Saint Rose of Lima, the subject of our present narrative, was born, as her name implies, at Lima, in Peru. She came into the world on the 20th day of April, in the year 1586. Her father was Gaspar Florez, and her mother Mary Olivia, both persons of high rank, but of inconsiderable fortune. The very circumstances of the birth of our blessed Rose were miraculous. Her mother had been frequently in danger of death at her former confinements; but not only did she suffer nothing with Rose, but the child herself was born enwrapped in a double cuticle, like a goodly rosebud peeping from its covering of bright green leaves. She was baptized Isabel, which might perhaps have continued henceforth her name, had it not pleased God about three months after her birth, to cause her mother to perceive on the face of her infant daughter sleeping in her cradle, the figure of a lovely rose. Thus admonished, she called her by the name of that flower. Although the Archbishop of Lima gave her this same name at her confirmation, yet our Saint had some scruple in the use of it: since it was not the name she had received at her baptism, and she feared also lest this might minister to her vanity; until the Blessed Virgin Mary had indicated to her the will of God concerning it. She one day went to the church of the Friar preachers, threw herself at the feet of her Holy Mother in the chapel of the Rosary, and poured out to her the perplexity she felt. Mary condescended to her request, consoled her, and bid her be of good cheer: the name of Rose, she said, was pleasing to her Son Jesus Christ, and that as a proof of the love she bore her, she should be called henceforth Rose of Saint Mary.
Her childhood was singularly patient and docile, and bore a marked resemblance to that of Saint Catharine of Sienna. It is recorded of her that when she was yet an infant, she already gave proof of that heroic patience under suffering which was soon to be the rule of her life. Some one had carelessly pinched her thumb by hastily shutting of a box; instead of breaking out into loud and plaintive cries, as other children would, she took the utmost pains to conceal the suffering she endured. When by her silence the hurt had grown worse, and she had lost part of her nail, the surgeon was obliged to use pincers to extract so much of it as still remained in her flesh. The torture of this operation she bore with such singular sweetness that the operator remarked that never once did she utter a scream, or even change countenance, which would have been accounted miraculous even in a person of riper years.
It was the same in other instances of a similar kind. At the age of four years, she was troubled with a disorder in her head which rendered it necessary for her mother to dress it with powder so corrosive and burning, that it caused her to shudder from head to foot, and produced a number of ulcers on the skin, which gave her excessive pain. Yet she never complained, and when the surgeon who attended her every day for six weeks, cut off a small portion of flesh that new might grow in its place, even this she suffered in imitation of her Lord, with incredible firmness and constancy. Her little brother was the instrument under God to teach her to despise the vain things of this transient world. One day playing near her, he accidentally threw a quantity of mud on her hair. Being neat and orderly in her attire, she was naturally vexed at this, and was on the point of going away in a sullen mood, when he said to her with unexpected gravity, as though the voice had come from God:
“My dear sister, do not be angry at this accident; for the curled ringlets of girls are hellish cords, which enchain the hearts of men and miserably drag them into everlasting flames.”
Rose hearkened to these words as if they had been pronounced by a holy preacher of God, or as an oracle from Heaven. She communed with herself, renounced this world for ever, gave herself up with entire devotion to God, and conceived the greatest horror of the least approach to sin.
From this moment she received the gift of prayer. Day and night did she devote herself to this holy converse with God, and not even did sleep interrupt her prayers; for during her repose, her imagination painted so many lively images of her Lord and Savior, with which her mind entertained itself, that she might be said never to have ceased to pray. It was here that she received a call from God to follow in the footsteps of Saint Catharine of Sienna.
