The little countess with the heart made for God.
Lucrezia, number eleven of the fourteen children born to Curzio Cevoli and Laura della Seta, was born in Pisa on November 11, 1685…Those who knew about her early years affirmed “she was a gracious girl, very alert and of good intelligence”. In contrast to her mental agility, she took very long to learn to walk; she was fat and could not stand up. The countess, her mother, blamed it on her desire to be carried and on her wet-nurse, but she finally realized the real cause was her weak legs could not support the weight of her body.
Having so many brothers and sisters older than her, it was normal for her to become the center of attention of the noble family and the servants. But as Lucrezina became more self-conscious, she began to reject their affectionate gestures, which could have been interpreted as her having an apathetic or evasive temperament capable of jeopardizing her future relations. The truth was that she could feel growing in her – as she herself would explain later on – a superior instinct that moved her to avoid all human attachment and self-indulgence, so that she could reserve her heart for the One who, already, attracted her, even though it was still in a childlike manner.
She would surprise the others with disconcerting unforeseen rudeness. Once, while the whole family was on vacation at their Cevoli villa, the crowd of siblings organized a puppet comedy. They all became busy designing and dressing the puppets and the order of the scenes. Lucrezia was given the job of handling the strings under the stage. And at the best part of the show, in front of numerous guests, the puppets suddenly stopped and the young puppeteer refused to continue in spite of the pleads to continue. The normal satisfaction of the applause for a job well done made her suddenly reject it, as if she had been taking from God what only belonged to Him.
To this sense of righteousness, she added such a discerning capacity that allowed her to sense without any effort God’s displeasure with her actions and feelings. She felt that even the love she had for her wet-nurse was taking away from God’s. One of her childhood infidelities, which she would never forget, was related to the Virgin Mary. One morning, she had offered the Virgin a beautiful carnation which she placed in front of a big painting in one of the rooms; but later on, with the volubility of her young age, she took it away. That evening, during her usual examination of conscience, she deeply regretted her action.
Lucrezina was admired by all for her beauty. Once, when she was about six years old, she overheard the women in the household praise the beauty of the silent little countess. And she felt the desire to confirm it. She stepped on a chair to look at herself in the mirror, but she found herself in front of a painting of the Virgin, and heard an inner voice that said: “Don’t be foolish! What good is there in your vanity? Having a beautiful soul is what matters.”
Those words filled her with shame, and she closed all the windows. She spent the rest of her life feeling sorry for having yielded to vanity.
Otherwise, her obesity countered the delicacy of her features and brought her much distress, since many times she had to stay home because she didn’t want to burden her family.
Among her older brothers there was one, Domenico, who managed to win her trust in a special way, maybe because they shared a temperamental affinity and inner abundance. He liked painting, and spent hours in his study, where nobody was allowed but Lucrezia, eleven years younger than him. He became her confidante and her drawing instructor, an ability that would serve her well later on in her cloistered life. This hermit painter, who would die in the smell of sanctity, greatly influenced the ascetic orientation of his little sister.
Lucrezia learned to read and other female endeavors at home, but the nobility of her family demanded an intellectual and social formation in a boarding school. At thirteen she entered the “noble monastery” of the Clares in San Martin, which two of her sisters had also attended. Under the guide of the nuns she acquired a thoughtful literary formation, with a notable mastery of Latin and Italian, including poetry; she also refined her embroidery and other feminine skills.
At the same time, she impressed her teachers with her profound piety, spiritual mortification and desire for solitude, and also with her dignified and absorbed bearing, which gave her the nickname the little abbess; and not precisely for her affected ways: to the contrary, she had a strong repugnance to allowing herself to be served by the converted nuns, as she had done at home with the servants.
The education she received did not modify her evasive attitude toward any complement or praise from anybody, even when she could have been seen as rude, since she was always refined and affable.
When Lucrezia said goodbye to the Clares, her vocation was already decided. She herself expressed her reason for choosing the far away Capuchinas monastery in Citta di Castello. While she was still a student, she confided in an extraordinary confessor, a barnabite, who was considered learned and saintly, her desire for a secluded and austere life, in total poverty. The confessor examined the spirit of the young lady and her motives, and later again in front of her parents. When her parents objected to how far away that monastery was, Lucrezia answered that that was precisely why she had chosen it, to distant herself in her cloistered life from her country and family. There was also another motive: the fame of sor Veronica Giulani, the stigmatized, who was part of that community, had reached Pisa.
