Saint Rose of Viterbo

Saint and Sinner – St. Rose of Viterbo

Saint Rose of Viterbo

Saint Rose of Viterbo

We are in the days of the greatest Saints and the most deadly of Sinners.  As at no other time in our lives, we need to look at the Saints and Sinners who have come before us.  St Rose of Viterbo is one of those Saints God has left us to inspire us, to guide us, to speak to us at this time of our lives.  People are asking us, Why?  Why are we learning now about the Saints, some of which we have never heard about before?

This is the story of a Saint and a Sinner.  This story, another part of our 2000 year journey as a Church and a people of God, is about Rose who was raised to Sainthood and Frederick the sinner who God would use to raise her to that height of piety and virtue which forms a Saint.

What brought us to Saint Rose of Viterbo, initially?  She was a Saint whose body the Lord left incorrupt on earth, as one of the signs of her sanctity.  A body which has not decomposed, and is miraculously preserved, is one, only one of the signs which the Lord gives us to recognize someone’s holiness; it is not what makes one a Saint.  This particular sign is strictly a gift to the Saint verifying the Lord’s miraculous intervention, and a gift to us of God’s power and love; what will He not do to bring us closer to Him, through faith!  Consequently, he leaves us signs, or gifts to help us in our journey toward Him and Heaven.

Once again, the world is in turmoil and the Church is under attack.  Without Compromise! Our Lord Jesus would not compromise and they crucified Him.  His loyal Vicars would not compromise, and they along with Mother Church, over our 2000 year history, have been nailed to the Cross!  Knowing this, our Popes, His Vicars, chosen as they are by and through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, live and die for their spotless spouse, the Church.

A Sinner, a Saint, and a Pope without compromise

We are in the days of conquests and greed.  Greed desiring more, requiring more; and then requiring more, conquering more.  Out of necessity, to feed this voracious appetite, conquests begot conquests; and so the freedom St. Paul spoke of, we no longer slaves, was once again set aside, the sacrifice of the many for the power of the few.

To set the stage, we will begin with the sinner, Frederick II, his grandfather Frederick I Barbarossa (a Holy Roman Emperor dating back to the Twelfth Century), and his father Emperor Henry VI.  As with all monsters, Hitler in the Twentieth Century and Frederick I, the Red Beard[1] in the Twelfth, we the foolish, believe we can coexist with them.  So did the papacy in the Twelfth Century with Frederick I!  We will show you how the Holy See again and again attempts to coexist with one after the other, first Frederick I, then Frederick I’s son, Henry VI and his heir apparent Frederick II, who would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

What began as cooperation between the Papacy and his grandfather Frederick I would turn into Frederick I’s greed overcoming his good judgment, as he went about trying to reestablish the Carolingian rule of the Ninth Century and the Ottonian rule of the Tenth Century in Italy, which gave the Emperors the royal right to take over the Church and all the papal states, not only choosing prelates and making the bishopric a part of the Empire, but requiring all bishops be friends of the Emperor, taking all their orders from him.

Upon his father Frederick’s death, Henry VI was crowned King of Germany in 1169, King of Italy in 1189, and then King of Sicily in 1191; he was also crowned Emperor that year.  Unlike his father, Henry was not very charismatic; he lacked his father’s warmth, the charm that won so many over to his father.  But what Henry lacked in personality, he surpassed his father in knowledge and love of the Catholic Faith, that which he probably received from his strong Catholic mother, Queen Beatrice.  During his brief rule, he had three aims:

one to gain the approval of the German princes, as he came to the throne through hereditary succession, his father being from the Hohenstaufen family;

two to arrange an agreeable territorial agreement with the Papacy;

and three to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land, completing what his father had started – the deliverance of Jerusalem and all the Shrines of the Holy Land from the hands of the Saracens.

Poor Henry VI’s first aim was to fail in that the German princes, while they did not hesitate to elect Henry’s infant son King, they did reject the doctrine of automatic succession to the throne by virtue of royal birthright, in this case, the Hohenstaufen family.  The second aim failed, as the new Pope Clement III was wary of dealing with Henry, who had too much power and was a decided threat to the Papacy, not only as King of Germany but through marriage,[2] as King of Sicily.  His third aim to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land was blessed by the Pope; it received great acclaim by the German citizens, but alas it too was to fail; Henry died the night he was to leave for the Holy Land, resulting in his troops returning and abandoning the Crusades.

The Empire was divided between Henry’s brother Philip of Swabia and his infant son Frederick II.

