Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Feast of Saint Rosalia

Saint Rosalia 1 -- Santa Rosalia, or la Santuzza to Italians -- is a Saint who is to Palermo, Sicily rather like St. George is to England: very little is known about her life, but the regard with which she is held, and the love had for her by the people for whom she is patron, are so great that the honors given to her have acquired an aspect of patriotism in addition to basic Catholic devotion.

Saint Rosalia was the daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Quisquina and of Rosa; she was also a descendant of Charlemagne, the very first Holy Roman Emperor, living a little over three centuries after he died, having been born in Palermo, Sicily in 1130.

She was to have married, but, at the age of around fourteen, came to know that her vocation was to become a hermitess of the Basilian Order. She first went to live in the woods of Palazzo Adriano. Then she went to Bivona and lived in a cave there, on lands her father owned, for some time. On that cave's wall she wrote:

Ego Rosali Sinibaldi quisquine et rosarum domini filia amore Domini Mei Jesu Cristi ini hoc antro habitari decrevi.

"I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Monte delle Rose and Quisquina, have resolved to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ."

But her father lost possession of the land on which her cave was located, and she had been getting too many visitors anyway, so she
relocated  -- some say she was led by two angels -- to a second cave in Mount Pellegrino. Here she lived for rest of her life, dying there on September 4, 1170. It is unknown to me how the date of her death became known, or why her relics were left in the cave, but after she died, she was immediately declared a Saint by the local Bishop; churches were built in her honor in Sicily as early as 1237. She exploded in popularity, though, in 1624, when the following happened:

On May 7 of that year, a ship from Tunis brought the plague to Palermo. In that same month, a woman who'd been struck by the disease had a vision of Saint Rosalia, who told her she'd recover if she would go on a pilgrimage to her cave in Monte Pellegrino. She did so, and then had a second vision in which the Saint told her where her bones could be found.

By June, it was forbidden by the Senate to leave the city, and in July, things had gotten so bad that they requisitioned a nearby town to act as a hospital for the sick.

On July 15, Saint Rosalia's bones were found exactly where she'd said they'd be found, partially encased in one of the stalactites that form by the slow drip-drip of water from caves' ceilings. The tenth volume of Reverend S. Baring-Gould's sixteen volume "The Lives of the Saints" relates:

With the body were discovered some beads. The rosary was not instituted when S. Rosalia lived, but the use of beads is more ancient than S. Dominic, who only regulated their arrangement. Those of S. Rosalia are thirteen in number—twelve small ones and a large bead, dividing the chain into groups of six. With the body was also a terra cotta crucifix, the head separate and very beautiful; also a little silver cross of equal arms, much injured.

A little over a week later, she was made patron of Palermo, and a chapel to house her relics was dedicated to her in the city's cathedral (her relics are there to this day, housed in a very large, very ornate silver reliquary).

Seven months later, in February of 1625, a soap-maker who'd lost his young wife to the plague climbed Mount Pellegrino to go hunting with his dog. Santa Rosalia appeared to him, telling him that he would become sick and die, but that he should go to the Archbishop and request that her relics be carried in procession through the city so that the plague would end. He did so, he died, and her relics were finally processed around the city on June 4. When this was done, the plague ended.

Flemish master artist Anthony van Dyck was quarantined in Palermo when the plague struck and when the events just described took place. While there, he made a number of paintings of Santa Rosalia, which paintings came to set the standard for how our Saint is portrayed artistically. The best of van Dyck's paintings of her are, in my opiniion, the two below, with the second painting showing Rosalia pleading with God for the people of Palermo:

Van Dyck always seemed to have painted her in Francsican brown, but she would have worn the Basilian Order's black.2  And the aforementioned book by Rev. Baring-Gould recounts a story of a miracle that gives us an even clearer idea of what St. Rosalia looked like:

In 1663 Francis Castaglia, of the Society of Jesus, lay dying in the Jesuit College at Palermo, when he saw S. Rosalia appear to him. And she said, "Francis, I have prayed for thee, and thou shalt live." He was healed on the spot. He afterwards had the face of the angelic maiden painted as she appeared to him. The Bollandists give an engraving of the picture, it is that of a girl of perhaps eighteen, with long flowing hair, and a dress sown with wild pinks,3 such as grow on the rocks of her loved mountains. The face is singularly sweet and somewhat sad.

She is often depicted with a skull or Crucifix as well, and is typically shown crowned with flowers.

