Not long ago, I had the extreme pleasure of serving as Communications director for the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California, one of five dioceses around the world dedicated to St. Rose of Lima, the patron saint of Peru’s capital and the first saint of the Americas.
So you can imagine my interest when I learned scientists recently did a facial reconstruction of her from her skull. They also did this on St. Martin de Porres (patron of the saint I attended in my early teens) and St. Juan Macias, all Dominican saints, all from Lima (must have been something in the [holy] water!).
Click on their names above for more information on each. In any event, you can see from the above just what a pretty woman St. Rose was. Here’s what the looked like, according to artists. It will be interesting when November comes to see how close the artists came.
In an article I wrote about her for Santa Rosa’s diocesan newspaper, I noted, “Growing up, her hero was St. Catherine of Siena, TOSD, and she emulated her in every way, even fasting three times per week and performing penances in secret. When, like Catherine, men praised her beauty and proposed marriage, she, like Catherine, cut off her hair. She went one better, however. Rosa smeared hot peppers and lime powder on her face so it would blister and made her look revolting, thus scaring away suitors.
“She took these drastic measures because had already decided she would devote her life to the Lord through the consecrated life and not through marriage and family.”
A lot of times when someone says some bygone saint was “beautiful,” I wonder if it was hyperbole. Well, here we have proof. But her physical beauty couldn’t hold a candle to her spiritual charms. See for yourself. I’ve copied and pasted the full article mentioned above.
St. Rose of Lima, TOSD
Memorial: August 23
Although St. Rose of Lima, TOSD, is our diocese’s patroness, how many of us know much about this woman in whose memory five dioceses and at least twenty-five parishes in the United States alone are dedicated?
Born in Lima, Peru, to a wealthy soldier and mestiza mother, she was baptized Isabel Flores y de Oliva and gained the nickname “Rosa” when a servant claimed to see her face transform into a rose. At her confirmation in 1597 at age 11 by St. Turibius de Mongrovejo, archbishop of Lima, she formally adopted Rosa as her name.
Growing up, her hero was St. Catherine of Siena, TOSD, and she emulated her in every way, even fasting three times per week and performing penances in secret. When, like Catherine, men praised her beauty and proposed marriage, she, like Catherine, cut off her hair. She went one better, however. Rosa smeared hot peppers and lime powder on her face so it would blister and made her look revolting, thus scaring away suitors.
She took these drastic measures because had already decided she would devote her life to the Lord through the consecrated life and not through marriage and family.
She wasn’t simply trying to ward off potential suitors, though. She wanted to fight her own temptations to vanity. When a person is vain, they have the sort of pride that leads to self-centeredness and thereby sin. She wanted to never sin.
All of this made her uncomprehending parents furious, and they told her to stop. It was all so odd. It was OK to be holy, but did she have to be so strange and different?
In an odd type of teenage rebellion, she responded by spending more hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and attending daily Mass. Although he wasn’t happy about this, her father finally gave her a room in the home as a sort of monastic cell.
From her one room “convent,” she took care of the sick and underprivileged. Before Rosa began her apostolate, no one in Peru had provided any social services. Ironically, her work grew to include her family, which fell on hard times after her father’s investments failed. Being an expert seamstress, she sold her sewing work as well as flowers to support them and the poor. Otherwise her only trips beyond the home were to attend daily Mass.
When Rose did go out, she wore a silver crown on her head. The silver concealed inward-turned thorns, and these she further covered with roses. About her waist she also wore a spiked iron chain called “the discipline.”
Her bed she constructed “of broken glass, stone, potsherds, and thorns. She admitted that the thought of lying down on it made her tremble with dread. Fourteen years this martyrdom of her body continued without relaxation, but not without consolation. Our Lord revealed Himself to her frequently, flooding her soul with such inexpressible peace and joy as to leave her in ecstasy for hours.”
Does this seem odd? As American Catholic puts it, “The saints have so great a love of God that what seems bizarre to us, and is indeed sometimes imprudent, is simply a logical carrying out of a conviction that anything that might endanger a loving relationship with God must be rooted out.”
She loved God to the fullest and spent her life on Him, dying at age 31. The entire city attended her funeral, with leading citizens serving as pallbearers.
Many miracles followed her death, which lead to her beatification by Clement IX in 1667, and her canonization by Clement X in 1671. She was the first American to be raised to the altars. She is represented wearing a crown of roses.