We have heard the age-old adage, “Like father, like son,” well maybe because of Henry VI’s sudden death and  division of the empire, great catastrophes were averted and he was not able to fulfill his father’s dream, like conquerors before and after him, of world domination.  But the adage would become a prophecy, only, “Like grandfather, like grandson;” for a second Frederick would rise from the ashes of his grandfather’s failure and become a pawn for the greedy seeking that which is not theirs.

Before she died, His mother, the Empress entrusted Frederick II to Pope Innocent III.  When Emperor Otto I (who had feigned loyalty to the Pope) turned against the Papacy, the Pope supported his loyal ward, Frederick II, to rule over Italy.      Through this, Innocent III prevented Otto I from gaining supremacy over Italy and the confiscation of not only Italian principalities but papal lands, as well.  Frederick II, was victorious blocking  the takeover of Italy by Otto I.

When Frederick II took over principality after principality in Italy, it was without incident.  He was welcomed not only by the Italians but Pope Honorius[3] who placed the Imperial crown on his head.  At that time, Frederick II pledged his loyalty to the Cross and the Papacy.  But things got strained between the Pope and Frederick II, as his ambitious appetites for more and more power, grew more and more ravenous.  The renewed threats to the Papacy and the northern states resulted in doubt, disbelief, distrust, fear and ultimately bitterness.  Frederick II, thirst for power never fully quenched, went about not only unifying Italy under himself (of course), but waging a campaign for her reentry into the Roman Empire, with him as Emperor.

His borders of influence dangerously kept expanding.  The papal states, seeing the danger in the progressively unrestrained inordinate power Frederick was amassing, in the world, feared the Church would be next.  Sure enough, in 1231 Frederick made unbridled demands on the northern part of Italy, including the confiscation of lands belonging to the Papacy.  The new Pope Gregory IX condemned Frederick, accusing him of desecrating, looting and pillaging Church property and charged him with heresy!  Frederick’s ambition to found an Empire, on the strength of his takeover of all Italy, was forestalled by the Pope’s action.

A rose will bloom in the desert

For the second time Frederick II was excommunicated; he retaliated by attacking the papal states, and this is where Rose of Viterbo came in.  In 1240, Frederick II decided to occupy Viterbo!  The Lord always with us, in time of need, sent into this world of hopelessness and helplessness, a baby!  A few years before the frightening entry of Frederick II into the sweet, serene village of Viterbo, there was an entry that would inflame the populace with new courage and hope, a child was born!  Little Rose, who was named when she was baptized, would let out a cry that would grow and grow until it awakened the people to a new consciousness that they could make a difference.

Her parents were not of noble birth, but had instead the gifts needed by a future Saint, holiness, virtue, piety, humility and charity.  From her earliest years, Rose showed an alive, unending, overflowing love for the Church, for Jesus, the Blessed Mother, the Angels and the Saints.  When she was just eight years old, she had a vision of the Blessed Mother in which Mother Mary told Rose she would be clothed in the habit of St. Francis.[4] She was not to become a cloistered Nun, but a tertiary, part of the third order, remaining at home, giving witness to her family and neighbors by word and action of Jesus in her life.

She later became ill.  But the Lord having too much for her to do, she soon recovered and donned the habit of the lay penitents of St. Francis.  When she began, to contemplate Jesus’ suffering, and how wounded He was by the ingratitude of His children, Rose went to the people of Viterbo, preaching in the streets, knocking on doors, going from house to house, berating her neighbors for their complacency and apathy toward the freedom they had lost at the hands of Frederick II.

She told them they could be free; all they had to do was overthrow the Ghibelline[5] garrison.  She was all of age twelve! But her age did not deter the populace from listening, their hearts on fire!  It had been so long since anyone had spoken of the beauty of Italy, of the promise the Lord made to His children not to leave them orphans.  She told them they were not born to be slaves, but free!  They listened!  And miracles came about!  Everywhere she went, she was greeted warmly; citizens having heard of her and the marvels surrounding her speechmaking, gathered to hear the Good News!  Men who no longer had the will to get up in the morning were plowing their land, once more; after all, it was their land, little Rose had said so.  And so, new life came into the ancient village of Viterbo.

Crowds began to gather; her father became nervous; soon, the authorities would hear of her and they would all be punished.  What was wrong with her; after all, they had food on their table!  He scolded; he pleaded; he berated her; he cajoled her; finally, she leaving him no recourse, he threatened to beat her if she did not stay home and cease her preaching.  Rose replied, “If Jesus could be beaten for me, I can be beaten for Him.  I do what He has told me to do, and I must not disobey Him.”

