Santa Rosalía de Palermo

Santa Rosalía de Palermo is the seventeenth most frequent historic image in the santos of New Mexico (from 1700 to 1900) according to research completed on the frequency of images in New Mexican santos funded by the Kriete Family Foundation by the author.

Memorial or Feast Day
September 4

Story or Legend
Rosalía was born near Palermo, Sicily. Daughter of a Sicilian Lord and a descendant of Charlemagne, Rosalía knew from an early age that she had been called to dedicate her life to God. When grown she moved to a cave near her parent's home where she lived the rest of her life. On the cave walls, she wrote "I, Rosalía, the daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses and Quisquina, have taken resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ." She lived alone in her cave, dedicated to prayer and works of penance. She died c. 1160 apparently of natural causes; buried in her cave by workers collapsing it. Some 450 years after her death, during a period of the plague, she appeared in a vision to a hunter near her cave, where her relics were discovered, brought to Palermo, and paraded through the streets. Three days later the plague ended, which was credited to Rosalía's intercession. She became the patroness of Sicily and several churches were dedicated to her by 1237. Her cult was introduced by the Jesuits in Rome in 1627 under the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII. Her veneration was also adopted by the Basilian order in Sicily and perhaps through them spread to Spain.

Palermo, Sicily; against plague and epidemics; against earthquakes; prayed to at velorios for the dead; patron of engaged couples; probably patron of penance for the women auxiliaries of the Brotherhood.

One stanza of an alabanza praises her: "Contigo el demonio se muestra impaciente de ver a tu cuerpo haces penitente/With you the devil shows himself exasperated seeing that you make your body a penitent" (Steele, Santos and Saints). Her image can be found in a image by Juan Tinoco in the Church of San Agustín in Puebla, Mexico, from the 17th century. The monastery of Santa Catalina in Cuzco, Perú, contains an anonymous image of her from the 18th century. There are thirty-two known images of her in New Mexico prior to 1900 by the following santeros: José Aragon (9), José Rafael Aragon (4), School of Laguna Santero (3), Pedro Fresquís (2), Molleno (2), A.J. Santero (2), Miguel Cabrera (1), Arroyo Hondo Santero (1), and José Benito Ortega (1). The remaining seven (7) pieces are unidentified as to maker. The oldest identified image of Santa Rosalía in New Mexico is from about 1750 by Miguel Cabrera.

Rosary (rosary beads were found in her cave); with or being presented with flowers (Spanish and Italian painters in the 17th century frequently depicted her receiving the flowers from the hands of the Christ Child); crown of roses (particularly white roses), especially in New Mexican images (her father was Lord of Roses and Quisquina); sometimes seen writing on wall (as in prayer on cave wall); black, brown, or grey gown (similar to Augustinian robes; Benedictines and Greek religious sects have claimed her to be a nun, although there is no evidence she was ever part of any order); sometimes pictured as a pilgrim; long hair; holding a cross; sometimes holding a double Greek cross, distaff, or a book; skull (a symbol of asceticism or penance; Van Dyck used this as a symbol of the plague in his painting from the 17th century); white dove; sometimes a scourge tied to her wrist. There are three known scenes of Santa Rosalía: her conversion (frequently seen receiving flowers from the Christ Child); her flight from her home (dressed as a pilgrim with a crown of white roses leaning on a staff with a water bottle, sometimes accompanied by San Miguel Arcángel and another angel who carries the scourge and the book); and her death.

In New Mexico, the dominant scene is of Santa Rosalía's conversion. She is usually seen with a crown of red roses, standing in a black robe holding a crucifix. Most New Mexican images also include a skull, usually on a table at her side.

by Paul Rhetts, co-publisher of Tradicion Revista
First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 5, No. 1, Spring 2000.

Copyright 2000. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.