Blessed Maria Bartholomew Bagnesi


Marietta was a beautiful and appealing child, with big eyes and a constant smile. Because she was tiny, she was always called Marietta, rather than Mary. Her mother neglected her when she was a baby, leaving her to the casual care of others, and the little girl was often hungry and cold. She never protested, but was always gay and charming, and she was the special darling of her sister, who was a Dominican nun.

The sisters made quite a pet of the little girl, and she ran through the cloisters unhampered, singing for the sisters from the throne of the community-room table. What brought about her utter disgust with marriage is hard to tell. When her father proposed that she marry an eligible young man, she reacted with horror. She had been managing the household since the death of her mother, and her father felt that having a home of her own would be the best thing in the world for her. When he suggested this, Marietta fell into a faint, and she remained in that condition for days. When she recovered, she could not stand up, and had to be put to bed.

At this point a strange interlude brings, which can only be explained by the fact that God does not operate in the same fashion we do. Marietta’s father was fond of quack doctors, and quacks of the 16th century were really fantastic. Without protest the girl endured all the weird and frightful treatments they devised, suffering more from the treatments than she ever had from the malady. Today her ailment would probably be diagnosed as some type of spastic nerve malady. Packing her in mud and winding her in swaddling bands until she, according to her own account, “felt like a squashed raisin” could not have helped anything but the quack doctor’s purse. The ailments continued unabated for 34 years.

Marietta had hoped to be a nun; four of her sisters were already in the convent. Because such a life was, of course, impossible for an invalid, her father attempted to better her spirits by having her accepted into the Third Order. A priest came from Santa Maria Novella and received her into the order in 1544, but he excused her from the obligation of saying the Office because of the desperate nature of her illness. When he came the following year, she made her profession. For a little while after her profession, Marietta was able to get out of bed and could even walk a little. She could see and enjoy the beauties of the city. The she fell ill again and went back to bed; this time she had asthma, pleurisy, and a kidney ailment.

The doctors continued their experimentation through all the years of her life. A mystic, who sometimes conversed with the angels, saints, and devils, Marietta was suspected by the neighbors of being in league with the devil. Her protests that “she had seen him all right but he wasn’t a friend of hers,” fell on deaf ears; they obtained permission to have her exorcised. Her confessor left her; he was afraid of becoming involved. Another priest who came to her, mostly out of curiosity, stayed on as her confessor and directed her strange and troubled path for 22 years.

Marietta’s little room became a sort of oratory, and troubled people came there to find peace. She had an unusually soothing effect on animals; several pet cats made her the object of their affection. One of them used to sleep on the foot of her bed, and if she became sick during the night would go out to find someone to care for her. Once, when the cat felt that Marietta was being neglected, it went out and fetched her a large cheese. The cats, according to the legend, did not even glance at the songbirds that she had in a cage beside the bed.

Marietta’s spiritual life is hard to chronicle against such an odd background. In her last years, she was in almost constant ecstasy. The chaplain said Mass in her room, and she went to confession daily. She never discussed the sorrowful mysteries, because she could not do so without crying, but she often talked with great animation and a shining face, about the glorious mysteries. Once she was raised out of her bed in ecstasy. She shared her visions with another mystic, the Carmelite, Mary Magdalen de Pazzi. Because of her devotion to Saint Bartholomew, she added his name to her own, and usually used it instead of her family name.

Born: August 15, 1514 at Florence, Italy

Died: May 28, 1577 at Florence, Italy of natural causes

Beatified: July 11, 1804 by Pope Pius VII

Patronage: loss of parents, sick people, victims of abuse

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