Rita was born around 1381 in Roccaporena, small town in the suburb of Cascia. Her parents, Antonio Lotti and Amata Ferri, were already advanced in their years when they got married and only after twelve years of vain hope did Rita finally arrive. She was welcomed as a gift of Providence. Her life was knitted together with prodigious facts that tradition, more than the few certain facts, has passed on. As in all legends, though, at the beginning there is no doubt a foundation of truth. It is said that her mother, very devout, had a vision of an angel that announced to her the late pregnancy: she would have received a daughter and would name her Rita. There is a similarity here with St. John the Baptist, who was born from elderly parents and was given a name suggested from a vision.
Since Roccaporena did not have a church with a baptismal font, little Rita was baptized in the church of St. Mary of the Plebe in Cascia and her childhood is remembered for a prodigious event. A few months after her birth, her parents began taking the newborn with them when they went to work in the fields, placing her in a wicker basket not far away from them. One day while the little one was resting in the shade of a tree – the parents were a little ways off – a storm of bees swarmed about her head without stinging her, rather some of them entered into her mouth leaving honey in it. Meanwhile a farmer, who had cut his hand with a blade, left his work to run to Cascia to have his hand medicated. Passing by the basket, seeing the scene, he shooed away the bees and here is the second phase of the prodigy: as he waved his arms to make the insects go away, the wound was completely healed. The man shouted that it was a miracle and all of those who lived in Roccaporena came to know about the prodigy.
Infancy and Adolescence
Rita grew in obedience to her parents, who brought her up with animated religious sentiments. She lived her infancy and adolescence in the tranquil little village of Roccaporena, where her family was well-off and with a certain prestige, because, it seems that the members of the Lotti lineage were attributed with the position of being “peacemakers” in the civil and penal controversies of the village. Already during the years of her childhood, Rita openly manifested her vocation to religious life. Every time she had the possibility, she would go to the small oratory that was built in her house with the consent of her parents, or she would run to the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in nearby Cascia, where there was possibly a sister who was related to her. She frequented the Church of St. Augustine, choosing as her protectors the Saints venerated there: Augustine, John the Baptist and Nicholas of Tolentino (canonized, later, in 1446).
While still a young adolescent, her parents promised her in marriage to Paolo Mancini, a young man of the village known for his strong and impetuous temperament, and according to some historians he was brutal and violent. Rita was not enthusiastic. Others, in fact, were her aspirations, but in that epoch marriage was not really established by the choice of those engaged, rather it was by family interests. Hence, she had to give in to her parents’ insisting and she became the wife of that young officer who commanded the garrison of Collegiacone, of whom she “was victim and wife”, as it was later said. She supported from him every maltreatment with great patience, without ever lamenting, even to the point of asking his permission to be able to go to Church.
The Birth of her sons
Through the birth of her sons, Giangiacomo Antonio and Paolo Maria, and thanks to her perseverance in returning kindness to his violence, Rita was able to transform over time her husband’s character, rendering him more docile. It was a change that made everyone in Roccaporena rejoice, as they had suffered from his harassment for years. Her sons grew up with the education of their mother according to the principles that she had received from her parents, but unfortunately they also assimilated the ideals and the rules of the community of Cascia, that among other things considered legitimate the idea of revenge.
Assassination of her husband and the death of her sons
In a non specified time, both elderly parents of Rita died and then her husband was killed during an ambush. It was certainly the fault of someone who had never forgiven him the previously violence that they had endured. To her nearly grown-up sons, she tried to hide the fact of the violent death of their father. From that dramatic day she lived with the fear that she would lose also her sons, because she found out that the assassins of her husband had decided to eliminate those belonging to the family name “Mancini”. At the same time her brother-in-laws had decided to take revenge of the death of Paolo and therefore also his sons would have been involved in the revenge feud that would have followed. The legend narrates that Rita, to free them from this fate, had prayed to Christ that He would not allow the souls of Giangiacomo Antonio and Paolo Maria to be lost forever, rather that He would take them from the world if need be: “I give them to you. Do with them according to your will”. One year later both brothers got sick and died, leaving their mother with a deep sorrow.