It was here that she was moved by the Holy Ghost to consecrate, by an irrevocable vow, at the age of five years, her virginal purity to Almighty God, and solemnly to promise never to have any other spouse but Him alone. We are taught in the fourth commandment that we should honor and obey our parents in all things lawful; and no Saint has set us a brighter example of exact obedience to this law than Saint Rose of Lima. She managed so well, and herein she is especially worth of our imitation, that she executed with perfect obedience whatever her father and mother commanded her, without omItting the least part of her duty towards God. There are some things we cannot do even to please our parents; and Saint Rose has taught us the way to act in such perplexity, when it would seem clear that while God commands one thing, our parents command another. Let us see what she did. Her mother, like many other mothers, who value too highly the fleeting things of this world, often begged her to take care of her beauty, and even desired her to use washes and paint to preserve its freshness; but Rose, rightly deeming this to be contrary to the modesty and simplicity which became a Christian maiden, entreated her so earnestly not to oblige her to do this, and not to imitate those mothers who sacrifice the salvation of their children to their own ambition, that she by degrees persuaded her to think differently. Another time her mother made her wear a band of flowers on her head. She obeyed; but she sanctified her obedience by the painful mortification which she added to it. She thought of the cruel thorns which had once lacerated the head of her Redeemer, and in humble imitation of His sufferings, she took the wreath and fixed it on her head with a large pin, which pierced so deep into her flesh, that it could not be drawn out without the aid of a surgeon, and even then with much difficulty. That she might not join in those vain assemblies and visits, of which the world is so fond, she was in the habit of rubbing her eyes with pimento, a kind of burning Indian pepper, which rendered her eyes as red as fire and so painful, that she could not bear the light. To her mother, who remonstrated with her, she replied: “It would be much better for me, my dear mother, to be blind all the rest of my life, than to be obliged to see the vanities and follies of the world!”
The uncommon beauty of Saint Rose, joined to her agreeable manners and conversation, led many to desire her hand, and captivated admirers from all quarters. In order to extinguish the flames of passion which burned in the hearts of others, she used many artifices to disfigure herself. She made her face pale and livid with fasting, she washed her hands in hot lime to take the skin off them. She removed to Canta, a little village near one of the most celebrated mines in Peru, and remained there for four entire years without leaving the house.
It was about this time that she was asked in marriage by the only son of one of the most distinguished ladies of the city. The proposal was very agreeable to her mother, who, having eleven children to provide for, was happy at the prospect of an alliance so advantageous to her daughter. But Rose had given her virginity to God; and having a perfect abhorrence of the very thought of marriage, openly declared that she would never consent. Threats and caresses were alike vain. Blows and injuries were heaped upon her by her parents; but with no other effect than to make her more constant in her resolution. She bore them all as her model Saint Catharine had done before her.
In order to defeat the machinations of the enemies of her purity, she resolved to put on the habit of the third order of Saint Dominic. This determination was confirmed by two miracles. She doubted of her vocation and had some intention of entering the monastery of the Incarnation, where the nuns were anxiously expecting her; but before setting out, she went to bid farewell to our Blessed Lady in the Chapel of the Rosary, belonging to the Convent of Saint Dominic. She remained on her knees at prayer for a considerable time at the foot of the altar; and when she had finished her prayer, she tried to rise, but could not succeed. She called her brother to aid her, who pulled her violently by the hand, without being able to stir her from the spot. She immediately understood this to be an intimation from Heaven, that she was not to leave Saint Dominic; and no sooner had she, come to a resolution not to prosecute her design, and to return home, than she was able to rise and leave the Chapel without difficulty.
In the vast plains of Lima, amidst the countless butterflies that flit to and fro in the sunshine of that lovely climate, there is one prettily marked with black and white, the colors of the habit of Saint Dominic. One of these insects came and fluttered continually around her; and as she was then looking about for indications of the will of God, she took this to be a second intimation from Him, that she should again follow the steps of Saint Catharine, and become a religious of the third order of Saint Dominic. She received the habit solemnly at the age of twenty, from the hands of the Reverend Father Alphonso Velasquez, on the 10th day of August, 1606. Here, however, her humility met with a sore trial. She had hoped to live secluded from the world as an humble religious; but she. found that her new state showed her forth as a light in the house of God; that she was the theme of every conversation; was pointed out in the streets and praised by every one. She would fain have quitted the order for one of stricter observance, had not her Blessed,Mother, to whom she always imparted her sorrows, shown her that the will of the Almighty was, that she should continue in the state which she had chosen.