Father and daughter seemed at loggerheads, when the local parish priest intervened; he urged her father to cease restraining Rose from doing her Divinely appointed duty.  He withdrew his objections and Rose was free to preach; and preach she did, tirelessly rising early in the morning, retiring late at night, as if one driven, knowing time was short.  This sounds like the urgency Jesus had with three short years to reach the children of God.  This sounds like the time of Jesus; it sounds like today, with the few speaking out, the John Baptists of our day crying out in the desert, Repent and be saved! And the many…..?

She was free to preach for two years!  Standing on the street corners of the town, crowds gathering, clamoring for more, her voice crying out, theirs joining in, they were a people to be reckoned with, she was uniting them, rallying support for the Pope and the Church.  They took up the cry, Defend the Pontiff’s cause!  Then, some villagers who had sold their souls to the Emperor for land and position became alarmed and began clamoring for her execution as an enemy of the Empire.

The mayor of the town would hear nothing of it, protesting the girl was innocent.  He had a few reasons for his defense of Rose; he was a fair and just man, but also a prudent and wise man.  He feared for his life, for by this time, Rose had become a little Joan of Arc.  The townspeople had been resigned to the carnage of their existence; Rose brought them reason for hope and rejoicing.  There was a light at the end of the dark tunnel they had been journeying through, and the mayor pitied anyone trying to put out that light.

What was the wisest course?  Banish Rose and her parents from the village.  And so he ordered them escorted out of town!  The little family settled in Soriano; and it was there that Rose prophesied, announcing to all, the forthcoming death of Frederick II looming in the near future.  He died in Apulia, on the thirteenth of that month.  The papal party was reinstated in Viterbo; the citizens of Viterbo were slaves no more; free, at last.

Their little heroine was also now free, to return to her beloved village; but not before she was to go through a test by fire, truly fire!  A citizen of Soriano, loyal to the Emperor and the royal Hohenstaufen family, threatened Rose with burning to death at the stake, if she did not renounce the Pope; Rose responded by asking her to be quick about it, thanking her for the privilege of dying a martyr’s death for the Faith.  Having completely confounded her adversary, she not only disarmed her, she won her over for Christ and His vicar, the Pope.

Rose returned to Viterbo with her parents.  It was time to go to the Convent of St. Mary of the Roses in Viterbo and ask for entrance as a postulant.  As her parents were not able to supply the necessary dowry, the abbess refused her entry.  Rose prophetically responded, “You will not have me now, but perhaps you will be more willing when I am dead.”

Seeing the piety in the little missionary who had brought so much light into everyone’s life, the parish priest had a chapel built with an adjoining house, near the convent of St. Mary of the Roses.  There Rose and a small company  of young women could follow a life of the religious.  But the company of Nuns received an order from the Holy See to close down the convent as it was too close to the other convent.[6]

Rose returned to her parents’ home.  There she died on March 6th, 1252.  She was seventeen years old.  They buried her in the Church of Santa Maria in Podio.  But six years later, her body was transferred to the Church of the Convent of Saint Mary of the Roses, just as she had prophesied!  Although this church was burned down in 1357, her body was intact and is preserved miraculously till this day, incorrupt.  Each year her body is carried in solemn procession through the streets of Viterbo.  Upon her death, Pope Innocent IV, the same Pope who had refused to allow her to have a  convent near the other convent in Viterbo, ordered an investigation to commence into the virtues and sanctity of Rose of Viterbo.  However it was not to happen in his pontificate; but one hundred years later, in 1457.

As with many Saints of the past, the faithful proclaimed Rose Saint before the official canonization, because of the virtuous life she shared with them when she was alive and because of the miracles, the Lord gave them, through her intercession, before and after she died.

Pope John Paul II told the Youth of the world at a Youth Conference in Denver, Colorado, they are the Church of Today!  Rose began defending her Pope and her Church when she was twelve.  What is the Lord asking of you?  Why are you reading this account?  Pray!  The Lord has such an exciting plan for those who say Yes!

For more information about Saint Rose of Viterbo click here


[1]Barbarossa in Italian means Red Beard

[2]His wife’s father was Roger II, King of Sicily

[3]who succeeded Innocent III

[4]Now it was just about fifteen years since St. Francis had died.

[5]or Hohenstaufen barracks, soldiers under the command of Frederick II

[6]This is difficult for us to understand, possibly, because we are not living in those times.  Cloistered Nuns, as they all were, subsisted solely on begging and the generosity of the villagers.  To have two convents, close by in the same village, could be a burden to the townspeople, they reasoned, or worse could cause the two convents to suffer.

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