Capuchin Poor Clare (1660-1727)
Veronica, christened Ursula, was born at Mercatelli in Italy in 1660. In 1677 she entered the convent of Capuchin nuns in Citta di Castello, determined to devote herself to prayer and mortiﬁcation so as to be conformed to Christ cruciﬁed. As a result she received the Stigmata and other signs of the Passion. A life full of virtue and mystical graces was crowned by a holy death in 1727. She was beatiﬁed by Pope Pius VII in 1804 and canonized by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839.
It is not unusual for mystics to be fluent with the pen. Veronica Giuliani indeed was no exception. Her manuscript Diary contains twenty-two thousand pages in which she relates the dramatic and intense events of her journey towards God. The saint wrote it “with mortification and embarrassment … for the sake of simple obedience.” However, the truth be told, it could also be said that she wrote with great effort and loss of sleep since she usually wrote these things through the course of the night, depriving the body of its needed rest.
In practice the Diary ranges over a period of the sixty seven years of the saint’s life. Starting with her memories of early childhood – and these are discussed in five special tracts – the Diary continues up to 25 March 1727 when, as Veronica says, Our Lady said, “Time for a full-stop.” And her hand put down the pen forever.
Veronica was born in Mercatello sul Metauro on 27 December 1660 and was baptised Orsola the following day. He father commanded the local garrison with the rank of ensign. Seven children were born to him and his wife Benedetta Mancini. Two of children died quite young. Orsola was the last, and like the other daughters, grew up within a very devout environment created by her mother in particular. Her mother was deeply religious and sensitive. She left her little brood of children and teenagers on 28 April 1667, at only about forty years of age.
Before dying she gathered her daughters around. Showing them the Cross she assigned a wound to each of them. Orsola, the smallest, received that of His side. This action says a lot about the faith of the Giuliani family where prayer in common, harmony and the practice of works of mercy nourished everyday life. During the process of Veronica’s canonization someone added, “In the Giuliani household they read the life of a saint every evening.”
As in Mercatello so also in the years 1669-1672 at Piacenza where the girls followed their father who had obtained the office of superintendent of taxes in the service of the Duke of Parma, and then after their return to Mercatello.
Of this happy period of her life Veronica will remember the pranks, the goodness of those who surrounded her, the tender devotion of the prayers to Our Lady and the Baby Jesus, the first attractions to the religious life, the long and exasperating resistance with which her father opposed the fulfilment of this ardent wish of hers.
Francesco Giuliani had allowed his other four daughters to enter the monastery freely. However, he was not prepared to cede to the request of Orsola, his dearest, the most intelligent, and the one in whom he was the most interested, the most spoiled and pampered of the daughters. He wanted her to marry and stay with him. However, Orsola had already decided when she was nine years old and it was up to the old ensign to capitulate to her immovable determination. So it was that on 28 October 1677, while she had not yet turned seventeen, Orsola was clothed in the religious habit of the Capuchin Poor Clares in Città di Castello, taking the symbolic name of Veronica.
But whose ‘true image’ or faithful copy will she be? Veronica’s enthusiasm, an expression of her young age – for a long time in the monastery they called her “la bambina” (the baby), did not countenance any doubts. With all her being she longed to become a true image of Christ crucified.
On entering the Capuchin Poor Clares she brought her inestimable spiritual riches: innocence, the habit of prayer, boundless enthusiasm, a determination to live the life in earnest, and a large quantity of candour that did not envisage any obstacles whatsoever to her burning thirst for religious perfection. Veronica is ready and determined to reach holiness heroically, as did her models, the saints, whose deeds she had learned to understand since her childhood. The monastery is the gym that will enable her to become generous like them. In her view, she must run in pursuit of them along the tracks of prayer and penitence, contemplation and suffering.
Veronica continued on this line for around twenty years, amid obstacles and misunderstandings, resolved to succeed at all costs. Around her in the monastery everything happened within the greyness of the ordinary day to day life. However, her journey towards God was marked with important milestones: I November 1678, religious profession; 4 April 1681, Jesus places the crown of thorns on her head; 17 September 1688 she is elected novice mistress, an office she will fill until 18 September 1691; 12 December 1693 she begins to write her Diary; from 3 October 1694 until 21 March 1698 she was novice mistress again; Good Friday, 5 April 1697 she receives the stigmata, and in the course of the same year she was denounced to the Holy Office and in 1699 was deprived of active and passive voice.
These are dates and events, which in themselves allow us to intuit that something mysterious was happening within Veronica to which her monastic world reacted with trust and admiration and also with open warfare at the expense of her poor “humanity” subjected to privations, difficulties and humiliations of every kind. The account of her sufferings, whether those sought by her or imposed upon her, is somewhat horrifying. Neither the modern hagiographer nor modern reader can manage to justify or even understand such behaviour. In a certain sense Veronica herself will renounce them when, after finally having surpassed that stage of her fearful self-discipline, she spoke of “the crazy things that love had me do.”
