Saint Rita of Cascia (Born Margherita Lotti 1381 - May 22, 1457) was an Italian Augustinian nun, widow and saint venerated in the Roman Catholic Church. Born in Roccaporena, Italy, Rita was married at an early age. The marriage lasted for 18 years, during which she is remembered for her Christian values as a model wife and mother who made efforts to convert her husband from his abusive behavior. Upon the murder of her husband by another feuding family, she sought to dissuade her sons from revenge.
Popular pious legend recalls that Rita was flown into the convent by Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Augustine, where she subsequently joined an Augustinian community of religious sisters. Rita was known for practicing self-mortification of the flesh, along with the apparent efficacy of her prayers and is venerated due to various miracles attributed to her intercession, and is often portrayed with a bleeding wound on her forehead, which the Roman Catholic Church claims to have been a partial stigmata.
The Roman Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII officially canonized Rita on May 24, 1900, while her feast day is celebrated every May 22. In many pious Catholic countries, Rita is known to be a patroness for abused wives and mourning women.
In the parish church of Laarne, near Ghent, Belgium, there is a statue of St. Rita in which several bees are featured. This depiction originates from the story of her baptism as an infant. On the day after her baptism, her family noticed a swarm of white bees flying around her as she slept in her crib. However, the bees peacefully entered and exited her mouth without causing her any harm or injury. Instead of being alarmed for her safety, her family was mystified by this sight.
Interpreters of the story believe the bees represented her subsequent beatification by Pope Urban VIII (whose Barberini family coat of arms featured three bees).
One of the common versions of the story about the importance of the rose (and fig) is set before Rita's entry into the convent.
Another version is set near the end of her life, when Rita was bedridden in the convent. A cousin visited her and asked her if she desired anything from her old home. Rita responded by asking for a rose and a fig from the garden. It was January and her cousin did not expect to find anything due to the snowy weather. However, when her relative went to the house, a single blooming rose was found in the garden as well as a fully ripened and edible fig, and her cousin brought the rose and fig back to Rita at the convent. The rose bush is still alive and often in bloom today.
The rose is thought to represent God's love for St. Rita and her ability to intercede on behalf of lost causes or impossible cases. St. Rita is often depicted holding roses or with roses nearby. On her feast day, churches and shrines of St. Rita provide roses to the congregation that are blessed by priests during Mass.
One day, while living at the convent, Rita said, "Please let me suffer like you, Divine Saviour". Suddenly, a thorn from a figure of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ fell from the crown of thorns and left a deep wound in Rita's forehead. This wound never healed and caused her great suffering for the rest of her life. As a result, depictions of St. Rita show a forehead wound to represent this event. In addition to the physical pain, the wound emitted a terrible stench, which kept the other nuns away from her. On the day she died, the odor from the wound in her forehead became a beautiful scent of roses.
Some criticism and concern have been addressed regarding Rita's portrayal of religious habit. While most common images of Rita show her in a classic Augustinian traditional black habit, historical accuracy shows that the religious sisters in the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in 14th-century Cascia, Italy wore beige or brown habits, particularly with a white veil with a brown edge ribbon. This correction was particularly noted in the 2004 film Santa Rita da Cascia.