There are two virtues which, it may be, beyond all others, especially distinguish the Saints: and these are humility and purity. These virtues are so intimately linked together in a holy bond, as it were, that they cannot be separated. Holy writers in the Catholic Church are wont to say, that the foul vice of impurity is almost always the punishment of pride, and that he who would overcome this abominable sin, must first learn to be humble. Saint Rose was both humble and chaste to a pre-eminent degree. Humble, for she always chose for herself the meanest occupations of the house, and considered herself infinitely below a servant, she would frequently cast herself at the feet of a poor country girl named Mariana, who worked in the house, and entreat her earnestly to beat her, to spit upon her, to trample her under her feet, and treat her as the most contemptible creature in the world. When she received blows and harsh words on account of the life she led, she suffered them with perfect humility and patience, and firmly believed, that by her own fault she had brought upon herself this injurious treatment. She thought herself a burden, useless to the world, and odious to nature: and if any misfortune befell the family, she said it was her own sins that had drawn it down as a chastisement from Heaven. One day when Michael Garrez, Canon of the Cathedral of Lima, was heard to praise her in the course of conversation, and extol the favors she had received from Almighty God, she retired to her chamber, where she began to strike her breast, and to weep and groan in the presence of God; and to punish herself for giving, as she thought, a false opinion of herself to man, she gave herself several violent blows on the head, to force in more deeply the iron points of the crown which she always wore concealed under her veil, and of which we shall presently speak.
Pure she was to such a degree of perfection, that eleven learned religious, six of the order of Friar Preachers and five of the Society of Jesus, who several times heard her general confessions, have deposed upon oath, that she attained to a purity of heart similar to that of the angels in Heaven, and that, during the whole course of her life, which lasted thirty-one years, she never was guilty of any venial sin of impurity; and, what is something miraculous, she was never assailed with impure thoughts, from which even the most cherished and favored Saints of God have not been exempt.
Her fasts and austerities were truly astonishing, and such as only the grace of God can enable the greatest of Saints to impose upon themselves. At six years of age, she began to fast three times a week on bread and water. At fifteen she made a vow never to eat meat, unless compelled by those who had authority over her, and whom she thought she could not disobey without sin. Her mother, seeing her face pale and emaciated with long fasting, used to blame her conduct, and even wished to persuade her that she committed a mortal sin, by denying herself the necessary nourishment for the preservation of life. She obliged her to sit at table with the rest of the family, and fare as the others did. But Saint Rose would beg the servant to offer her only a sort of dish made without salt, composed of a crust of coarse bread and a handful of very bitter herbs. It was thus that she found a voluntary mortification at the same table where others sought to gratify their appetite. She was accustomed to gather wild herbs in the forest, and to cultivate them carefully in her own garden, that she might have the materials for self-denial always ready at hand. One of her favorite repasts, which seemed to her the most delicious, as it was the bitterest, was to eat the leaves of the granadilla or passion flower; the flowers of which represent so I exactly the crown of thorns, the nails, the pillar, and the other instruments of the Passion of the Son of God. Her fast in general was so strict and rigorous, that in twenty-four hours she took nothing but piece of bread and a little water. She observed exactly the seven months fast of her order, from the festival of the Exaltatlon of the Holy Cross till Easter. From the beginning of Lent she left off bread, contenting herself with a few orange pips every day of the forty that are consecrated to penance; on Fridays she took only five, during the rest of the year she ate so little, that in eight days she would scarcely take sufficient nourishment for twenty-four hours.
She was known to make a moderate sized loaf and a pitcher of water last fifty days. Another time she remained seven weeks without drinking a drop of water or any other liquid; and towards the end of her life she sometimes passed several successive days without eating or drinking. Her supernatural abstinence was well known to all the inhabitants of Lima: it was generally believed that she passed weeks without eating or drinking, and that when necessity compelled her to assuage the burning heat which consumed her, she would drink it warm, in order to mortify the pleasure which she would have enjoyed from drinking cold water.
Nor was she content to emaciate her delicate body by fasting alone. She daily drew from her flesh streams of blood with her iron chains, and other instruments of penance. After she became a nun, she was not content with a common sort of discipline; she made one for herself of two iron chains, with which she gave herself such frightful blows every night, that her blood sprinkled the wall, and made a stream in the middle of the room. She disciplined herself seven times: first, for her own sins; secondly, for souls engaged in sin; thirdly, for the urgent needs of the Church; fourthly, when Peru or Lima was threatened with some great misfortune; fifthly, for the souls in Purgatory; sixthly, for those in their’ agony; seventhly, in reparation for the outrages offered to God.
