Blessed Lucy of Narni
Blessed Lucy of Narni was the eldest of eleven children of Bartolomeo Broccadelli and Gentilina Cassio. When she was only five years old, she had a vision of the Virgin Mary. Two years later, she had another vision, this time of the Virgin Mary accompanied by Saint Dominic. Dominic is said to have given her the scapular at this time. When she was twelve years old, Lucy made a private vow of chastity, and determined to become a Dominican nun.
Circumstances, however, changed to make doing so difficult. The next year her father died, leaving her in the care of an uncle. This uncle determined that the best course of action he could take would be to get Lucy married as quickly as possible.
He made several attempts to do so. One of these included holding a large family party. He had invited the man he had chosen as Lucia’s husband to the party, with the intention of having the couple publicly betrothed. He however had not informed Lucia of his intentions. The suitor made an attempt to put a ring on Lucia’s finger, only to be slapped repeatedly for his efforts by Lucia.
A later attempt involved Count Pietro de Alessio of Milan, an acquaintance of the family. Lucia was actually quite fond of him, but felt her earlier vow to become a nun made the possibility of marriage impossible. The strain Lucia felt as a result of the conflicting feelings made her seriously ill. During this time, the Virgin Mary and Saint Dominic again appeared to her, this time accompanied by Catherine of Siena. They reportedly advised Lucia to contract a legal marriage to Pietro, but to explain that her vow of virginity would have to be respected and not violated. Pietro agreed to the terms, and the marriage was formalized.
In 1491 Lucia became Pietro’s legal wife and the mistress of his household, which included a number of servants and a busy social calendar. Despite her busy schedule, Lucia made great efforts to instruct the servants in Christianity and soon became well known locally for her charity to the poor.
Pietro observed Lucia’s behavior, and occasional quirks, quite indulgently. He never objected when she gave away clothing and food nor when she performed austere penances, which included regularly wearing a hair shirt under her garments and spending most of the night in prayer and acting to help the poor. He also seemed to have taken in stride the story he was told by the servants that Lucia was often visited in the evenings by Saint Catherine, Saint Agnes, and Saint Agnes of Montepulciano who helped her make bread for the poor.
However, when one of the servants came up to him one day and told him that Lucia was privately entertaining a handsome young man she appeared to be quite familiar with, he did react. He took up his sword and went to see who this person was. When he arrived, he found Lucia contemplating a large crucifix. The servant told him that the man he had seen Lucia with looked like the figure on the crucifix.
Lucia left one night for a local Franciscan monastic community, only to find it closed. She returned home the following day, stating that she had been led back by two saints. That was enough for Pietro. He had her locked away for the bulk of one Lenten season. She was only visited by servants who brought her food. When Easter arrived, however, she managed to escape from Pietro back to her mother’s house and on 1494 May 8 became a Dominican tertiary. Pietro expressed his disapproval of this in a rather dramatic form, by burning down the monastery of the prior who had given her the habit.
In 1495 Lucia went to Rome and joined a group of Third order Dominican tertiaries. The next year she was sent to Viterbo and here she found she was frequently the object of unwanted attention. It was here, on February 25, 1496 that she is reported to have received the stigmata. Lucia did her best to hide these marks, and was frequently in spiritual ecstasy. The house had a steady stream of visitors who came to speak to Lucia, and, often, just look at her. Even the other nuns were concerned about her, and at one point called in the local bishop who watched Lucia go through the drama of the Passion for twelve hours straight.
The bishop would not make a decision on Lucia, and called in the local inquisition. Reports here vary, some indicating that he referred the case directly to the Pope, who is said to have spoken with her and, with the assistance of Columba of Rieti, ultimately decided in her favor, telling her to go home and pray for him. Other sources question the accuracy of these reports.
At that time Pietro also came to her, making a final plea to persuade Lucia to return with him as his wife. She declined, and Pietro left alone. He would himself later become a Franciscan monk and a famous preacher.
When Lucy returned to the convent in Viterbo, she found that the Duke of Ferrara, Ercole d’Este I, had determined to build a convent in Ferrara and that, having heard of her, he determined that she would be its prioress. In summer of 1497, he invited her to be the founder of this new monastery. Lucia herself, the Dominican order, and the Pope all agreed quickly to the new proposal. The municipal council of Viterbo, however, objected, not wanting to lose Lucy. Lucia had been praying for some time for a way to create a new convent of strict observance, and agreed to go to the new convent.
Lucia’s departure precipitated a conflict between Ferrara and Viterbo which would continue for two years. Viterbo wanted to keep the famous mystic for themselves, and the duke wanted her in Ferrara. After extensive correspondence between the parties, on April 15, 1499 Lucia escaped secretly from Viterbo and was officially received in Ferrara on May 7, 1499. Thirteen young girls immediately applied for admission to her new community; the construction of the monastery began in June and was completed two years later, in August 1501. It contained 140 cells for sisters and the novices, but to fill it with suitable vocations proved to be very difficult. Lucia expressed the wish to have there some of her former friends from Viterbo and Narni. Duke Ercole, in September 1501 sent his messenger to Rome asking for the help of the pope’s daughter Lucrezia Borgia, who was preparing to marry Duke’s son Alfonso. She collected all eleven candidates Lucia had indicated and sent them, as a special wedding present to Lucia and to the Duke, a few days ahead of her bridal party. She herself solemnly entered Ferrara on February 2, 1502.
The Duke petitioned the local bishop for some help for Lucia in governing her new community, and he sent ten nuns from another community to join Lucia’s convent. Unfortunately, these ten nuns were members of the Dominican second order, who were canonically permitted to wear black veils, something Lucia and the members of the Dominican third order community were not allowed to do.
Tensions were heightened when one of these veiled outsiders, Sister Maria da Parma, was made the prioress of the convent on September 2, 1503. When Duke Ercole died on January 24, 1505 the new prioress quickly found Lucia to be guilty of some unrecorded transgression, most probably of the support for the Savonarolan church reform, and placed her on a strict penance. Lucia was not allowed to speak to any person but her confessor, who was chosen by the prioress. The local provincial of the Dominican order would also not permit any member of the order to see Lucia. There are records that at least one Dominican, Catherine of Racconigi, did visit her, evidently by bilocation, and that Lucia’s earlier visitation by departed saints continued. In response to Lucia’s insistent prayer her stigmata eventually disappeared, which caused some of the other nuns to question whether they had ever been there at all. When Lucia finally died, in 1544, many people were surprised to find that she had not died years earlier.
Then suddenly everything changed. When her body was laid out for burial so many people wanted to pay their last respects that her funeral had to be delayed by three days. Her tomb in the monastery church was opened four years later and her perfectly preserved body was transferred to a glass case. When Napoleon in 1797 suppressed her monastery the body was transferred to the Cathedral of Ferrara; and on 1935 May 26 – to the Cathedral of Narni.
Lucia was beatified by Pope Clement XI on March 1, 1710
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