Entrance into the monastery
monastery of St. Mary Magdalene in Cascia in order to be accepted into the Order. She was denied three times. The motives are not clear, yet it seems that the Sisters feared to be involved in the family feuds. Only after peace was made, with a public ceremony among the brothers of her husband and his assassins, was she accepted into the monastery. According to tradition, her entrance came about mysteriously: it’s said that one night Rita, as was her custom, went up to pray on the Rock and she had a vision of her three patron Saints (St. Augustine, St. John the Baptist and St. Nicholas of Tolentino) who transported her to Cascia, placing her inside the monastery (they say it took place maybe in the year 1407); when the Sisters saw her praying in the chorus, even though all the doors were locked, they were convinced by the prodigy and by her smile, and so they welcomed her. Rita was about thirty years old and, even though she was illiterate, she was admitted among the chorus nuns, which were the sisters who, knowing how to read, were able to recite the Divine office. She inserted herself into the community leading an exemplary life of holiness, practicing charity, piety and many other penances. In brief, she aroused the admiration of all the sisters.
The gift of the thorn
Very devoted to the Passion of Christ, she desired to share in His sorrows hence it was the main topic of her meditations and prayers. Jesus granted her prayer and in 1432 (we do not know the exact date or month), while she was in contemplation in front of the Crucified Lord, she felt a thorn from the crown of Christ pierce her forehead. It produced a profound wound, that then became festering and putrefying, causing her to be continuously segregated. The wound vanished only during the occasion of her pilgrimage to Rome, for the canonization of St. Nicholas of Tolentino. She was so identified with the Cross, that Rita lived in sufferance the last fifteen years of her life, weighed down by fatigue, by sufferings, but also by the fasts and the use of flagellum, that were many and of various types.
The Miracle of the Rose
During the last four years of her life Rita ate very little: maybe Eucharistic Communion was her only nourishment. She was forced to remain laying on her bed. During this final phase of her life there was another prodigy: while she was immobile on her bed, she received a visit from one of her relatives. She, while leaving, asked Rita if she desired something from Roccaporena. Rita answered that she would like a rose from her garden. Her relative objected that they were in full winter and therefore it would be impossible. Rita, though, insisted. Returning to Roccaporena, the relative went to the garden and, in the middle of a rose bush, she found a beautiful rose blooming. Amazed, she gathered it and brought it to Rita in Cascia, who, thanking her, gave it to the marveled sisters. This is how the Holy widow, mother, sister became the Saint of the “Thorn” and the Saint of the “rose”.
On 22 May 1447 Rita passed away: the bells rang as a Feast announcing her “birth” in Heaven. It is narrated that on the day of her funeral, when the voices already went around about the miracles close to her body, appeared black bees that made their nest in the wall of the convent. Still today they are there, they do not have a hive, they do not make honey and for five centuries they reproduce in the wall. For a singular privilege her body was never buried. Treated according to the technique of the time, it was placed in a cypress coffin, which was lost in a fire afterwards. The body, instead, miraculously came out of the fire unharmed and was placed in an artistic wooden sarcophagus, made by Cesco Barbari, a local carpenter. On the sarcophagus are various paintings by Antonio from Norcia (1457); on the cover is painted the Saint in her Augustinian habit, laid out in the sleep of death on a starry drape; the sarcophagus is kept today in the monastery; the body of the Saint rests incorrupt in a transparent urn found in the chapel of the new Basilica.
To the honors of the Altar
Rita was beatified in 1627 (180 years after her death) by Pope Urban VIII, who knew her history well as he had been the Bishop of Spoleto, Diocese to which Cascia belongs. On 24 May 1900 Pope Leo XIII canonized her.