When her confessor, alarmed at the excess of her disciplines, had ordered her to discontinue to discipline herself with her iron chain, she made it into three rows, and wore it round her body, and after passing the ends through the ring of a padlock she threw the key into a corner where it could not be found. This chain very soon worked its way through the skin, and cut the flesh so deeply, that it buried itself, and was no longer visible. One night she felt so sharp an agony from it that she fainted, and was at the point of death. The servant, awakened by the cry she uttered, ran speedily to her assistance. Rose, being now obliged to confess the truth, begged her to help her to take off the chain, before her mother should come into the room. Mariana was unable to break the padlock, and ran into the garden to fetch a stone for that purpose. While she was gone, Rose fearing her mother would surprise her, had recourse to prayer. She was heard: and Mariana entering with her stone, saw the padlock open itself and separate from the links of the chain! Thus they succeeded in taking it off, though not without great pain and great loss of blood.
No sooner were her wounds healed than she put the chain on again: but as soon as it had entered her flesh, her confessor ordered her to send it to him and in obeying him she suffered the same pain and loss of blood as before. After her death, Mary of Usategui kept some links of this bloody chain, which exhaled so sweet an odor that everyone confessed it to be supernatural.
Besides this chain, she wore a most severe hair shirt, mixed with the points of needles: and rubbed herself with nettles and thorns, making her body one entire wound and blister. Being still insatiable in her desire of pain, she determined yet more exactly to copy her Lord and Savior, who had worn a crown of thorns for her and our sake. When very young, she made herself a crown of pewter, studded with little sharp-pointed nails, which she wore several years of her innocent life. In after years she constructed a circlet of a plate of silver, three fingers broad; in which she fixed three rows of sharp points in honor of the thirty- three years which the Son of God lived on Earth. Cutting off her hair, that the points might enter more freely, she wore this crown beneath her veil, in such a way that the least agitation or motion of her body caused these iron thorns to tear her flesh in ninety-nine places. Every Friday she tied this circlet more tightly, and made it come down upon her forehead, till it pierced the cartilage of her ears in many places.
From her infancy she invented many means of making her bed hard, till her mother made her sleep with her. Even then, she continued to mortify herself in her obedience. As soon as her mother was asleep, she drew on one side the feather bed on which she had been lying, laid herself on the bedstead, and placed a stone under her head for a pillow. At length, her mother in displeasure bid her sleep as she liked. She then made herself a bed in the form of a chest, and filled it with rough stones of different sizes.
The bed still seeming too soft, she added three pieces of twisted knotted wood, and filled up the space with three hundred pieces of broken tiles, placed so as to wound and tear the body. Upon this terrible cross she never placed herself without trembling and shuddering, while the blood seemed to freeze in her veins.
On these occasions, Jesus Christ often appeared to her to console her, saying with a sweet and gracious countenance: “Remember, my child, that the bed of the cross on which I died for the love of thee, was harder, narrower, and more painful than that on which thou liest. Think of the gall which I drank for thy sake, and call to mind the nails which pierced My hands and feet; thou wilt then feel comfort in the terrible pains thou sufferest on thy bed.”
In order to live quite separate from men, she built herself a little hermitage in her father’s garden, where she was favored with many signal visions and miracles; and amongst the rest, Jesus Christ once appeared to her and took her for His spouse in the presence of the Blessed Virgin, saying to her: “Rose of My heart, I take thee for My spouse.”
By means of mental prayer, in which she exercised herself with the most ardent love of God, she attained to the closest and most intimate union with Him, and was never out of His holy presence. The very birds felt the influence of her holiness, and joined, as it were, in her devotions. One day when she was ill, a little bird came and perched near the window of her room, and began to sing; whereupon our Saint applied herself so earnestly to consider the goodness of God, who had given this bird so sweet a note to sing His praises, that she was ravished into an ecstacy, in which she continued from nine in the morning till evening.
The year of her death, another bird, whose nielody was most charming, perched himself opposite her room during the whole of Lent; as soon as the sun began to set, the blessed Rose ordered him to employ his notes in praising God; he obeyed, and raising his voice, sung with all his might, till this handmaid of Christ, unwilling to be outdone by a bird in offering to God canticles of praise and benediction, began very sweetly to sing hymns to His glory; when she had finished, this little chorister began again, and thus together they composed a choir in which they sang alternately for an hour the praises of God. At six o’clock, she dismissed him till next day, and he never failed to appear at the time fixed.
