On this day: St. Rose of Lima

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Rose of Lima.

". . . with the emergence of new cultural histories and the study of mentalit├ęs, critics have begun to examine the broader contexts of Rosa's life: the role of the Counter-Reformation, the extirpation of idolatrous practices in Peru, and the development of a cr'ollo identity. Scholars . . . ask why Rosa de Lima was America's first saint. . . . A recent study of the politics, dogma, and iconography involved suggests that Rosa was in the right place at the right time and that her image could be molded to fit the changing needs of the faithful."

--from "'Redeemer of America': Rosa de Lima (1586-1617), the Dynamics of Identity, and Canonization," by Kathleen Ann Myers, in Colonial Saints: Discovering the Holy in the Americas, 1500-1800, edited by Allan Greer and Jodi Blinkoff, Routledge, 2002, page 253.

Frank Graziano is one of the scholars Myers is referring to, and the most important. In Wounds of Love: The Mystical Marriage of Saint Rose of Lima, Oxford University Press, 2004, he asks and answers many of the questions that this saint's life raises.

"What sort of omniscient, omnipotent God would express himself in these basely human and often ludicrous ways that trivialize the power and awe of diety? What sort of all-loving God would demand as a condition of his love that a frail girl torture herself to mime the sufferings of his Passion, through which he was supposed to have settled the account once and for all? . . . And if all of these matters--the cruel demands, the gratuitous miracles, the nuanced sexuality, the nuptial tropes--are of human rather than divine origin, if they are projected onto a God conceived to accommodate them, then what is happening during the intense experiences of vision and ecstasy, who is speaking when God speaks, why does mystical union assume sexual tropes, and why is the loved female body loathed?" Page 5.

Graziano examines in detail the claims made by Rose's hagiographers and compares them to the testimony of people who knew her. For example, St. Rose of Lima is often portrayed with a guitar, and many writers claim she could play, but members of the Gonzalo de la Maza family, with whom she lived, said she did not know how to play. Page 39.

More of Graziano's book may be sampled at Amazon.

John Cumming, in Butler's Lives of the Saints sums up Rose of Lima: "Rose attacked herself in ways only too familiar among the insecure, anxious, deprived, self-deprecating, and self-hating in our own times, whom we class as sick. As always, repetition reinforced the behaviour once acquired. But we cannot say exactly how psychotic she was and whether her flight into religion was entirely a mixture of personal sickness and justifiable escape from social constraints or partly a turning of that experience through mature judgment to religious ends. As records present her to us, she is certainly no model for young women in the way she was presented as such in the past, but if the psychotic elements and the probable exaggerations of them are ignored, she remains a determined witness to commitment to God in a confusing and violent society." Page 230.

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