CHAPTER VI

 

OF THE SHARP-POINTED CROWN WHICH SHE WORE

ON HER HEAD, AND OF THE HARDNESS OF HER BED

 

THE SAINTS being predestinated to resemble the Son of God in His state of sacrifice and immolation on the cross, according to S. Paul, who makes their greatness consist in this conformity, “whom He predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son,” every one will allow that a crown of thorns on the head of the blessed Rose was necessary to render her a perfect image of Jesus crucified, and that the portrait would not have been faithful had it not represented the boldly thorns which crowned the head of her Divine Spouse, and which were the dearest object of her thoughts.

 

To copy it in reality, when very young she made herself a crown of pewter, studded with little sharp-pointed nails, she put it generously on her head without fearing the pain it would inevitably cause her.  She wore it several years, but only as a preparation for a more cruel one, in which she fixed ninety-nine iron points; she wore this during the ten last years of her life; and it furnished her with another occasion of exercising her love and her patience; for considering the crown of thorns of Jesus Christ on the head of S. Catherine of Sienna, she thought she might obtain the same favor.  In this ardent desire of suffering, she made herself a circlet of a plate of silver three fingers broad, in which se fixed three rows of sharp points, in honor of the thirty-three years that the Son of God lived upon earth.  Fearing that her hair, which was beginning to grow, would prevent these points from entering in, she cut it all off, excepting a handful which she left on her forehead, to hide this penitential crown from the eyes of men.  She wore it underneath her veil, which made it the more painful, as these points, being unequally long, did not all pierce at the same time, but one after another, according to her different movements; so that with the least agitation these iron thorns tore her flesh, and pierced her head in ninety-nine places, with excessive pain; and as the muscles of this part are connected with one another, our Saint could scarcely speak; and when she coughed or sneezed, this violent effort caused the three rows of points to penetrate even to the skull with almost inconceivable pain.

 

As she had only invented this sort of torment to imitate the sufferings of he Son of God, she would have willingly changed this circlet for a crown of thorns, to imitate Him more closely; but her confessor thought it better for her not to change it, for fear that the holes which the thorns would make might suppurate.  She followed his advice, seeing that it would be very difficult to conceal a crown of thorns, as the points would come through her veil, and reveal what she so much wished to hide; for this reason she made this silver crown, in which she fixed the points so firmly, that after her death the goldsmith could not draw even one out with his instruments.

 

To increase the pain, she changed every day the place of this crown, causing new wounds, or reopening those which were beginning to heal.  She had put strings at each end of this painful diadem, that by tying them closely, she might force the points in more deeply; and in changing it, which she did every day, this crown caused her new pain.  Every Friday, which she particularly consecrated to penance, she died this circlet more tightly, and made it come down upon her forehead till it pierced the cartilage of her ears in many places.  Her mother and the rest of the family did not perceive this crown for a long time, nor her endeavors to hide it from their view; but one day, when she was trying to save one of her brothers from the anger of her father, who was correcting him with too much passion, in pushing her away he place his hand, by chance, on the sharp crown that encircled her head; and, as he was carried away by passion, his touch was so rough, that it caused three streams of blood to flow from his wounds; and this made known to her mother and all of them the great austerities which she secretly practiced.

 

Rose, more afflicted at the discovery than at the pain of the blow, went quickly to her room, took of her crown, cleaned it, and after having washed her wounds and stopped the blood, she put on her veil as before.  Her mother, having followed her, commanded her to take it off; she then saw her head pierced all round by the iron points; and though she felt as much horror as pity, she pretended not to see them, fearing that if she took from her this instrument of penance, she would only invent a more cruel one.

 

She did not fail to complain of it to her confessor, who desired Rose to send to him, without delay, the pointed circlet which she wore round her head.  She took it to him, but when he saw this crown stained with blood, and bristling with points, he was greatly surprised; and considering her delicate constitution, her age, and her frequent illnesses, he tried to persuade her to leave it off.  Rose, seeing that he use remonstrance more than  authority, represented to him so forcibly the necessity she felt of suffering this continual martyrdom, in order to be conformable to her Divine Spouse, that he gave it back to her, after having blunted the sharpest points. This compassion did not, however, prevent her suffering the same pain as before, for the rest of the nails pierced her head when she struck the crown, or tied it with strings.  Every time that the devil tempted her, she pressed this crown three times on her head with her finger, in honor of the most Holy Trinity, and this mortification made her always victorious over his attacks.  After her death a great servant of God, kissing respectfully this instrument of penance, felt himself interiorly inflamed with the love of God, and was at the same time perfumed with a heavenly odor, which was a sign to him that Almighty God had accepted this new sort of torture, which the blessed Rose had invented to mortify herself.

 

This faithful spouse of the Son of God had so perfectly imitated, during her life-time, her seraphic mistress in the pain of this thorny diadem, that after she was dead, as there were no flowers to be found to make her a crown, which is customary in Peru at the burial of young girls, as a sign of the glory the reap from their virginity in the tomb, they took, by divine inspiration, the crown of thorns from the head of a statue of S. Catherine of Sienna, to place it on the that of the blessed Rose; as if that seraphic lover wished to lend her crown to Rose to honor her triumph, and to conduct her, in a more glorious manner, to the throne of the Divinity.  Several persons of known sanctity, saw her enter heaven, with a palm in her hand, and a crown resplendent with light on her head, which our Blessed Lady had placed their, to acknowledge by this favor the service she had rendered her.

