Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, by Father Hugh Francis Blunt

Blessed Anne Marie Taigi holy card, artist unknown(17691837)

God calls us all to sanctity. It is our blessed privilege that we all are the children of God, sharers in His abundant graces, and that no matter what our state in life, we can aspire to be great in His kingdom. Sometimes one is apt to think that the present circumstances of life are not conducive to sanctity. The mother of a family, for instance, is apt to think that the care of her children is an excuse for her coldness in the service of God. “How can I be devout, let alone aspire to sanctity,” she asks, “when all my life is filled with the cares of the home? Now if I were in a convent, I would have more time to give to God, and I am sure that in such an atmosphere of sanctity my soul would grow in holiness.” Always the same old excuse – if I were somebody else, I would be better than I am now.

But that is only a way to deaden the conscience. A woman – even while we know that the virgin life in itself is a higher life – may be married, may be the mother of many children, may be obliged to lead a life that is full of the trivialities incident to the bringing up of those children, may find her days but “the trivial round, the common task” of baking and cleaning and mending, may have to struggle against poverty, and yet may so use that life that it becomes doubly dear in the sight of God. There have been great saints who have been great mothers, toiling mothers, ordinary mothers in the eyes of the world. From every walk of life they come, these saints of God, so that we all, no matter what our station in life, may take courage in doing His work. After all, the Queen of all saints was a mother, – Mary, the Mother of God. Hers was a humble life, a humdrum life if you will, a life of simple duty, – the handmaid of the Lord. And while there is a vast difference between the life of the Mother of God and the life of the mothers of men, still may the mothers of men look to her to learn from her motherhood the way to sanctify their own.

And so that we may not be discouraged by the sight of her great glory, God has raised up lesser glories of motherhood in order that mothers may emulate them, knowing that what has been possible to the saintly mothers raised to the altars of God is still possible to the most lowly mother of today.

The story of Anna Maria Taigi is a glorious one for this reason – it is a glorification of the simple life, the life of a poor woman, the mother of seven children, with all the cares which that implies, yet of one who, while neglecting none of her duties to her family, realized that even more than to them her first duty was to God and her own soul.

The whole of this woman’s life is well summed up in the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites regarding her beatification and canonization. It may be taken as a sketch which we shall try to fill in later. It reads: “He who, when He would show forth His power and wisdom, hath been wont for the most part to use the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the haughtiness of man, to frustrate the designs of the impious, and bring to naught the efforts of hell, hath in this our age, when human pride and infernal power have seemed to combine to subvert, if it were possible, the foundations, not only of the Church, but even of civil society itself, opposed a poor, weak woman to the floods of impiety bursting in on every side. He hath employed for this work Anna Maria Antonia Gesualda Taigi, born, indeed, of honest parentage, but poor, married to a common man, hampered with the cares of a family, and fain to seek wherewith to support herself and them by the constant labor of her hands. This woman, whom He hath chosen for Himself to be an attracter of souls, a victim of expiation, a bulwark against plots, a warder- off of evils by her prayers, He hath first cleansed from the dust of this world and then hath united to Himself by the strictest bond of charity, hath adorned with wonderful gifts, and hath replenished with such virtues as to draw to her on all sides, not pious persons only, from every rank of society up to the very highest, but even the impious themselves, and to inspire all with the highest opinion of her sanctity.”

It is remarkable that the cause of this poor woman, who died in 1837, was introduced in 1862, only twenty- five years afterwards, at a time when her husband and some of her children were still living, a proof at least of the reputation for sanctity she enjoyed among her neighbors.

Her maiden name was Giannetti. She was the only child of Luigi Giannetti, who was by profession an apothecary in the city of Siena. He and his wife, Santa Maria Masi, were people in good circumstances, highly respected by their friends, Giannetti being especially noted for his absolute honesty and trustworthiness in his business.

The child was born May 29, 1769, and was baptized the next day, receiving the name of Anna Maria Antonia Gesualda. The little girl was barely six years of age when misfortune came upon her parents. They lost all they had of this world’s goods, and rather than face poverty among those who knew them in their days of prosperity, they left Siena and came to Rome, where, too, the apothecary knew there would be a better chance for him to get employment. So poor were they that they had to make the journey on foot, and yet we can well believe that the hand of God was directing them in what they considered a severe trial.