From the moment she received the stigmata (1697), these “crazy things” became less frequent and disappeared completely in 1699. From that time Veronica will be satisfied with “suffering the difficulties and torments that she saw and knew to be given her directly by the hand of God in order to purify her still more.” This was a golden rule that she never failed to instil in the young sisters: she wanted them “to moderate their desire to do penance.”
Veronica’s natural inclination meant she took more the part of Mary rather than that of Martha. In her first years spent in the monastery she believed she could quench her thirst for perfection by immersing herself in contemplative meditation. Her repugnance for menial domestic tasks and the lowly services of charity also pushed her in that direction. Then to fill her sense of emptiness and discontent, she chose to serve. Moreover, she saw manual work as an aesthetical practice, like a penance, This unleashed in her an indomitable revulsion because until that moment it had never entered her mind that carrying out those actions would be more useful and more altruistic than withdrawing to her cell in contemplation and mortification. And yet she wondered if contemplation alone could resolve the moral problem of life. This led her to argue within herself about which had the greater spiritual value, the active life or the contemplative life. And here we come across a revealing phrase: “you could have remained in the world to do good and you would have been even more useful to others.” Fortunately, she quickly concluded that remaining within the monastery can also be useful for others. So when speaking about living a life hidden in God she writes, “I have to do this in prayer, in the things that happen, everywhere; it is not by withdrawing into the cell but in the midst of the entire community that I have to practise solitude with Jesus … It seems to me that what God requires of me becomes evident through works.”
Veronica had gained a practical insight, that the most efficient way to find and adore God consists in seeking Him with sincerity in the midst of a hundred different concerns. She will follow this practical rule of thumb until her dying day and convincingly instil this in her sisters.
On 7 March 1716, the Holy Office revoked its disciplinary measure imposed upon her. This allowed Veronica to participate with full rights in the elections for the various monastic offices. Then in fact a few weeks later, on 5 April, the sisters elected her abbess, the office that she held until her death. Those would be fourteen years of uninterrupted leadership, years blessed by God. They are years bathed in the light of marvels. Her martyrdom of love had meant that she had to endure many things. Love had kept her humanity in unmistakable suffering. On 6 June 1727 her physical sufferings were sharpened even further. For thirty three days she passed through a triple purgatory – in body, mind and spirit. As we read in an account in her process, this holy woman called together many of her novices and young sisters and said, “Come here, for Love has let himself be found: this is the cause of my suffering. Tell the others, tell them all.” Then she asked to hear a song in praise of the Incarnation of the Word. During the singing she broke into tears, “Who among you would not weep at such Love?” Then with the obedience of the confessor who assisted her she fell calm and breathed her last. It was the dawn of 9 July 1727.
Given her reputation for holiness, the diocesan bishop Alessandro Francesco Codebò opened the diocesan process five months later on 6 December. Veronica was beatified on 17 June 1804 and canonised on 26 May 1839.
This translation is based on an article by Mariano D’Alatri in Sulle orme dei Santi, 2000, p.145-152
From the diary of Saint Veronica Giuliani
Un Tesoro Nascosto VIII, pages 629-630
For the conversion of souls I would offer my life’s blood
Today the pain in my hands, feet and heart returned and I spent a night that was precious to me because It was ﬁlled with pains and torments. Thanks be to God! Early in the morning I went to Confession and this gave me the strength to suffer more. Later at Holy Communion I experienced the grace of God reigning deep in my soul, with some kind of new internal sensation. As well as this, for some days now I have a certain feeling in my heart the nature of which I cannot make out; so I will simply describe the effects it has on me.
First, there is the realization of my faults and sorrow for them; the overwhelming desire for the conversion of souls for whom I am ready to offer my life’s blood; a deep trust in the mercy of God and in the loving concern of Our Lady. The second effect is that I feel myself abandoned and submerged in a sea of temptations. As soon as I experience this inner sensation I seem to become fully content and possessed by the most profound sense of peace, ﬁrmly established in the will of God.
The third and last effect is like this: when I am disturbed interiorly by the temptations of the devil and when exteriorly I concentrate on other things, running here and there in the course of my duties, the hidden working results in my doing everything without being aware of it, so that I find the task is completed but I do not know how. This happens to me in the most important events of the day, such as receiving the Sacraments, in prayer, and in the spiritual conversations which we have. I feel myself overcome by fatigue, dried up, empty, so that it scarcely seems possible to go on living. When I am in this state it seems a waste of time to go to Confession. But hardly have I felt in my heart the smallest trace of this third effect when I ﬁnd myself so transformed, renewed with such strength, that no matter what the aridity, vexation, or numbness, any task, even the most difﬁcult, becomes easy for me. May God be gloriﬁed in all things!
you made the virgin, Saint Veronica,
a wonderful embodiment of your Son’s Passion.
Through her example and prayer
may we become conformed to Christ
by humbly embracing the cross
and so rejoicing when he is revealed in glory,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.