19th Century Mexican Antique Retablo depicting Santa Rita de Cascia.
At her canonization ceremony in the year 1900, Santa Rita de Cascia was bestowed the title of Patroness of Impossible Causes. In Mexico, Santa Rita is widely venerated as the Patroness Saint of mothers, abused wives and heartbroken women.
Santa Rita is almost always depicted as she is here, with a trickle of blood and a thorn deeply imbedded in her forehead. According to legend, in the year of 1441, during a sermon on the Crown of Thorns, Santa Rita prayed so intently that a thorn detached itself from her crucifix and lodged itself in her forehead. For the next fifteen years she bore this external sign of stigmatization and union with Christ. It was said her wound became so disturbing to view, that she spent the later part of her life in isolation and prayer.
Specific religious symbols and iconography are related to Saint Rita:
- a skull, also known as a Memento Mori, symbolizing mortality.
- a flagella whip, symbolizing her practice of mortifying the flesh.
- holding a large Crucifix and a Gospel book, to which she gazes intently, symbolizing her intense devotion to Christ.
- flanked by two small male figures representing her beloved two sons.
Saint Rita was born Margherita Lotti in 1381 in the city of Roccaporena, Italy, where various sites connected with her are the focus of pilgrimages. She was married at age twelve to a nobleman named Paolo Mancini. Her parents arranged her marriage, 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. During her marriage, Rita bore two sons, Giangiacomo Antonio and Paulo Maria, and brought them up in the Christian faith.
The marriage lasted for eighteen years, during which she is remembered as a devoted wife and mother who made efforts to convert her husband from his abusive behavior through humility, kindness, and patience. Rita was able to convince her husband to renounce an grave family feud known at the time as La Vendetta. 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. However, Paolo Mancini's brother, Bernardo, was said to have continued the blood family feud and hoped to convince Rita's sons to seek revenge. As her sons grew, so did their desire to revenge their father's murder. Rita, fearing that her sons would lose their immortal souls, tried to persuade them from retaliating, but to no avail. She is said to have 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 some believe was God's answer to 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 Convent 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 finally allowed to enter the Convent.
Pious Catholic legends later recount that she was transported into the Convent of Saint Magdalene via levitation at night into the garden courtyard by her three patron saints. She remained there until her death from tuberculosis on May 22, 1457.
Pope Leo XIII canonized Rita on May 24, 1900. Her feast day is celebrated May 22.
Retablo dimensions are approx. 10 inches vertical x 7 inches horizontal.
Condition: in overall good, original condition with some minor paint loss and surface abrasion acquired over more than a century of use and devotional prayer.