Giannetti and his wife soon found employment as domestic servants, and took a small lodging in humble quarters. Their hearts were centered in their little daughter, who was a pretty child of attractive manners. They gave her an excellent education, as far as they could, sending her to the nuns to school, with whom she soon proved to be a great favorite. But better than all else, the good nuns as well as the parents laid in the child’s heart the deep foundations of solid piety. The parents, before going to work, took her with them to Mass every morning, while at home they faithfully trained her childish lips to pray and to repeat often the names of Jesus and Mary.

Those years of childhood were uneventful. She was simply a poor child of poor parents. She would have to make her living in the world; and so, when she was thirteen, she was taken from the good nuns who had taught her so many things to be of service to her in later life, and put to live with two old women, along with other girls, where her work was to wind silk in preparation for manufacture. She made a few cents a week at this work, which she gave to her parents. For six years she was thus employed, and then she got tired of it and wanted to come back home to help her mother. She was now a young woman, grown tired – and no wonder! – of the humdrum life of silk-weaving. She wanted, too, to see something of the world. She loved dress, and later reproached herself that during these days she was vain of her personal appearance. Still, withal, she remained a good, virtuous girl, an ordinary, good Catholic girl, faithful to her religious duties, but with no remarkable piety. Her parents succeeded in placing her as lady’s-maid in the house where they were still employed as domestics. She was under their protecting eyes, and yet an attractive, refined girl like Anna was not free from danger. She realized this, knew the temptations, and as a result was more earnest in her prayers, more ready to seek the advice of her confessor, who counseled her to marry.

She was about twenty-one when she was married to Domenico Taigi. He was descended from a good, even an illustrious Milanese family, but was a poor man, a domestic servant. He was, however, a good man, religious and of excellent character. But he was uneducated, even a rustic boor, far inferior to his young wife in point of breeding, and so in many cases a trial to her.

He asked for her hand. They both prayed to ascertain the will of God, and finally, after a month, they were united in a marriage which, with all its trials, proved particularly happy. She was loving, faithful, industrious, and studied all his wishes. He was proud of his beautiful young wife, and liked to show her to his friends. She was gay and happy, attractive and vain of her beauty and her dress. But all the while she was displeased at her own worldliness, for she felt in her heart that God was seeking to draw her to a more devout life.

One day, when she was praying in Saint Peter’s, the grace of God touched her. She realized her vanity and frivolity, her passion for amusement, and determined to put it all aside. She had not committed any serious sin, but she felt that such a frivolous life was wrong. From the day she made her confession to the Servite priest, Father Angelo, to whom God had led her almost miraculously, this young wife of twenty-two entered upon the road to perfection, from the pursuit of which she was never to swerve during the long years of her married life. She put aside the life of pride and pleasure for the life of mortification. When she returned home from confession, she threw herself before the crucifix and scourged herself, and struck her head against the floor many times, exclaiming, “Satisfy to God, impure head, for so many frivolous ornaments with which you have dared to adorn yourself.” God rewarded this self-abasement with many graces, and in particular with the gift of a luminous disc in which, as in a mirror, she saw the past, present, and future, a gift which she enjoyed for the remaining forty-seven years of her life. Shortly afterwards she was given the power of healing with the touch of her hand, could read the secret thoughts of others, was granted the privilege of ecstasies, and all this at the very beginning of her conversion to a more earnest life. God thus rewarded early her love for Him.

At once she put aside all her ornaments of vanity, her rings, her ear-rings, necklaces, and fine clothes, and dressed herself in the commonest and coarsest of garments. She joined the Third Order of the Trinitarians, and wore the habit under her other clothes. She put aside all her worldly amusements and even denied herself the simple pleasure of visits to her friends. There was no half way about her giving herself to God. She punished herself, used the discipline, wore a hair shirt, and even an iron chain. She fasted rigorously, sometimes for a period of forty days, and went for days without a drink of water, a terrible penance in a hot climate, and especially for one who worked as hard as she. As she used to say, “The more greedy the ass is, the more needful is it to draw the rein tight.” She mortified her sight, too, and was as modest as a young girl. Not only did she not criticize anybody, but she would allow no one to make in her presence depreciating remarks about others.

