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24
hours) in water, covering them by 3 inches. Drain, then blot dry with a
kitchen towel. Heat oven to 375F. Spread chickpeas out onto a baking
sheet. Spread pumpkin seeds out onto a second sheet. Drizzle both with
a few tablespoons of olive oil, and season to taste, stirring to mix
well. Roast until a medium to darkish brown color and very crunchy (the
chickpeas will take about 60 to 75 minutes, the seeds will take a lot
less time), stirring once in a while, shaking the pan periodically, and
keeping a close eye the seeds around the 20 minute mark, and on the
chickpeas at around the 45 minute mark. Spread out on a paper towel to
blot and cool, then mix the chickpeas and seeds in a bowl, and enjoy
(during the festival, this is served in paper cones). Note that this
recipe can be made without the seeds and be perfectly tasty.
You might hear some popping sounds once in a while as they're roasting;
it's not a problem. Don't worry about it.
Some Southern Italians like to skip all the spices and the pumpkin
seeds, and just soak the
chickpeas in water overnight with the cut-up rind of an orange, then
draining (removing the rind), blotting dry, and roasting (with no oil)
at 375 for 60 to 75 minutes.
Note that Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York City has a big,
Santa Rosalia festival ("the 18th Avenue Feast"), usually in August, or
in early September around her actual feast day, so keep an eye out for
it; you'll find it on 18th Avenue, between 68th St. and 75th St. Do the
same if you live near Monterey, California: since
1933, a big "Festa Italia" has been held by Italian sardine fishermen
St. Rosalia's feast day there (there's also a lovely bronze statue of
Santa Rosalia there in Fisherman's Shoreline Park, overlooking the
bay). And it's a good bet that between the
East and West coasts of the United States, other Italian parishes or
parishes named for Santa Rosalia join in the feasting!
is the patron of not only Palermo, but of a handful of towns in Central
and South America, and, of course, many parishes and dioceses around
the world. She's invoked against the plague and pandemics. She's also
the de facto patron saint of
evolutionary studies and biodiversity, a situation
that came about when the "father of modern ecology," George Evelyn
Hutchinson, after studying waterbugs in a spring near St. Rosalia's
cave, wrote his 4-volume "Treatise on Liminology" which included an
article called "Homage to Santa Rosalia: or Why are There So Many Kinds
of Animals?’’ and proposed St. Rosalia as patron for his science. Ever
since, she has, at the very least, become a sort of shibboleth among
As an aside, St. Rosalia is mentioned (as "Rosalie") in the first canto
of Walter Scott's poem "Marmion," the poem with the famous line, "Oh,
what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!"
From The Lives of the Saints," Volume July-Dec
"From love to my Lord. Out of love to my God." This was the constant
cry of St. Rosalia's lips and heart. She loved God, and loved Him truly
above everybody and everything. For Him she had left all, even those
things she might have enjoyed without sin. For love of Him, she led so
austere a life, although she was a princess most tenderly brought up.
You are obliged to love God above all; you have reason for it. Besides,
this is His command. He is your Lord and Creator, your Redeemer, your
Benefactor, the highest Good, and in Himelf worthy of all love and
honor. Have you fulfilled your duty in regard to this? I hear you say,
in the words of St. Francis Xavier: "Oh Lord, my God! I love Thee: but
I do not love Thee because Thou has saved me, neither because whoever
loves Thee not shall burn in Hell." It is right that you speak so, and
I wish you often to repeat those words: but -- words are not deeds. St.
Rosalia manifested in works that she loved God above all. You must show
in your actions that you love the Almighty above everybody and
everything, or I cannot believe your words.
I do not ask you to do all that St. Rosalie did for her Lord; but, tell
me, would it be too much if I requested of you, for the love of God, to
abstain sometimes even from an allowable pleasure; to turn your eyes
from this or that worldly vanity; to bear patiently the heat of the
summer, the cold of the winter; to do good to your enemy, to avoid idle
gossip; to give more time to prayer ot to listening to the word of God;
to bear, without murmur or complaint, the Cross God has seen fit to lay
Your Savior has done and suffered so much out of love to you; it was
for your sake that He abstained from all temporal enjoyments; and you
refuse to do the least act of self-abnegation for Him? Oh! do not again
protest that you love God if you hesitate to follow my advice. Deeds
must prove love. "Love must act and do great deeds; otherwise it is not
true love" says St. Gregory. Much less is it true love if it will not
do little things for the Almighty.
1 Her name (which evokes both roses and
lilies, isn't that lovely?) is pronounced with the accent
on the third syllable -- i.e., as "roh-suh-LEE-uh" not as
"rose-AL-ee-uh." In Sicily, she's often called "Rusulia." She is also
known as "Rosalie" in English and French.
2 The Benedictine Order claims her as a
Benedictine, but the evidence seems goes to the fact of St. Rosalia
having been a Basilian. In either case, she would have worn black.
rupicola, the pinks that grow on the cliffs of Mt. Pellegrino
and which adorned St. Rosalia's dress:
4 The July St. Rosalia festival is
known as "u fistinu" mostly in
Sicily, but as "il festino di Santa Rosalia" or "la festa di Santa
Rosalia" elsewhere in Italy (and by some Sicilians).