It wasn’t easy to obtain the consent of the capuchinas; it was necessary to ask for the assistance of some influential people, among them the princess Violante of Baviera, wife of Fernando of Medici, the son of the Grand Duke of Toscany. In March 1703 she was accepted. And the preparations for the bride’s voyage began. In those times it was customary that before leaving the world to become cloistered in the convent, the young aspirant would take a tour, in nuptial attire, to say goodbye to friends and relatives, and then take the trip; on the day of the investiture, the bride was carried in a carriage to the convent’s church, escorted by ladies and gentlemen. Lucrezia had planned on “a pink brocade dress”. But when it was time to try it on, she found that the one they had prepared for her was white. She could overcome her frustration when she remembered she had asked the Lord not to have any satisfaction during that tour.
She first toured the Pisa monasteries. Then, in her parents’ company, started her trip, stopping in Florence, where the Gran Duke and his family entertained them. She continued her trip, her peregrination, visiting the Loreto Sanctuary, where she asked, out of devotion, to sweep the holy House, and she did it on her knees, dressed as a bride, with great consolation.
Once in Citta di Castello, she awaited the formal admission, with the community’s vote and the investiture; this took place on June 7th, the Feast of Corpus Christi; presided by the bishop, who gave her the name of sor Florida, in honor of the city’s patron, Saint Florido. She had prepared herself for her new life by renouncing to every earthly satisfaction; God also made her see that she should renounce to all spiritual consolation. The rite of investiture ended with a very eloquent and significant gesture: the bishop would place on the novice’s shoulder a naked wood cross, and she would carry it the length of the church to the monastery’s door. The cross was lightweight, but sor Florida found it so heavy she could hardly walk.
To Sor Veronica Guiliani’s school
Sor Veronica had been deposed from the master of novices office in 1699, following the measures taken by the Holy Office concerning her stigmatization. But the community decided nobody but her should be in charge of the formation of the noble candidate and was granted her reinstatement. She wrote in her Diary the inner struggle she went through, because she didn’t feel capable of such a delicate mission: What could she teach a young lady with a culture superior to hers and with a very uncommon spiritual maturity? But she felt comforted when Jesus promised her: “I will be your teacher and the novice’s teacher”. The Virgin Mary also came to help her, making her understand that this was a very special soul: “Veronica, I recommend to you Floridina, my joy and my divine Son’s joy”.
When sor Florida put herself under the direction of sor Veronica, the latter already had already been well accepted by the sisters; there were no more elaborate penances, those that she defined as “lunacies that love made me do”, and also no more external phenomena; everything had been “internalized”, everything was more intimate and private. The novice would soon become not only her best disciple, but also her confidante and witness to some of her corporeal experiences, as per the will of the confessors.
The connection between teacher and novice was not difficult, especially when sor Veronica discovered that the young girl was called to follow, like her, the way of the cross. It was hard for the little countess to get used to the traditional plain and spontaneous way of the capuchinas, maybe not always delicate, but she didn’t take long to assimilate it, happy to get rid of the mannerisms of the environment where she was brought up. She suffered when she was pampered because of her family’s nobility. A confessor asked her about her social status, and she answered: “My father traded in oil”. She wasn’t lying, one of the main money sources of the Tuscan nobles came, in fact, from the harvesting of their olive trees.
Sor Florida wanted to comply most rigorously with all the rules of the convent, in particular, the perpetual fast imposed by the Rule, but after several tries, she was convinced it was not God’s will; her stomach could not stand such regimen, because of her fast digestion; by medical prescription she was forced to eat several times a day.
She professed on June 10th, 1704. The rule was that the newly professed would continue with the novitiate for another two years, but with a black veil and collaborating with the other professed in their labors. Sor Florida asked for the grace to continue with the white veil, observing silence as she had done the first year.
What the direction of her venerated teacher meant to her, we have her own testimony in the canonization process of sor Veronica: it was a pedagogy exquisitely evangelical, centered on the fundamental.