“My mother,” said one of her daughters, “scarcely slept at all. She spent most of the night in prayer, and was up early in the morning to go to Mass, after having slept but two hours.” In a word, she lived in God and for God. “To acquire the love of God,” she used to say, “we must always be rowing against the current, and never cease counteracting our own will.”

If this woman had not been married, no doubt she would have entered the religious life. It is useless, however, to speculate on that, for it was the will of God that she should be a wife and mother, no doubt, in order that she might show that it is possible to lead a holy life even in the lowliest surroundings. And this poor woman became, says one of her biographers, “the rampart of the Holy See, the oblation of sinners, the consolation of the afflicted, the succorer of the poor, the guider of the learned, and the counselor of priests; she was a theologian, a doctor, a mother in Israel, a seer of the ancient days, an inspired prophet, a true wonder-worker.” What a panegyric for a poor, hard-working mother of seven children! Yet it was because she was a devoted wife and mother, faithful to the duties of her home, that God raised her to such heights.

Her religious ardor was never an excuse for neglect of duty. Not even her husband or her children knew to what heights of sanctity she had reached. It was only after her death that her instruments of self-mortification were discovered. Her penances, like her trials, she hid in her own heart.

And she had her trials. She was refined and sensitive; her husband was rough, coarse, and uncouth. He was self-willed, easily angered, and would fly into a rage if contradicted. She never argued with him or contradicted him. She was always patient, silent when he was angry, and in such a way that he soon became ashamed of himself, fearing that he had distressed her.

Domenico Taigi, with all his faults, had a good heart. His wife always sought to please him, would even set aside her devotions in order to accompany him or to do some service for him. As he said, long after she had died, at the time of the opening of the process of her beatification – he was then ninety-two – “I always found her as docile and submissive as a lamb.” It was a touching tribute to a loving wife, words that could be taken to heart by many wives of today, when we are hearing so much about women’s rights and so little about their duties.

And this docility and simplicity on her part are all the more remarkable when one knows that the humble home was always crowded with persons of distinction, ecclesiastical and lay, come to seek her advice; for by her great sanctity, her charity to the sick and poor, her ecstasies in the churches, and her ability to give the soundest advice, she was renowned all over Rome.

And yet, in spite of that popularity, her first thought was for her husband. “It happened to me frequently,” he said, “when coming home to change my clothes, that I found the house full. Immediately she would leave everybody, whatever lord or prelate might be there, and hasten to me with the greatest cheerfulness and pleasure, that she might brush my things and wait upon me, even to the tying of my shoe-strings. In short, she was my consolation, and that of all the world.”

In her he had the greatest confidence. “I let her manage everything,” he said, “because I saw that she acquitted herself perfectly of the task.” Yet she would never do anything unusual without first of all consulting him. What a simple tribute are the words of the old man of ninety-two, looking back over the past happy years. “She was always cheerful and pleasant,”’ he said; “yet she had a host of maladies. This, however, did not hinder her from putting her hand to work; she looked to everything and had hands of gold. As for me, I did not give a thought to anything. She made pantaloons for me, and overcoats. I do not well know how to express myself. To cut the matter short, I am old; but if I were young, and were minded to travel over the whole earth to find such a woman, it would be impossible to meet with her. I have lost a great treasure.”

She was the mother of seven children, four boys and three girls. Camillo, the eldest, died at the age of forty-two; Alessandro at thirty-five; Luigi at a year and a half; and Pietro at two years. Two of the daughters were living at the time of the process of her beatification, one unmarried, the other a widow.

It can be easily believed that this mother, holy as she was, took a deep interest in her children. She nursed all of them, taught them their catechism, and instructed them how to read and write. Morning and night, the whole family had prayers together, and always she taught the children to thank God that they had been born in the Catholic Church. She prepared them for Confession and Communion, and saw that the girls frequented the sacraments once a week, and the boys two or three times a month.

