Feast Day: August 23
Rose of Lima was born approximately fifty years after the arrival of the Spanish to the New World. Baptized with the name Isabel Flores de Oliva, she was called Rose by the family’s Incan housemaid who said she was as beautiful “as a rose,” and the name stuck. Like many another saint, St. Rose of Lima had to struggle to claim her vocation. At the age of five, she began to imitate Catherine of Siena, building a small chapel for herself in her family’s garden.
From a young age Rose was besieged by suitors, thus encouraging the hopes of her parents that an eventual marriage would advance the (tenuous) family fortune. But Rose had a different plan. She was determined to consecrate herself to God. Since her beauty posed an obstacle to her vocation, Rose sabotaged her mother’s plans to arrange a marriage by cutting her beautiful hair and then disfiguring herself by rubbing her face with pepper and lime. This hurt the family financially, and was further compounded by the failure of a mining venture in which her father had invested heavily. Rose helped support them by sewing and selling flowers from their garden. But she longed for the day when she would live for God alone.
Eventually, like her model St. Catherine of Sienna, she was allowed to join the Third Order of St. Dominic. She spent many years as a recluse and devoted herself to constant prayer. Eventually, however, she emerged to engage in works of mercy among the poor, the Indians, and slaves. Rose’s brothers built a cottage for her in the family garden, and her parents permitted her to open a clinic in one room of the house. The sick who came to Rose’s clinic reported that she healed everyone she touched.
When the Dutch pirate Jorge Spitberg entered Lima’s harbor and sent the city into a panic, the people gathered in the cathedral. Rose assured the people: “God provides, we trust to his providence.” When the pirates reached the altar, they found Rose guarding the Eucharist. At the sight of a woman prepared to offer her life to save the sacrament, the hardened pirates retreated and left Lima immediately. The citizens attributed the deliverance of the city to Rose’s prayers.
Rose also played guitar, wrote poems, and created collages to represent her mystical encounters with Christ. She was examined by several members of the Inquisition, who concluded that she was not a heretic. Her life was marked by frequent illness and periods of spiritual anguish. She had a strong sense of social as well as personal sin. In penance and in remembrance of Christ’s crown of thorns, Rose wore a circlet of silver studded with sharp pricks. All who encountered her said that she seemed to glow with the love of God. And yet her reputation for holiness gradually won her the reverence of the entire city and was regarded as a local saint.
Worn out by her many austerities, Rose died at the young age of thirty-one. Belief in her sanctity was so widespread that immediately after her death the bishops of Peru opened the process that led to Rose’s canonization in 1671. She was the first Catholic in the Americas to be declared a saint. She is the patron saint of gardeners, florists, and embroiderers. She is invoked against vanity and is one of the patron saints of Lima, Peru; South America; Central America; the New World; the West Indies; the Philippines; and India.
The Genius of Rose of Lima:
Rose wrote: “If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights!”
Craughwell, Thomas J. “Saints Preserved-An Encyclopedia of Relics.” New York, NY: Image Books, 2011.
Ellsberg, Robert. “All Saints.” New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.