Feast Day : August 30 (Peru); August 23 (elsewhere)
Patronage: florists; gardeners; needle workers; people ridiculed for their piety; Americas; India; Peru; Philippines; West Indies
Born in Lima, Peru, on April 20, 1586, a half-century after the Spanish conquest of the Incas, Rose of Lima’s parents were Gaspar de Flores, a Spaniard, and Maria de Oliva, who was part-Inca. She was baptized Isabel, but had such a beautiful face that after a few years her mother took to calling her Rose instead. Rose began to show her religious devotion at a very early age. She spent hours each day in prayer. Once when she was praying before an image of the Virgin Mary, she imagined that the Infant Jesus appeared to her and said, “Rose, consecrate all of your love to me.” From that point on she decided to live only for the love of Jesus Christ. One day, her mother put a wreath of flowers on her head to show off her beauty to friends. Rose, though, had no desire to be admired, since she was committed to Christ. She drove a long pin through the wreath, piercing her head so deeply that afterward she had a hard time getting the wreath off. Except when they clashed over her religious devotion, Rose was obedient to her parents and worked hard, especially at sewing, at which she excelled. She received confirmation from St. Turibius Mogoroveio, then the archbishop of Lima, in 1597, when she was 11. At this time she formally took the name Rose. But she continued to be troubled by her beauty and the implications her name carried, so on one occasion she rubbed her face with pepper until it was red and blistered. On another occasion she rubbed her hands with quicklime, causing herself great suffering. When her brother told her that men were drawn to her for her long hair and fair skin, she cut her hair short and took to wearing a veil. Nevertheless, she attracted particularly one young man who wanted to marry her. Her father was delighted, because this man came from a good family, and he foresaw a brilliant future for her. Rose, however, declared that she would never marry. She decided to enter an Augustinian convent, but the day that she was to go she knelt before her image of the Virgin to ask for guidance, and found she could not get up. She called her brother to help, but even with his assistance she could not rise. It came to her then that God must have other plans for her, and she said to Mary, “If you don’t want me to enter the convent, I will drop the idea.” As soon as she had said this she found herself able to stand without difficulty. She asked for a sign of which religious denomination she should join, and soon thereafter a black and white butterfly began to visit her daily, flitting about her eyes. She realized that she must look for an order that was associated with black and white, and soon discovered the Third Order of Dominic, whose nuns wear white tunics covered by black cloaks. She applied to the order in Lima and was admitted. She was then 20 years old. Third Order Dominican nuns lived at home rather than in a convent, and with her brother’s help Rose built a hut in her family’s garden and there became a virtual recluse, going out only to Mass and to help those in need. Inspired by St. Catherine of Siena, she also began to subject herself to severe mortification. She wore a spiked silver crown covered by roses, a hair shirt, gloves filled with nettles, and an iron chain around her waist. She flogged herself three times a day, gouged out chunks of her skin with broken glass, and dragged a heavy wooden cross around the garden. She never ate meat and fasted three times a week. On the hottest days, she refused to drink, reminding herself of the thirst suffered by Jesus on the cross. She slept on a hard board with a stick for a pillow, a pile of bricks, or a bed that she constructed of broken glass, stone, potsherds and thorns. Not surprisingly, Rose suffered from frequent ill health and went through periods of self-doubt, during which she felt revulsion toward all prayer, meditation and penance. She was also rewarded with many ecstasies and visions. One day she announced to the citizens of Lima that, through her prayers, she had prevented an earthquake from devastating the city. She was examined by priests and physicians, who decided that her experiences were in fact supernatural. Rose was often ridiculed for the extreme forms of her devotion. She was not entirely detached from the world about her, however. When her father’s business failed, she sold her splendid embroidery and took up gardening, producing beautiful flowers that were sold at the market. Rose also spoke out against the excesses of the colonial regime of the time and for the Indians and other common people. Sometimes she brought sick and hungry persons into her home so that she could care for them more easily. Rose spent her last years in the home of a government official, Gonzalo de Massa. She was living then in an almost continuous mystical ecstasy. During an illness toward the end of her life, she prayed, “Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Thy love in my heart.” From 1614 onward, as the August 24 feast day of St. Bartholomew approached, Rose became very happy. She explained her great happiness by saying that she would die on a St. Bartholomew feast day. Indeed, she did die on August 24, 1617, at the age of 31. Rose’s sacrifices and penitence attracted many converts and increased the fervor of many priests, but not until after her death was it known how deeply she had affected the common people of Lima. Crowds of mourners lined the streets to watch the procession carrying her body to the cathedral, where it was to be displayed, and so many people came to view it that her burial had to be delayed. She was buried first in the Dominican convent, but after a few days moved to a special chapel in the Church of San Domingo. A great number of miracles and cures were at that time, and have since been, attributed to her intervention. Rose’s patronage extends beyond the Americas to the West Indies, the Philippines and India. The emblems associated with her are an anchor, a crown of roses and a city. She continues to be a popular saint in her native Peru, where her feast day is a national holiday. Her family home is now a shrine with a well where the faithful go to drop appeals for her help. The house where she died is now a convent (the Monasterio de Santa Rosa) named in her honor.