She arranged that all the boys should learn a trade according to their station in life. She had no foolish ideas about their becoming wealthy. The girls she sent to school. Over them all she exercised a watchful care. She guarded their modesty even in their own home, and kept them from bad companionship. In a word, she was a hard-working, prudent, common-sense mother, devoted to her children. “I will save your children,” Our Lord said to her one day, “because they are of your blood, because they are poor, and the poor are my friends. Yes, I will save them, although they have many faults.”

She did not hesitate to punish the children when they needed correction. She always insisted that they give their father strict obedience. She would allow no one to criticize others in the presence of the children. In fact, she would not listen to remarks about others, anyway, and especially about priests. “They are God’s ministers,” she would say, “and therefore always worthy of our respect; at the hour of death whom shall we need save the priest?” And this reverence for priests she instilled into the hearts of her children.

It was a happy household, a home simple in its furnishings – poor, even – but rich in its simple, unaffected piety. As soon as she awoke the children in the morning, they all would kneel about the little altar and say their morning prayers, together with her old mother, who lived with them. And after supper all would gather and listen to the reading of some pious book, and then before retiring there would be family prayers, the recitation of the Rosary, and other devotions. In her family God was the first consideration. And yet it was not a gloomy household. There was nothing unhappy about her. She was always pleasant, always could enjoy a good joke, and always sought to provide simple amusement for the children, taking them on picnics and otherwise seeking to make them light-hearted.

We get a good picture of her as manager of the home. Her husband received small wages, scarcely two dollars a month, so one can imagine how she had to plan in order to bring up her large family. She always stood and served the others while they sat at meals. Difficulties came upon the family when the husband lost his position through the removal to Paris of the family he worked for, at the time the French army in 1798 occupied Rome. It was discouraging to Domenico, but the wife urged him to put his trust in God; and then, to help out in the care of the family’s support, she learned to make women’s shoes and stays and worked at the new trade night and day. So successful was she that soon she was able not only to support her own family, but also to feed a great number of poor people.

It was at this time that she met the Princess Maria Luisa, afterwards Queen of Etruria, who came to her assistance in helping the poor. It was the time of the terrible famine in Rome, and Mrs. Taigi, delicate of health, through the long cold days would stand in the bread-line before the baker’s so that her children should not go hungry. Yet she was always calm and patient. She was never idle, and even when confined to the bed with torturing illness would do the family mending.

Besides the care of the children, she also had the care of her father and mother, who in their old days had been obliged to give up their work. The mother was hard to get along with, a woman with a bad temper, but her daughter was ever kind to her and tended her devotedly to the end. So, too, with her father. In the last years of his life he was afflicted with a horrible leprosy, but she would wash and comb him and attend to all his wants. Added to that, her son Camillo brought his wife to live with them, a woman who was a trial, since she wanted to be the mistress of the house, always looking for trouble. And then, when her daughter Sofia lost her husband, she came with her six children to live with her parents. It was a patriarchal way of living, but it brought its trials. Yet the good mother who was the head of the house never complained, but tried to make everybody feel at home.

To bear such trials and petty hardships she needed a lively faith. And surely she had that. She ever thanked God for the gift of faith, and had the utmost reverence for everybody and everything connected with religion. She had a special devotion to the Blessed Trinity, and soon after her conversion, as we have seen, became a member of the Third Order of Discalced Trinitarians, founded in 1198 for the redemption of captives, which may be called a religious order for those who live in the world.

And with it all there was that same confidence in God which knows that He will help those who help themselves and pray. “She did not,” says her husband, “wait for the basket to come down from heaven without doing anything herself. She joined labor to prayer in order not to tempt God by seeming to expect that He would work a miracle for her. When she found herself in a position of real necessity, she addressed herself to God with all the greater confidence, and the Lord helped her so well that the maintenance of her numerous family without their ever suffering want was a continual miracle.” And then he asks very simply, “What could I do with my salary, if I had not the servant of God?”