 

But let us return to the austerities and sufferings of our Saint, which merited for her the glory of this triumph.  From her infancy she invented many means of making her bed hard, and her mother, having perceived it, made her sleep with her; but Rose contrived to mortify herself in obedience; for as soon as her mother was asleep, she drew on one side the feather bed on which she had been lying, and slipped quietly on the bedstead, placing a large stone under her head for a pillow.  She practiced this mortification till her mother, after telling her that this rigor was displeasing to her, and that she was obstinate, at last said she might seek a bed somewhere else, and sleep as she liked.

 

Rose, quite delighted with this permission, made herself a bed in the form of a chest, of rough wood, and put in it a small quantity of small stones of different sizes, that her body might suffer more, and might not enjoy the repose a smoother bed might have afforded it.  This bed still seeming too soft, she put in three pieces of twisted and knotted wood, and she added seven more, filling up the spaces with three hundred pieces of broken tiles, placed so as to wound her body.  This was the luxurious couch on which this insatiable lover of the cross took the rest necessary to recruit her exhausted strength.  She always kept behind her pillow a bottle full of gall, with which she rubbed her eyes before going to bed, and washed her mouth in the morning, in the memory of that which was given to Jesus Christ her Spouse on the cross.  When Almighty God called her to this sort of crucified life, she had only a piece of coarse cloth doubled for a pillow; soon after, not finding this hard enough, she used bricks; but all this not being sufficient to satisfy her ardor for suffering, she took a rough stone for her pillow. Her mother becoming aware of it, from the bruises which this stone inflicted on her face, forbade her ever to use it again, and insisted on her having a bolster, like the rest of the family; she certainly obeyed, but in filling it with wool, as was mentioned at the commencement of this history, she put also vine branches, and bits of broken rushes, in the place where she laid her head, and by this invention she rendered her pillow as hard and painful as it was before.

 

She slept for fifteen years on this rough bed, if it would not be more correct to call it a cross; she suffered such dreadful pain, that though she was very generous, and met, with intrepid courage, every sort of pain, still she never placed herself upon it without trembling and shuddering, and the blood seemed to freeze in her veins, so violent was the emotion which the inferior part manifested at the sight of the pain it was obliged to endure.  On these occasions, when she was half dead, Jesus Christ several times appeared to her, with a sweet and gracious countenance, saying to her, to rouse her courage, “Remember, my child, that the bed of the cross on which I died for love of thee, was harder, narrower, and more painful than that on which thou art laying; think of the gall which I drank for thy sake, and call to mind the nails which pierced My hands and feet; thou wilt then feel consolation in the terrible pains thou sufferest on thy bed.”

 

She was not wanting in resolution in these frightful austerities; but as this vigor did not extend to her body, she became so weak that her confessors ordered her to use more moderation, and take away at least those broken tiles, which gave her the most pain; but she begged earnestly, that she was allowed to replace them, and to sleep upon them during the last two Lents she passed in this life.  For some time before her death she passed the night in a corner of the room, where she was almost frozen with cold.  The implacable hatred which she felt towards her body, taught her to refuse it every comfort; for this reason she always worked standing, and when she could not continue so any longer, she made use of a very narrow piece of wood for a seat.

 

When near death she lost nothing of her desire to lie on a hard bed; she sought no other tortures than the excessive pain she endured thereon; and as they would not place her on the ground, as she desired, she obtained at last, by prayers and tears, that two crossed sticks should be placed under her head and shoulders, that she might expire on this cross, as Jesus Christ, her Divine Spouse, had died upon His.  Some persons of piety who saw her die, perceived on her countenance that of the Son of God, with the same appearance as He had when dying on Calvary.  Blessed Raymond of Capua had formerly observed the same in visiting S. Catherine of Sienna, when she was ill.

 

The insupportable hardness of her bed shows that she watched most part of the night, as it prevented her from sleeping. She confined herself to two hours’ sleep, and often did not spend the whole of them in sleep: she so disposed of the remaining time that she passed twelve hours in a perpetual application of her mind to God by prayer, and the others she spent in needlework or other employments, to relive the poverty of her parents.

 

Though her fasts, her hair shirt, the hardness of her bed, her almost continuous meditations, and other austerities, had given her a great facility in watching, the devil did not fail to use many artifices to provoke sleep; but she knew how to discover him; and to overcome his efforts she struck her head roughly against the wall, gave herself hard blows, and sometimes she fixed her hands to the arms of a large cross which was in her room, and thus her body hung suspended in the air; and if, in spite of all these efforts, she still felt overcome with sleep, she fastened the small quantity of hair she had left on her head to hide her crown of thorns, to a large nail fixed in the wall, and thus she triumphed over the temptation.



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Text from the Fr. Faber translation, Peter F. Cunningham, fourth edition, 1855

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