30 January 2020

Hyacintha Mariscotti – Saint

Noblewoman gave up luxurious lifestyle to help the poor

Viterbo-born Domenico Corvi's painting of Saint Hyacintha Mariscotti
Viterbo-born Domenico Corvi's painting
of Saint Hyacintha Mariscotti
Hyacintha Mariscotti, an Italian nun of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis, died on this day in 1640 in Viterbo in Lazio.

Pope Pius VII canonised her in 1807 and her feast day is now celebrated on 30 January every year.

Hyacintha, known as Santa Giacinta Marescotti in Italian, was born in 1585 into a noble family living in the castle of Vignanello in the province of Viterbo and was baptised as Clarice.

Her father was Count Marcantonio Marescotti, who was descended from Marius Scotus, a military leader who served Emperor Charlemagne. Her mother was Countess Ottavia Orsini, whose father built the famous gardens of Bomarzo.

The young Clarice was sent with her sisters to the monastery of Saint Bernardino to be educated by the nuns of the Franciscan Third Order Regular. When their education was complete, her elder sister, Ginevra, chose to enter the community as a nun, becoming Sister Immacolata.

Clarice had set her sights on marrying the Marchese Capizucchi, but he chose her younger sister, Ortensia, instead. Following her disappointment, she entered the monastery at Viterbo taking the name Hyacintha (Giacinta). She admitted later that she did this only because she was upset and was not prepared to give up the luxuries she was used to.

She kept a private stock of extra food, wore a habit made from the finest material and went out to see people and received visitors as she wished, although she always retained a strong religious faith.

Pope Pius VII made Hyacintha Mariscotti
a saint in 1807
After ten years she became seriously ill and was visited in her cell at the monastery by the priest serving as her confessor, who was bringing her Holy Communion.  When he saw the extent of the luxuries she was keeping there he admonished her and told her to observe more closely the way of life she had committed herself to.

Hyacintha completely changed her life, wore an old tunic and went barefoot, frequently fasting on bread and water.

During an outbreak of plague in the city she became devoted to nursing the sick.

Hyacintha went on to establish two confraternities, whose members were Oblates of Mary, often referred to as ‘Sacconi’. They provided aid, such as food, clothes and bed linen for sick, poor and elderly people, and prisoners.

Hyacintha is said to have worked numerous miracles and had the gifts of prophecy and discerning the secret thoughts of others.

When Hyacintha died on 30 January 1640 she had established a reputation for holiness. During her wake her religious habit had to be replaced three times because pieces of it were constantly being snipped off by people wishing to keep the scraps of material as relics.

Hyacintha was beatified by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. She was canonised by Pope Pius VII in 1807. Her remains are preserved in the church of her now defunct monastery, which has been named after her, the Church of Santa Giacinta Marescotti.

A giant turtle carrying a statue of a woman - one of the  bizarre sculptures in the Gardens of Bomarzo
A giant turtle carrying a statue of a woman - one of the
bizarre sculptures in the Gardens of Bomarzo
Travel tip:

The Gardens of Bomarzo, created by Hyacintha’s grandfather, are in Bomarzo in the province of Viterbo. Also known as Park of the Monsters, it was created during the sixteenth century in a wooded valley beneath the castle of Orsini. It has grotesque sculptures and small buildings set among the natural vegetation. The garden was created by Pier Francesco Orsini as a way of coping with his grief after the death of his wife, Giulia Farnese. Over the centuries the park became overgrown and neglected, but in the 1950s, after the artist Salvador Dali did a painting based on the park and made a short film about it, there was a major restoration project and today it is a tourist attraction.

The Piazza della Rocca in Viterbo, with its fountain designed by the 16th century architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola
The Piazza della Rocca in Viterbo, with its fountain designed
by the 16th century architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola
Travel tip:

The walled city of Viterbo is about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Rome in the region of Lazio. The historic centre is one of the best preserved medieval cities in central Italy and is unusual because of the many buildings with ‘profferli’ - external staircases - that remain intact. A main attraction is the Palazzo dei Papi, which hosted the papacy for 20 years during the 13th century. The Church of Santa Giacinta Marescotti is close to Piazza del Plebiscito in the centre of Viterbo.

More reading:

Compassionate nun Saint Veronica Giuliani

Saint Agatha of Sicily - Christian martyr

Frances Xavier Cabrini - the first American saint

Also on this day:

1629: The death of architect Carlo Maderno

1721: The birth of landscape painter Bernardo Bellotto

1935: The birth of actress Elsa Martinelli

The Feast of Saint Martina of Rome

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