Saint Rosalia's feast day is on September 4, the date of her death (or heavenly birthday, as we Catholics prefer to think of it), and many Catholics prepare for it by praying the Novena to St. Rosalia starting on August 26 and ending on September 3. But the people of Palermo celebrate her also -- celebrate her the most -- in a six days-long festival 4 around the anniversary of when her bones were found on July 15.

The celebrations begin on July 10: the first four days are marked by Masses and such things as the solemn opening of the cathedral chapel dedicated to her and moving her great silver reliquary to the nave, marionettes and religious dramas re-enacting the events of St. Rosalia's life and miracles, and the firemen of Palermo paying floral tributes to her at her statue in the Palazzo delle Aquile. Then, on July 14 is a procession that includes the Carro della Santuzza, a huge -- that is, a 33-feet long -- oxen-pulled vehicle that is shaped like a ship, contains musicians, and is topped by a statue of St. Rosalia.  The procession starts at the cathedral, and winds through the city, finally making its way down to the sea where it is greeted by fireworks.On July 15, there is a Mass followed by a procession of her silver reliquary, once again from the cathedral. The procession is walked by clergy, religious orders, confraternities, and city authorities, and is filled with devotional songs played by marching bands. The feast ends when her relics are returned to the cathedral at midnight. All throughout the feasting, cries of "Viva Palermo e Santa Rosalia!" can be heard.

Months later, on September 4, her actual feast day, it is the custom to make l'acchianata, a pilgrimage -- barefoot -- to the Santuario di Santa Rosalia, which was built partially inside her cave on Mt. Pellegrino. Tradition holds that one begins the ascent on the night between September 3 and 4, sleeping in the churchyard at arrival. After visiting the sanctuary -- which contains a gilded marble Baroque statue of Santa Rosalia that sits under a marble canopy -- one leaves some sort of ex-voto.

Many married couples make the same pilgrimage to the sanctuary on their wedding day, with young brides leaving their wedding bouquets for the Saint.

A prayer for her feasts, one recorded in a book -- Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily -- published in 1823 and meant to disabuse people of "popish superstitions":

Nunc, o Virgo gloriosa,
Candens lilium, rubens rosa,
Audio preces, audi vota
Que profundit gens devota --
Terremotum, pestem, bellum,
Procul pelle, nec flagellum
Appropinquet civitati,
Que tuae fidit pietati.
Virgin, modest as the rose,
Fairer than the lily's snows,
Listen whilst our lips disclose
A nations prayer---
Nature's scourges banish hence,
Earthquake, battle, pestilence;
Or grant us but thy firm defence,
And come what dare.

And a song for the festivities -- Inno a Santa Rosalia:

Diva cui diedero
lor nome i fiori:
O santa, o nobile
stirpe di re!
Tu il puro anelito
dei nostri cuori
tu il faro vigile
di nostra f.

O rosa fulgida
che dolce olia,
o giglio candido
spruzzato d'or.
Fiore freschissimo
o Rosalia
accogli il palpito
del nostro amor!
Fiore freschissimo
o Rosalia
accogli il palpito
del nostro amor!

Tu che di gelida
caverna in seno
scolpivi il nobile
patto d'amor.
Tra cento ostacoli
concedi almeno
che della grazia
serbiamo il fior.

Tu che sui culmini
del Pellegrino
sfogavi all'aure
l'immenso ardor
Tu fa che il fervido
fuoco divino
avvampi ogni anima
bruci ogni cuor.


Tu che sollecita
de la tua terra
la lue malefica
fugasti un d.
O pia, difendici
da fame e guerra
d'ogni contagio
che ci colp.


Tu che con l'anima
in Dio rapita,
sorella agli angeli
fosti quaggi.
L'arcano insegnaci
della tua vita:
sognar la Patria,
cercar Ges!


As to foods during the Santa Rosalia celebrations, the people of Palermo eat eggplant parmigiano, babbaluci (boiled snails with garlic), peaches steeped in wine, watermelon, almonds, scursunera (a jasmine sorbetto), and clia e simenza -- a salty, crunchy snack made of roasted chickpeas and a type of pumpkin seed.