In 1708 sor Florida received the bitter news of her father’s death, Count Curzio Cevoli, followed a few days later by her mother’s, both sudden. To the pain of the loss was added the uncertainty about their eternal fate. She regained her peace when her saintly teacher learned from divine enlightenment that they were on their way to salvation and when, with her, offered to satisfy for them the pains of purgatory.
She was a disciple and spiritual daughter of Sor Venonica, but not a copy of her. Not by character nor faith was she a woman given to childish imitation. She loved her teacher, profoundly admired her, venerated the richness of the superior gifts she was endowed with; she was her model for fidelity to God, but not a pattern to reproduce; even more, she was repulsed by favors or extraordinary phenomena that would place her on par with the stigmatized.
To such Abbess, such vicar
As a professed, sor Florida carried on the different services to the community, even the humblest, as it was usual among the capuchinas: cooking, washing, nursing, etc. Still very young, she was given the job of concierge, but the she was usually the apothecary in charge of the convent’s pharmacy, where the empirical meds were prepared, always under the doctor’s supervision. It’s possible that she had already had some previous training in this sector. The fact is that thanks to her training, the Medici family from Florence donated invaluable medical supplies to the monastery.
On April 5th, 1716, after obtaining from Rome the revocation of the deprivation of the passive voice that weighed over sor Veronica, she was elected abbess, and the community gave her sor Florida as vicar, who was then 31 years old. At the end of the first triennium, they were both reelected to the same office; and they kept being reelected until sor Veronica’s death.
Sor Florida would always be the faithful and priceless collaborator to the one who was always her teacher rather than her superior. The latter found in her vicar a really invaluable assistant, a real secretary. She was a confidant with whom she could share “God’s secrets”, tasks that required a superior cultural level to Giuliani’s. She would read and respond to the numerous letters that sor Veronica received, since she was only allowed to correspond with the bishop, her confessor and her nuns. She would transcribe long sections of the Diario, either because a duplicate was required, or for a better spelling.
And Veronica continued to help her respond each time more generously to the work of grace, allowing her to walk under the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
At the Medici’s court, the impact of Lucrezia’s farewell visit was very much alive. In a special way, Princess Violante had remained quite fond of her, and in 1714, she went to the monastery to visit her and venerate sor Veronica. Later on, when she was vicar, the Great Duke Cosme III, the monastery’s magnanimous benefactor, decided to found a capuchinas convent in his state capital, Florence; he did everything in his power to have “his Cevolina”, as he used to call her, as foundress, but he ran into a rotund refusal. Sor Veronica, backed by the whole community, could not resign herself to lose such a valuable nun, and sor Florida herself, in her desire of complete detachment, refused to return to the social and familiar environment which she had left behind to pursue her vocation. The monastery was founded, but with capuchinas from the Perusa monastery.
Twenty-five years guiding the community
On July 9th, 1727, death ended Veronica Giuliani’s love and sorrow pilgrimage. On the 21st of the same month, a chapter was opened, and sor Florida was elected abbess. The nuns believed she was the only one capable of continuing the teaching and directives of the saintly teacher. Even though only 42 years old, she possessed the human maturity, spiritual worth and moral gifts to be leader and role model for the large community.
However, she did not feel qualified for such responsibility. Praying in front of an image of the Virgin in her cell, she understood that the same Virgin was telling her she would not be elected as long as she kept that image. When she expressed this to her confessor, he ordered her to take that image to the choir; and Mary kept her word and she was elected. And she would be reelected for three consecutive trienniums (1730,1733 and 1736); after a triennium of rest, she was once again elected in 1742 and then two more times. And still in 1761, at 76 years of age, when she was thinking about preparing herself to “die as a capuchina”, as she wrote to the abbess of the Siena convent, she had to accept once again the will of the sisters. Supported by a small cane, she managed to follow the observance and attend to the demands of the office. She held the office of abbess for 25 years, and vicar for 20 years. She did not assume the immediate responsibility for the novice formation, but held this office indirectly, since the chapter acts add to the name of the designated teacher: “With the abbess’s help”.