Our Saint loved Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Catharine of Sienna and her guardian angel, with so fervent a love, that they, to reward her, often visited her, and conversed with her in a familiar manner, and taught her how to gain victories over the devils who appeared to her and tempted her to sin, and favored her with many special revelations. She had in this way learned that she should die on Saint Bartholomew’s day. Having attained her thirty-first year, she not only knew that her hour was come, but also that in her passage from life to death she must endure incredible torments. On the first of August, she went to her room at night in perfect health; but at midnight she was heard crying and groaning piteously, and the wife of Don Gonzalez, to whose house she had removed before her illness, found her extended half dead on the floor, cold, without pulse, motionless, and scarcely breathing. The physicians came to visit her in that state, and with them her confessor, who, fearing that her humility would prevent her from making known the nature and extent of her sufferings, commanded her, in virtue of her obedience, to declare them to her physicians, as best she was able. “It seems,” said she, ” as if a ball of fire were forced into my temples, that it descended to my feet, and passed across from my left side to my right with an insupportable heat – as if my heart were lacerated by a burning dagger; and the invisible hand which guides it pierces me sometimes from head to foot, and then crossing from side to side, engraves the figure of a cross on my body with this instrument, which burns me with all the violence of the hottest fire. I feel as if my bowels were being torn out with burning pincers, and my head burns as if heated coals, just taken from a flaming furnace, were placed upon it. In fact, I believe that when I die, my bones will be found reduced to ashes, and the marrow dried up, from the effects of the burning heat which I endure.” All present allowed these sufferings to be miraculous, and Rose told them that they were right in so understanding them; since they came from God alone, and were sent as a special favor to her, that she might be conformed more entirely to her Lord and Master.
Though she suffered so much, she besought her Divine Spouse not to diminish her pains; on the contrary, she begged Him with all the affection of her heart to increase them, in order to punish her rigorously for the crimes of which she believed herself guilty in the sight of His divine majesty. God had compassion on His servant; He was moved by her tears and groans, and He preserved miraculously her mind sound and entire till her last breath, amidst the vapors which the burning heat of her interior organs sent to her brain, and which must have caused delirium, if He not preserved her from it by His mercy. By a further favor He granted her the use of her tongue, to make known her thoughts till she died. She was often seen during this last illness, without any use of her outward senses, or in raptures in which her soul seemed to leave her body, to unite itself more closely with God. Though she suffered extreme thirst, she did not taste a drop of water to assuage it; after the example of her Spouse, she asked only for gall and vinegar to increase the suffering.
During her illness she usually confessed her sins every day; and to dispose herself better for death, she made a general confession of her whole life, with such marks of deep contrition, that her sighs and groans were heard in the room adjoining. On the third day she received the holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction, with interior dispositions suited to the excellence of these two sacraments. When the Blessed Sacrament was brought to her, she changed color; her face became shining and inflamed, and amidst the transports of joy which filled her, she fell into an ecstacy; and after receiving this bread of angels, she remained motionless and totally absorbed in God. Almighty God had revealed to her that her soul, on leaving the body, would pass immediately to Heaven and would not have to suffer the pains of Purgatory.
She often declared in an audible voice that she was a Christian and desired to die in the faith of the Church, and that she was a daughter of the great Saint Dominic. In proof of this she kissed her scapular reverently, and would have it always laid upon her in her sickness. Finally, to imitate , the charity of the Son of God, she prayed with all her heart for those who had offended her in word or deed, begging Him to load them with his graces, and to show them the same mercy which she hoped to experience from His goodness; and holding a little crucifix in her hand, she could not satisfy herself without kissing it, and repeating tenderly: “Father, forgive them.” She begged pardon of all the servants of the house with tears in her eyes; she told Don Gonzalez that he would soon be freed from this miserable sinner, who had given so much uneasiness and trouble to his whole family. All melted into tears at the deep humility of this spouse of Jesus Christ.
On the midnight of her death she heard a mysterious noise, which announced to her the coming of her Lord; she received it with joy; and requested her brother to remove the bolster from beneath her head, and to place pieces of wood instead. As if she had only waited for these pieces of wood to die upon a sort of cross, she said twice: “Jesus be with me, Jesus be with me,” and immediately afterwards her pure soul quitted her mortal body, and took its flight into the. bosom of God, to take possession of that heavenly inheritance, prepared for it from all eternity. She passed away on the 24th August, the feast of Saint Bartholomew, in the year 1617, at the age of thirty-one years and five months.
According to the custom of the religious of the third order of Saint Dominic, and by her own request, she was buried in the church of Saint Dominic.