Friday, November 28, 2008

Blessed Christine of Spoleto (1435-1458)

From the scientific report on the body of Blessed Christine of Spoleto

According to The Westcoast Augustinians:

" Blessed Christine, a woman of undaunted valor, provides a shining example of conversion.

Agostina Camozzi, who was born about the year 1435, was the daughter of a well-known doctor of Ostenso, a small village in the Italian province of Como. At a very young age she married a local stonecutter, contrary to the wishes of her family, but was left a widow within a short time. She later became the mistress of a soldier and bore him a son, who died at a young age. A subsequent marriage to a farmer from Mantua also ended tragically when he met his death at the hands of a jealous rival.

At this point Agostina set about to reform her way of life. She became a member of the Augustinian Third Order, and changed her name to Christine, and moved to Verona. Her resolve now was to imitate Christ who alone, she believed, could bring comfort to her troubled spirit.

Her life of penance took many forms, and her prayers and works of mercy increased daily. As an Augustinian tertiary she lived in various monasteries, leaving one after another when the sisters, perceiving her holiness, began to treat her with special reverence. Thus she wandered from one community to another until she finally settled in Spoleto, where she dedicated herself to the care of the sick. In 1457 she planned a pilgrimage of reparation to Assisi, Rome, and the Holy Land, but she never got beyond Spoleto, for there on 13 February in 1458 she died, at the age of twenty-two.

After her death many miracles were attributed to her intercession, and Christine's reputation for great holiness and granting of favors spread rapidly. Her remains, originally kept in the Augustinian church of Saint Nicholas in Spoleto, are now preserved in the church of St. Gregory the Great. In 1834 Pope Gregory XVI officially confirmed her long-standing cult.

Blessed Christine's feast in celebrated by the Augustinian Family on 13 February."

The 11th-century Romanesque church of San Gregorio Maggiore in Spoleto replaced an earlier oratory in a cemetery of Christian martyrs. Remains from the 700s AD are incorporated into the present structure.

A 1950s restoration carefully returned the interior to its medieval state, removing most Baroque additions to reveal the Romanesque architecture and large patches of 14th-century frescoes by local artists.

San Gregorio Maggiore (Built 1069-1146), Romanesque, Spoleto, Umbria,

In 1999, the body of the Blessed christine was subjected to scientific examination. The report in English by the scientific team which carried out the investigation is interesting.

It would appear that after death the body was subjected to an artificial process of embalming. It is one of the first examples of artificial embalming in Western Europe, carried out by surgical methods. It discusses the practice in medieval times in Umbria and Tuscany of embalming and preserving the bodies of saints or those reputed to be saints.

It would appear that the bone structure of Blessed christine reveals an individual of small skeletal constitution, and the deep folds of the skin witness a condition of severe obesity. All the teeth are present, but show evident lines of enamel hypoplasia, due to episodes of stress during childhood.

The report goes on:

"In this respect, the following distinguishing elements should be underlined: 1)geographical area of diffusion which includes Umbria and Tuscany; 2) urban characterization of the phenomenon; 3) social and religious ambience: the mendicant orders and in particular the third orders, formed by laymen; 4) prevalent female dimension of the phenomenon.

We can try to explain historically these characteristic elements that in part are closely related. Why were the charismatic personalities of religious figures, already considered “saints” at the moment of death, preserved with interventions of evisceration and stripping of flesh? There could be no doubts about the preservation of these bodies: in fact the preserved body became a tangible witness of the presence of the saint for protection of the town community. It was not by chance that this phenomenon occurred in central Italy, between Umbria and Tuscany, where municipal civilization developed and where in any case a strong sense of municipal independence was strongly radicated. Possession of a saint’s body, which could be identified in its features, was a reason of pride, political symbol proper,and in this respect it is important that the funerals of the Blessed Cristina were celebrated at the expense of the Municipality of Spoleto.

However, the intervention of the municipal public authority can also be found in other well documented cases, as in the funerally and embalming processes of Saint Margherita from Cortona and of Blessed Margherita from Città di Castello.In this second case we even know the names of surgeons told by “rectores Civitatis Castelli”: magister Vitale da Castello and magister Manno da Gubbio (Analecta Bollandiana, 19).

The penitential movements which developed in the Italian society of the Late Middle Ages under the influence of Franciscan and Dominican rule brought new mystic and religious ferment and between the 13th and 15th centuries produced new figures of saints, often belonging to the Third Order circles, laymen operating among the people.

The women in these orders are numerous, becoming more and more visible and popular. The corporeal dimension, owing to the physical involvement of mystical union, now gains more importance than in the past,and justifies the new attention to preservation of corpses which leads to direct invasiveness on the holy body."