It was all her simple trust in the providence of God. They were always on the verge of poverty, but always managed to get along. The wealthy who came to the house to consult with her wished to make presents to her, but she would have none of that. God was the only help she wanted. Even when her daughter Sofia brought home her six children to increase the family burden, and began to weep and to wonder how they would all be fed, she was reproached by her mother. “What are you thinking about?” she asked. “You must know that God never abandons any one. You will have what you need. Place your trust in God, and give no thought to anything else; as for me, I will never forsake you.”

One day, when she called to see the Princess Luisa, the latter opened a drawer full of gold, and said to her: “Take, take, Nanna mia, what you will.” But the poor woman merely smiled and answered: “How simple you are, madam! I serve a Master richer than you. I trust and hope in Him; and He provides for my daily necessities.” It was not pride that made her refuse help from others; it was just her simple trust in God and her desire to remain always poor.

Later on, when she was unable to work, the family was in great poverty, and, painful as the humiliation was, the poor woman had to accept alms. She was poor in everything but the grace of God. And how rich she was in that! She lived in the presence of God, and endeavored to please Him in all things. This love of God made her endure physical and mental suffering, calumnies, contempt, harshness, not merely with resignation, but with joy. Her life was one long martyrdom gladly borne. Hers was a soul that God loved exceedingly, and He showered His choicest blessings upon it. Sometimes, when she was busy sweeping the floor or cooking, she would go into an ecstasy. At times even the note of a bird would transport her, so tenderly did she love God. Yet some of her neighbors, seeing these things, used to say that she was possessed, or that she was a hypocrite. Even her husband used to think, when these ecstasies came upon her, that she bad a fit of convulsions, and would try to shake her out of them. So little even he suspected the wonders God was working in the soul of this humble wife of his.

And through it all was her intense hatred of sin. She told her confessor that rather than commit a venial fault, she would mount a scaffold and endure all its shame, together with the infliction of every conceivable torture. As her love for God, so her love for her neighbor. Even out of her poverty she helped the poor, spending some of her time at night working for them, taking into her house the chance wanderer to feed and clothe, always seeing in the poor Jesus Christ Himself. “Never send the poor away,” she would say to her family; “when you have nothing else, give them a bit of bread.” When sent for by the sick, she always went, no matter what the weather. And she was always being sent for. She had a special gift for consoling the afflicted, and if she found poverty she would herself go begging alms for the destitute ones, and even take the bread out of her own mouth to succor them.

Hers was a charity that extended even to the dumb animals. “These poor beasts have no paradise save in this world,” she would say, and would even use the power she had to cure them. It is said that she would leave her own dinner to feed a hungry cat. She saw all animals as creatures of God. In her was renewed that love for animals so characteristic of Saint Francis.

If there was one virtue for which she was especially noted, it was her patience. Sometimes her neighbors insulted her, so much so that the angered Domenico had to defend her. But the more she was insulted, the more she rejoiced. For years she endured bodily ills, constant sick-headaches, neuralgia, rheumatism, asthma, gout – in fact, all the ills to which the flesh is heir. But never a murmur from her. Despite her sufferings, she kept at her devotions. She had a special devotion to the Infancy and Passion of Our Lord and to the Blessed Sacrament. And she had a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the poor souls in Purgatory.

Many a sinner she converted, offering up herself in expiation, and God accepted the .sacrifice, sending her all manner of trials, and permitting her to be sorely beset with temptations of every kind.

It was a time of trial for the Church, a time of persecution, and she was a victim of penance for the sins of the world and for the evils affecting the Church.

But with her sufferings God gave her great privileges. There is no doubt, in reading her life, that she had the gift of prophecy, and also worked miracles of healing. “Anna Maria the Saint,” was what the people called her, and high and low came to her, begging her advice and her prayers.

For eight months before her death she was confined to her bed of pain – of torture, rather – for every member suffered as if on a rack. And with what patience!