Each new election was a source of confusion and pain for her, worried about the enormous responsibility on her shoulders; but on the other hand, knowing that she had to be a role model for her sisters was a new stimulus for giving herself to God and her fidelity to the promises of her religious life. In her letters to the capuchinas in Siena she would express herself in the following terms:
“Of a religious I only have the habit…Out of love I beg you, help me with prayer so that Jesus may allow me to start once and for all to be all I ought to be, and that I may stop being an obstacle to this saintly community, profaned by me only…This poor community, Oh, how they suffer because of my bad governance”.
Sister among sisters, she shared just like the others in the chores of the convent, even the humblest ones. She did not allow any obsequious attitude towards her. She would repeat: “Jesus guard me from the temptation of wanting to be served”. Prompt and joyous obedience, yes, but never servile behaviors. One of the sisters, seeing that she was having trouble walking, offered to sweep her cell, but she would not allow it.
She wanted to serve all of them. And she never wasted an opportunity to satisfy this wish through acts of public humiliation, something common at the time in cloistered communities.
Even so, she is remembered for an inflexible rigor in the community’s guidance, intent on the pure observance of the Rule and the Constitutions, especially where poverty was concerned. She was not happy with the level attained under saint Veronica’s guidance, but she wanted to go ahead, counting on the sisters’ zeal and trust they showed in reelecting her. With the passing of the years, she softened the rigor and was more understanding and condescending, convinced that the permanent pressure of wanting to attain perfection could degenerate in formalism without evangelical effectiveness.
The sisters who testified at the process remembered with admiration the efficacy of her personal example, her exhortations full of superior wisdom and her zeal for their benefit.
She usually expressed: “Jesus wants to be served by all of us in His way, not ours”. And also: “It is never enough what we do and suffer for our good God”.
She would insist on sisterly charity, which should be expressed in their caring for each other, in their collaboration, and even in the refined and courteous treating of each other. All done in a climate of joyful Franciscan simplicity and equality, without making any differences between choir sisters and converts, or “of obedience”, without titles or complicated behaviors. She simply wanted to be called “sor Florida”. And she wanted the Italian voi, common among equals, and not lei, which was the respectful form, which the newly arrived young ones had trouble getting used to. Not happy with the inner equality, without any discrimination whatsoever, she would have liked to also return to the Rule of St Clare in regards to the external sisters, who were not cloistered. On her own, she asked and was granted by Rome to have them live within the convent, so they could share the community life with the others. But she found strong opposition from the cloistered ones and, probably, from the others, and she had to abandon her intentions.
Even as a novice, sor Florida was distinguished by the extreme personal poverty. In the community renovation, carried on by saint Veronica during her governance, poverty was at the center of the program, and they thought they couldn’t go any further in the sisters’ “dispossession”. But sor Florida displayed an even more advanced zeal, imposing a radical detachment and an austere and simple approach both in the personal and community life. She did not allow any curios in the cells. In 1732 the community chapter made the decision to remove all gold from the sacred ornaments. Another bold step, in 1737, by chapter decision, was to substitute the oil paintings in the choir with simple paper drawings of the Stations of the Cross. All this done with the bishop’s consent.
Very austere herself, and a lover of simplicity and austerity in external matters, she was, however, very generous in providing the sisters with anything that was necessary, especially when it was related to health and personal hygiene.
All those years, sor Florida felt bound with a double debt to saint Veronica.
First of all, she took an interest to promote the prosecution of the canonization process of the one everybody referred to as Venerable, which had been initiated on the same year of her death, 1727, at the diocesan level; during the apostolic process, with a long and very detailed declaration. The community had the funds to cover the expenses thanks to the help of various donors, among whom were the abbess’s brothers. She closely followed the steps of the cause, and had prints of the Venerable disseminated. But the procedures were slow and the expenses multiplied. Sor Florida died before Veronica’s beatification in 1804 and her canonization in 1839.
Her other debt to saint Veronica was the founding of a capuchinas monastery in Mercatello, in the Giuliani’s old home. It wasn’t easy to have the bishop of Urbania and the Mercatello clergy accept the project, since Mercatello was a small town in the mountains where the monastery of saint Clara already existed. But she managed to find good collaborators and donors. In 1753 the cornerstone was placed. Sor Florida was aware of every particular; there are several of her letters to the bishop’s delegates for the building’s construction. Before her death in 1767, she had the consolation of knowing that the work was finished and that they were waiting for the pontifical approbation for the foundation. The monastery would be inaugurated six years later, in 1773.
