A Garner of Saints – Saint Umilita

detail from the Saint Humility altar piece by Pietro Lorenzetti, 1316Article

(Latin: Humilitas; French Humilit√©) Born at Faenza of a noble family, her secular name being Rosana, and brought up in piety. Her beauty was very great and won for her the love of a prince who was a close kinsman of the Emperor Frederick II and who happened to be in garrison there. She succeeded in escaping this alliance, but after her father’s death she was married to Ugolotto Caccianemici. Desiring, however, to take up a religious life, she endeavoured to persuade her husband to consent to a separation, but he always refused. After they had been married nine years Ugolotto fell sick and the doctors declared that he could not recover unless he would remain celibate. This opened the eyes of the sick man, and calling his wife to him he consented to what she had so often proposed. After his recovery, Rosana went to the monastery of Saint Perpetua at Faenza and took the veil as a nun of the order of Vallombroso. By her constant prayers and devotions she at length prevailed so that Ugolotto became a monk and entered the same order. Meanwhile the fervent piety and humility of Rosana earned her the name of Umilita, by which she was afterwards known. Soon afterwards she proved in a signal manner her right to the new name. The nobles of that day being more devoted to arms than to letters, she had never learned to read. The nuns wishing to have a joke at her expense, one day sent her to the second table to read. The simple nun bowed and went to obey the command. When she opened the book, these words presented themselves to her, “Do not despise the works of God for they are all true and just.” Then raising her eyes to heaven she delivered such a moving address from this text, that her auditors were at first amazed and afterwards wept. When they came to examine the book they could not find a single word of what she had said. Being taught to read, she learned with wonderful readiness. She suffered silently for some time from an internal tumour, but it was one day miraculously healed. These events caused her to be held in such veneration by the nuns that she was in danger of becoming puffed up, and she determined to flee from the monastery. She prayed fervently for her release and one night she heard a voice which called her to follow. She rose and putting on the poor and worn clothing of a servant, with no other luggage but her breviary, and making the sign of the cross, she was carried by invisible hands to the top of the wall and let down on the other side. The closed doors of the courtyard opened of themselves and she found herself free. Arrived at the river Lamone she found it so swollen that she could not cross. But by a miracle she was enabled to walk over the water with dry feet. Overcome by these marvels she fell on her knees and wept her thanks to the Lord. Arrived in the Apennines she sought refuge with some nuns of Saint Clare. But the abbess would not admit her until she had learned the reasons for her departure from Saint Perpetua. A knight of her family wishing to know if the portents wrought by her had not been worked by magic art, shut her up in a cell, and thus she gained her longed-for solitude. Now there was a monk of Vallombroso whose leg the physicians had determined to cut off. The poor man, terrified at this, asked first to be taken to Umilita. When he came, his hopes were not disappointed, for she made the sign of the cross over the diseased limb and it was made perfectly whole, and the monk returned without assistance to his convent, publishing the matter abroad. After this a cell was built for Umilita next to the church of Saint Apollinare at Faenza, and she lived there as a hermit. In this solitude she had the companionship of a charming little weasel, which came to her cell with a bell round its neck, and remained with her, following her in all her devotions and other acts. When the time of her solitude drew towards its close, the animal leapt out of the window of her cell, a bell fell from its neck and it bowed her farewell. Thefame of her sanctity drew many to see her, and at length a monastery was built for her, and the Bishop of Faenza came to take her to her new abode. Her reputation spread far and wide, and messengers came from Venice, begging her to found a house of her order in that city. She accepted, but in the night Saint John the Evangelist appeared to her saying that the monastery must be founded at Florence not at Venice, and be dedicated to himself. The route was diflicult and infested by robbers, but Umilita set out undismayed at the head of her nuns, to walk barefooted to Florence. The journey was performed in perfect safety, and the saint established herself at Florence in a small hospice on the piazza of San Ambrogio. The Florentines, recognising her worth, speedily set to work to build a convent worthy of her. The child of a noble citizen having died in the arms of its nurse as she was bringing it to its parents in Florence, the nurse met Umilita and threw herself at the saint’s feet, imploring assistance. The saint, who was returning to her house with a burden of stones, laid the child at the foot of a wayside image of John the Baptist. After she had prayed, she made the sign of the cross on the child with a lighted candle, and it arose perfectly healed. In December 1309, Umilita was seized with a fit of apoplexy. She lingered on a few months and died in May 1310. Before her death she appeared miraculously to the nuns of her order in a monastery in the Apennines. 22nd May.

Attributes

  • Habit of an abbess of the order of the Benedictines of Vallombroso. In one hand she holds a rod or bunch of rods, in the other an open book.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “Saint Umilita”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 April 2017. Web. 18 November 2017. <>