She did not fear death. She even announced her approaching end to her family with great cheerfulness. Then she called Domenico, her husband, and thanked him with tenderness for all the care he had taken of her, and all his kindness to her. Then she called her children and gave each of them advice. “My children,” she said, “have Jesus Christ always before you; let His Precious Blood be ever the object of your veneration. You will have to suffer much, but sooner or later the Lord will console you. Keep His commandments, cherish devotion to the most Holy Virgin, who will be your mother in my place.”

She left them nothing; rather, she left them poverty. But she did not bemoan that. She knew that God would take care of them.

And so, in poverty and alone, the good wife and mother died in 1837, at the age of sixty-eight. On that occasion the following letter was written by her confessor, Father Filippo, to the Pope’s vicar, Cardinal Odescalchi: “It is very just and proper seasonably to reveal the works of God, for His greater glory and for the edification of the faithful. Yesterday, Friday, the ninth of the current month (June), passed to eternal rest the soul of Anna Maria Taigi, who lived in the parish of Santa Maria in Via Lata. I know that the secretary of his Eminence Cardinal Barberini, D. Raffaele Natali, who has lived with her nearly twenty years, has addressed, in conjunction with other persons, a petition to your Eminence, to the intent that regard should be had to the body of this holy woman, which merits all respect. As for me, who have been her confessor for more than thirty years, until the day before yesterday, when she received the last sacraments, I believe myself to be bound in conscience to make known to your Eminence that not only did she exercise the Christian virtues in an heroic degree, but that God favored her also with special graces and extraordinary gifts, which will excite admiration, should it please God to publish them authentically before the whole Church, as I hope. I should have much to say on this head. I content myself with testifying to the charity of this holy soul, which constituted itself as a victim before God, and which obtained signal graces for Rome. I hope that God will cause this to be recognized later. The mortal remains, therefore, of so virtuous a soul, and one so highly esteemed by Pius VII and Leo XII, by Monsignore Strambi, Monsignore Menacchio, and a crowd of persons of every rank and every country who obtained extraordinary graces through her intervention, seem to merit special regard, in accordance with the constant practice of the Church.”

The same priest said: “Well, a woman replenished with so many merits, virtues, and supernatural gifts lives unknown and dies abandoned by every one; having round her bed of suffering only a poor family whom she leaves in destitution, and recommends to a priest, equally poor, who is to continue collecting daily alms for them. She blesses her children, and leaves them, as her sole bequest, piety, religion, devotion to the Virgin, to the saints, and particularly to Saint Philomena, her patroness, whom she constituted the guardian and protectress of her poor and numerous family. After which, recollected in God and animated by the fortitude which resignation imparts, she drinks to the very last drop the bitter chalice of a painful death.”

When this poor woman died there was universal sorrow throughout the city as soon as the sad news was learned. “The saint is dead,” was heard on all sides. High and low visited the house where she had died, and many, in spite of the fear of cholera then prevalent, went to pray at her tomb. Her work went on even after her death. The sick were healed through her intercession, sinners converted, and many other graces granted. So general was the opinion of her sanctity, that the Cardinal Vicar commissioned Raffaele Natali to collect all the documents relative to her life. When her biography was written shortly afterwards, seventeen thousand copies of it were sold in Rome alone. It was translated into many languages and spread over all the world.

For eighteen years the body lay in the common cemetery, and then there arose a desire to remove it into Rome. It was found incorrupt, and the clothes in perfect preservation. It was then placed in the Church of Santa Maria della Pace. Ten years later, on the occasion of the removal of the body to its last resting-place in the Church of the Trinitarians, it was still incorrupt. Her tomb was ever after a shrine at which the faithful prayed. The process of her beatification was begun in 1863, and it has not yet been finished.

So passed a poor, simple woman; so passed a great servant of God. What an example, we say, to all, but especially to the mothers of whom she may well be patroness! What mother ever had a harder life, one of continual toil, continual pain? Yet she was always rapt in God. Faithful to her husband, faithful to her children, and, above all, faithful to God, surely the venerable Anna Maria Taigi understands the difficulties of mothers, and will help those that pray to her.

– text taken from the book Great Wives and Mothers by Father Hugh Francis Blunt, 1917