“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bushel…” (Mt 5:15)
The paradox of contemplative life, which is found wherever there is a heart entirely open to God’s action, is obvious in the life of Florida Cevoli: a splendid and beneficial irradiation over those who ask for her intercession, her counsel or simply her gift of consoling and encouragement, a great number who are acquainted with her experience of the divine.
As much as the daughter of the Counts of Cevoli wanted to forget and make everybody forget about her social status, it was a reality which was not easy to annul. Her brothers and sisters felt very close to her and became habitual donors of the monastery. Family members and relatives were aware that they had a saint in the capuchina at Citta di Castello. This saintly fame was widely disseminated since sor Florida was elected abbess. According to some testimonies, the knowledge about Lucrezia Cevoli reached farther than that of saint Veronica, taking into consideration that the latter lived totally uncommunicated with the world, while Lucrezia Cevoli had visitors from all kinds of people and carried on a constant correspondence. Almost all the letters she received were asking for prayers and counsel in delicate situations.
It would be very long to name the well-known people who kept in contact with her. From the Medici family in Florence, beside the already mentioned princess Violante, princess Eleonora visited her in 1728, and also the Marquis Lucas de Medici, who consulted her on his choice of state. We must especially mention the spiritual friendship with Maria Clementina Sowieski, polish princess, married to Jacobo III Stuardo, pretender to the throne of England, residening in Rome.
Citta di Castello owes sor Florida for her peace mediation in a serious crossroad of its history. When Benedict XIV died in 1758, there was a popular uprising against the local authorities; for a whole month the rioters were in charge of the town, until the news of the election of the new pope, Clemente XIII, and the troops managed to restore order. Those responsible for the uprising were prosecuted. The bishop, Monsignor Lattanzi, endorsed by the secular and regular clergy, took upon himself the difficult task of obtaining amnesty; to that end, he used a way that he considered very powerful: he invited the pontifical commissary to visit the capuchinas monastery; in a moment, as it was planned, for Florida, who was vicar, knelt in front of the commissary and, very vehemently, begged for mercy for the accused and compassion for their families. The commissary promised to refer to the pope the nun’s petition. After days of uncertainty, sor Florida herself wrote to the secretary of state, Cardinal Torregiani, who venerated her since he was governor of Citta di Castello. Finally, the awaited decree of total amnesty arrived, which was received with great celebration by the people.
A spirituality centered in love
When she began her novitiate under the guidance of sor Veronica, sor Florida already experienced a very well defined inner capability. A real disciple of the saint, she still didn’t annul her human personality nor her spirituality dealing with the exuberant mysticism of her teacher.
The known biographical data we have allow us to partially trace the human characteristics on which grace worked. As we already know, as a child she had a propensity for obesity. The diseases that affected her progressively overwhelmed her limbs, but she never lost her innate bearing that inspired respect. She had a great ability for manual labor, she wrote with ease and much wit, and with a beautiful and legible calligraphy, which revealed a clarity of objectives and firm character. She could easily discuss different subjects, even economics, displaying a notable practical sense. However, there were limitations, like for example, her poor singing, which proved one more similarity with saint Veronica, who had written: ”I can’t sing”. One of the sisters testified in the process: “She did not have a good voice for singing, neither did she have an ear for it”. About her literary qualities, especially in poetry, we have examples of some of her compositions written for the community’s solace.
Testimonies describe her as having an affable and soft disposition, more because of virtue than disposition, since she had “a naturally energetic and strong temperament, even difficult, and she had to subdue herself to tame it, with God’s help”.
Among her evangelical virtues, the most acclaimed by those who knew her was her humility, manifested in each word, each action, and her desire to be humiliated. But it was an unaffected humility. She despised conventional behaviors, tried to accustom the nuns to be sincere in their actions and righteous in their judgment. Because of her weak stomach, as we already know, she could not follow the fasting rule, and had to eat between regular hours. Instead of hiding, so that she would not be seen breaking the rule in public, she would pleasantly eat bread or a fruit in front of the younger nuns; and when some of the old ones told her she should not eat in front of the young ones because it was a bad example, she would answer: “God knows it, and if He knows, let all creatures know that I do not fast”.
