Saints of the Day – Blessed Lucy Brocolelli of Narni

detail of an Italian holy card of Blessed Lucy of NarniArticle

Born in 1476; died 1544; beatified 1720. Very early, it became evident to her pious Italian family that this child was set for something unusual in life, for some of her heavenly favors were visible. When Lucy was five years old, she had a vision of Our Lady; two years later, Our Lady came with Saint Dominic, who gave her the scapular. At age 12, she made private vows and, even at this early age, had determined to become a Dominican. However, family affairs were to make this difficult. Lucy’s father died, leaving her in the care of an uncle. He felt that the best way to dispose of a pretty niece was to marry her off as soon as possible.

The efforts of her uncle to get Lucy successfully married form a colorful chapter in the life of the Blessed Lucy. At one time, he arranged a big family party, and his choice of Lucy’s husband was there. He thought it better not to tell Lucy what he had in mind, because she had such queer ideas, so he presented the young man to her in front of the entire assembly. The young man made a valiant attempt to place a ring on Lucy’s finger, and he was thoroughly slapped for his pains.

The next time, the uncle approached the matter with more tact, arranging a marriage with Count Pietro of Milan, who was not a stranger to the family. Lucy was, in fact, very fond of him, but she had resolved to live as a religious. The strain of the situation made her seriously ill. During her illness, Our Lady appeared to her again, accompanied by Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine, and told her to go ahead with the marriage as a legal contract, but to explain to Pietro that she was bound to her vow of virginity and must keep it. When Lucy recovered, the matter was explained to Pietro, and the marriage was solemnized.

Lucy’s life now became that of the mistress of a large and busy household. She took great care to instruct the servants in their religion and soon became known for her benefactions to the poor.

Pietro, to do him justice, never seems to have objected when his young wife gave away clothes and food, nor when she performed great penances. He knew that she wore a hair-shirt under her rich clothing, and that she spent most of the night in prayer and working for the poor. He even made allowances for the legend told him by the servants, that SS Catherine, Agnes, and Agnes of Montepulciano came to help her make bread for the poor. However, when a talkative servant one day informed him that Lucy was entertaining a handsome young man, who seemed to be an old friend, Pietro took his sword and went to see. He was embarrassed to find Lucy contemplating a large and beautiful crucifix, and he was further confused when the servant told him that was the young man.

When Lucy departed for the desert to become an anchorite, and returned the next day, saying that Saint Dominic had brought her home, Pietro’s patience finally gave out. He had his young wife locked up. Here she remained for the season of Lent; sympathetic servants brought her food until Easter. Perhaps they had both decided that Lucy could not live the life God had planned for her in Pietro’s house. She returned to her mother’s house and put on the habit of a Dominican tertiary.

Shortly after this, Lucy went to Viterbo and joined a group of Third Order sisters. She tried very hard to hide her spiritual favors, because they complicated her life wherever she went. She had the stigmata visibly, and she was usually in ecstasy, which meant a steady stream of curious people who wanted to question her, investigate her, or just stare at her. Even the sisters were nervous about her methods of prayer. Once they called in the bishop, and he watched with them for 12 hours, while Lucy went through the drama of the Passion.

The bishop hesitated to pass judgment and called in the inquisition. From here, she was referred directly to the pope. After talking to her, the pope pronounced in her favor and told her to go home and pray for him. Here the hard-pressed Pietro had his final appearance in Lucy’s life. He made a last effort to persuade Lucy to change her plans and come back to him. Finally he decided to become a Franciscan, and, in later years, he was a famous preacher.

When Lucy returned to Viterbo, she may have thought her troubles were over, but they were just beginning. The duke of Ferrara, in the manner of other wealthy nobles with a guilty conscience, decided to build a monastery and, hearing of the fame of the mystic of Viterbo, demanded that she come there and be prioress. Lucy had been praying for some time that a means would be found to build a new convent of strict observance, and she agreed to go to the new convent at Narni.

This touched off a two-year battle between the towns. Viterbo had the mystic and did not want to lose her; the duke of Ferrara sent his troops to take her by force, and much blood was shed before she was finally brought to Narni. The shock and grief of this violence was a new trial for Lucy. The duke sent his daughter-in-law, Lucrezia Borgia, to find postulants for the new convent. The records say, sedately: “Many of these did not persevere.”

The duke of Ferrara liked to show off the convent he had founded. He brought all his guests to see it. One time, he arrived with a troop of dancing girls, who had been entertaining at a banquet, and demanded that Lucy show them her stigmata and, if possible, go into ecstasy. It is not surprising that such events would upset religious life, and that sooner or later something would have to be done about it. Some of the sisters, naturally, thought it was Lucy’s fault.

The petitioned the bishop, and he sent six nuns from the Second Order to reform the community. Lucy’s foundation was of the Third Order; exactly what the difference was we do not know. The Second Order nuns, according to the chronicle, “brought in the very folds of their veils the seed of war”; nuns of the Second Order wore black veils, a privilege not allowed to tertiaries.

The uneasy episode ended when one of the visitors was made prioress. Lucy was placed on penance. The nature of her fault is not mentioned, nor is there any explanation of the fact that, until her death, 39 years later, she was never allowed to speak to anyone but her confessor, who was chosen by the prioress.

The Dominican provincial, probably nervous for the prestige of the order, would not let any member of the order go to see her. Her stigmata disappeared, too late to do her any good, and vindictive companions said: “See, she was a fraud all the time.” When she died in 1544, people thought she had been dead for many years.

It is hard to understand how anyone not a saint could have so long endured such a life. Lucy’s only friends during her 39 years of exile were heavenly ones; the Dominican, Catherine of Racconigi, sometimes visited her – evidently by bi-location – and her heavenly friends often came to brighten her lonely cell.

Lucy was buried without honors, but miracles occurring at her tomb soon made it necessary to transfer her relics to a more accessible place. She was reinterred, first in the monastery church, then in the cathedral (Dorcy).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 11 August 2020. Web. 5 December 2020. <>