Saint Rita of Cascia’s Maligned Husband
Very often Saint Rita is portrayed as a long- suffering and even abused wife, whose husband was a violent drunkard, and an unfaithful spouse. The tradition behind this story dates far into history and has been repeated almost without variation down to our own time. The fact is that the story is rooted in a tradition now known to be erroneously based, as well as inconsistent with other details of Rita’s story.
When Cicco Barbaro, a carpenter who miraculously recovered the use of his arm as he prayed before the body of the recently deceased Rita, (considered her first miracle), he set about fashioning a new and solemn casket in which her body was then placed.
This casket was decorated inside and out with images depicting Rita, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as well as with symbols illustrating the spiritual influences on her life. There was also engraved upon its outer cover a poem which spoke of Rita, her suffering and her love. Pilgrims would come to pray before this casket, which was never buried in the ground but remained in a small room within the convent, exposed to the view of visitors. Here they would place devotional candles as signs of their affection and reminders of their prayers. Over many decades the smoke from these candles darkened the casket, eventually making it difficult to read clearly the poetic inscription. In time someone noticed that the poem spoke of a maritu feroce or violent husband.
Preachers began to elaborate on this theme, describing Rita’s great heroism in patiently enduring the trials and sorrows which her spouse caused her. By the time the first biographies of Rita were written almost a century after her death, the stories of the violent husband had fully developed and have been handed down as one of the major themes of Rita’s virtuous life.
It was not until the 20th century, when the nuns of Cascia had the monumental casket cleaned and restored, that the maritu feroce vanished. It was discovered that the actual wording was tantu feroce (so violent) and the context clearly referred to the fierce wound of Rita’s thorn, a suffering of quite a different kind.
Old traditions die hard, however, and the stories of Rita’s terrible husband continue to be told. This, despite the evidence to the contrary, as well as the great concern of Rita’s parents to see her married to a man of their own choosing so that she could be protected from the violence of those turbulent times!.
We would like to believe that Rita is pleased, however, that her beloved spouse’s reputation is slowly being restored.
Source: Gregorio, Michael Di. The Precious Pearl: The Story of Saint Rita of Cascia. New York: Alba House, 2002. Print. You can order the book here