Just as Veronica, confessors played a very important part in our Venerable’s life, whom she completely trusted and obeyed. But there is no indication that they had a defining influence in her spirituality.
In her letters sor Florida used a header which resumed the essence of her spirituality: Jesus Amor, Fiat Voluntas tua (Jesus, Love, Your will be done). Those were the two poles around which her life revolved: Jesus, the divine spouse, center of her love, and God’s will, that “teacher of every virtue”, like saint Veronica would call it.
Her habitual contemplation was the Way of the Cross. Every Friday was for her the day of significant inner experiences. One of the sisters declared: “Her compassion for the pain of the Passion was manifested in heartfelt sighs and tearful eyes, even though she was not given to cry easily”.
Another center of her piety was the Eucharist. She pined for the moment of communion. She would have wanted to introduce the community to daily communion, but the time for such frequency had not arrived yet; to the two weekly day already approved, she managed to add another two days, and would look for liturgical reasons to increase the frequency.
And we must add the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, saint Veronica’s legacy; the day the community prayed for the first time the Office of the feast of the Sacred Heart, approved by Clement XIII was a source of ecstatic joy for her. And, as it befitted a disciple of saint Veronica, sor Florida professed a tender love for the Virgin Mary; more than a devotion, it was a veritable Marian spirituality.
Sor Florida’s mystic itinerary could have been well known, as that one of her saintly teacher, if we had her autobiographical writings. A confessor ordered her to write about her experiences; but at his death, the Venerable asked for all her writings and burned them. She was disgusted to be deemed, on this as on other areas, as a copy of her teacher.
We must be satisfied, then, with the testimonies of the sisters and her last confessors. And they talked about the habitual presence of God they could see in her, of her constant absorption in Him, even during her external chores. All the sisters witnessed her loving ardor, the fire in her heart, of the ecstasies and of the force she frequently would have to exert so that she wouldn’t yield to the inner absorption. But the most eloquent manifestation of her smitten heart was the way she talked about her “beloved Good”, be it at the community chapters as in her private exhortations to the sisters.
It was on March 25th, feast of the Annunciation, in her second year in the office of Abbess, when she had a cumulating graces and mystical experiences, which were followed by others in the following years, among them the mystic depository, the crown of thorns, the wound in the heart. When this happened, in the year 1747, she cried copiously, maybe because of the confusion of seeing that external sign on herself, or because she was horrified by anything that could compare her to saint Veronica. When the sisters asked what was wrong, she told them she was tormented by cancer in her chest; but she had to tell the truth to her confessor and begged him to submit her obedience to see herself free of the external wound; she offered to God to be covered in sores from head to toe instead of receiving divine favors. The confessor acquiesced and she was free of the effects of the wound; and she told the sisters that the confessor had miraculously cured her cancer. It seems that she asked the Lord, in an ecstasy in front of the crucifix, the same substitution of the mystic favor for a sore in her whole body, when He made her understand that He wanted her to bear his sacred wounds.
That must have been the origin of the herpes which totally invaded her and kept her in a pitiful state the last two decades of her life.
The testimonies speak if the numerous miraculous events brought about by sor Florida as an effect of her simple faith in the loving divine providence. They also mention her surprising forecasting and the gift of penetrating people’s souls.
The mystery of sorrowful love
When love comes from the Cross, it becomes “sorrowful love”, as saint Veronica would have said; life itself takes the significance of a purifying and redeeming crucifixion, martyrdom where the executioner is love.
Sor Florida nurtured an insatiable thirst for affliction, originated by the loving contemplation of the Passion of Christ and the wish to identify herself with the patient Redeemer. Not happy with all the self-denials, austerities and privations that the life of a capuchina entails, she searched in her penance the expression of love to her crucified Spouse. The inner desolations, temptations of every kind, the painful and bothersome illnesses came later.
In her early years of religious life, she plentifully used disciplines, chains, cilices, and other corporal mortification instruments, but later on she would hold on to her inner suffering from her illnesses, and the sisters would hear her agitation at her limbs which were covered in sores.
The inner suffering, even crueler than the exterior one, was in her since she entered the monastery. She was harassed by terrible temptations against the virtues of faith and hope for thirty years, even to the point of utter desperation. She herself testified in saint Veronica’s canonization process, that, still a novice, her teacher liberated her from an extremely strong temptation in which she saw hell open before her. Another time, the saint being sick, she went to see her, in a delirium, and asked her: “Will I be saved or will I be condemned?”
The saint ordered her to bring a Baby Jesus, to whom she asked for a sign of the certainty of her spiritual daughter’s salvation. The Baby took in his little hand one of Veronica’s fingers, holding it very tightly for an hour. Sor Florida went to call the nuns to witness such wonder. It was very difficult to detach the Baby’s hand. “On sor Veronica’s finger – said sor Florida in her deposition – was left the sign of the compression. It all happened in my presence”. And, true, even today the miraculous Baby with his curved finger, as it was at that time, is kept by the sisters.
But the anxieties of the young woman did not end. And they got to the point that she could not be by herself at night in her cell, so her confessor decreed that she should sleep in sor Veronica’s cell, which she did for seven years.
The temptations and anxieties lasted through the year 1728, right after saint Veronica’s death, as if she had then become her protector and obtained for her the gift of peace.
To the encounter with Love
Sor Florida’s real cross was herpes, that, as we have said, made her suffer immensely for the last twenty years of her life; she considered it a gift from the Lord instead of the mystic body phenomena. The sisters who knew her describe her as “skinned from head to toe”. She had to go to great lengths to not scratch herself; sometimes she would ask the sisters who kept her company: “Don’t leave me alone, because when I have company it’s easier not to scratch myself”.
But what made her suffer the most was knowing that because of the fetid smell of her sickness, she was a source of mortification and disgust to those who came close to her.
She suffered everything with great fortitude, even more, with veritable joy, inner and exterior. She told a nun who told her to ask God to cure her of such a heinous illness, she answered: “God’s will, God’s will until judgment day!” Her doctors were surprised by such peace and serenity, even at her good humor to tolerate an illness which so often drove patients to desperation.
When she was finally liberated of her responsibility as abbess in the year 1864, even if she had to accept the office of vicar, she participated in some spiritual exercises to prepare for the passing to eternity. She had been practicing a monthly retreat to that end for some time.
Her illnesses returned with even more severity. Her body was a complete sore; she could only walk supported by one or two sisters. And, worst of all, her mind, at eighty, was showing senility signs that brought her back to infancy. The abbess, together with the confessor, entrusted the continuous care of the old vicar to a young professed, requiring the vicar to obey her at all times. It was moving to see her promptly perform whatever the young one ordered, sit by her and answer all her question with simplicity.
The Eucharist remained the center of her life. She could not resign herself not to receive communion. The last months of her life, the sisters carried her on a chair, she also had them take her to Adoration and in more than one occasion they found her crawling to attend the infirmary’s small choir.
To the external sufferings were added cruel inner crises, but they were storms of short duration. To whoever came close to her, she gave the impression of a profound inner peace; her spirit, even in that senility state, was engrossed in the desire for the supreme Good, still with evident loving impetus.
She received the sacred Viaticum and the anointing of the sick in full use of her faculties, and on June 12, 1767, in the wee hours of the morning, peacefully expired. Her face was blushed, with a joyful expression, as if she were in ecstasy.
Knowing that sor Florida, in a similar way as saint Veronica, had mentioned in private certain signs that she had etched in her heart, the bishop authorized the post-mortem examination, under the direction of Bonzi, a surgeon. They made detailed inspections and could verify that at the start of the aorta artery were some formations that couldn’t naturally be explained.
Sor Florida’s death caused a commotion in the city. For three days all kinds of people filed by to venerate her body. And the graces obtained by the intercession of the servant of God began to be known. A few months after the funeral came to Citta di Castello father Carlos de Padua, capuchin, with a special pontifical commission to start the diocesan informative process for beatification. He managed to collect good documentation and, above all, numerous anecdotes written by the capuchinas, but the canonical process was not begun until 1827, and advanced very slowly; it was until Julio 19, 1910 that Pius X issued the decree of heroic virtues. The miracle requisite was a long time coming, but it finally arrived, after the recognition of a supernatural healing obtained through the intercession of the Venerable, as John Paul II decreed on June 13, 1992. The date for the solemn beatification was expected to be April or May, 1993.