Clia e Simenza

1 lb. dried chickpeas
2 cups pumpkin seeds
Sea salt, to taste
Paprika to taste
Optional spices: cumin, a touch of cayenne pepper

Soak the chickpeas overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours) in water, covering them by 3 inches. Drain, then blot dry with a kitchen towel. Heat oven to 375F. Spread chickpeas out onto a baking sheet. Spread pumpkin seeds out onto a second sheet. Drizzle both with a few tablespoons of olive oil, and season to taste, stirring to mix well. Roast until a medium to darkish brown color and very crunchy (the chickpeas will take about 60 to 75 minutes, the seeds will take a lot less time), stirring once in a while, shaking the pan periodically, and keeping a close eye the seeds around the 20 minute mark, and on the chickpeas at around the 45 minute mark. Spread out on a paper towel to blot and cool, then mix the chickpeas and seeds in a bowl, and enjoy (during the festival, this is served in paper cones). Note that this recipe can be made without the seeds and be perfectly tasty.

You might hear some popping sounds once in a while as they're roasting; it's not a problem. Don't worry about it.

Some Southern Italians like to skip all the spices and the pumpkin seeds, and just soak the chickpeas in water overnight with the cut-up rind of an orange, then draining (removing the rind), blotting dry, and roasting (with no oil) at 375 for 60 to 75 minutes.

Note that Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York City has a big, days-long Santa Rosalia festival ("the 18th Avenue Feast"), usually in August, or in early September around her actual feast day, so keep an eye out for it; you'll find it on 18th Avenue, between 68th St. and 75th St. Do the same if you live near Monterey, California: since 1933, a big "Festa Italia" has been held by Italian sardine fishermen around St. Rosalia's feast day there (there's also a lovely bronze statue of Santa Rosalia there in Fisherman's Shoreline Park, overlooking the bay). And it's a good bet that between the East and West coasts of the United States, other Italian parishes or parishes named for Santa Rosalia join in the feasting!

St. Rosalia is the patron of not only Palermo, but of a handful of towns in Central and South America, and, of course, many parishes and dioceses around the world. She's invoked against the plague,  pandemics, and bad weather. She's also the de facto patron saint of evolutionary studies and biodiversity, a situation that came about when the "father of modern ecology," George Evelyn Hutchinson, after studying waterbugs in a spring near St. Rosalia's cave, wrote his 4-volume "Treatise on Liminology" which included an article called "Homage to Santa Rosalia: or Why are There So Many Kinds of Animals?’’ and proposed St. Rosalia as patron for his science. Ever since, she has, at the very least, become a sort of shibboleth among ecologists.

As an aside, St. Rosalia is mentioned (as "Rosalie") in the first canto of Walter Scott's poem "Marmion,"in Canto 1, Stanza 23 --  the poem with the famous line, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!" (Canto 6, Stanza 17).


From The Lives of the Saints," Volume July-Dec
by Francix Xavier Weninger

"From love to my Lord. Out of love to my God." This was the constant cry of St. Rosalia's lips and heart. She loved God, and loved Him truly above everybody and everything. For Him she had left all, even those things she might have enjoyed without sin. For love of Him, she led so austere a life, although she was a princess most tenderly brought up.

You are obliged to love God above all; you have reason for it. Besides, this is His command. He is your Lord and Creator, your Redeemer, your Benefactor, the highest Good, and in Himelf worthy of all love and honor. Have you fulfilled your duty in regard to this? I hear you say, in the words of St. Francis Xavier: "Oh Lord, my God! I love Thee: but I do not love Thee because Thou has saved me, neither because whoever loves Thee not shall burn in Hell." It is right that you speak so, and I wish you often to repeat those words: but -- words are not deeds. St. Rosalia manifested in works that she loved God above all. You must show in your actions that you love the Almighty above everybody and everything, or I cannot believe your words.

I do not ask you to do all that St. Rosalie did for her Lord; but, tell me, would it be too much if I requested of you, for the love of God, to abstain sometimes even from an allowable pleasure; to turn your eyes from this or that worldly vanity; to bear patiently the heat of the summer, the cold of the winter; to do good to your enemy, to avoid idle gossip; to give more time to prayer ot to listening to the word of God; to bear, without murmur or complaint, the Cross God has seen fit to lay upon you?

Your Savior has done and suffered so much out of love to you; it was for your sake that He abstained from all temporal enjoyments; and you refuse to do the least act of self-abnegation for Him? Oh! do not again protest that you love God if you hesitate to follow my advice. Deeds must prove love. "Love must act and do great deeds; otherwise it is not true love" says St. Gregory. Much less is it true love if it will not do little things for the Almighty.


1 Her name (which evokes both roses and lilies, isn't that lovely?)  is pronounced with the accent on the third syllable -- i.e., as "roh-suh-LEE-uh" not as "rose-AL-ee-uh." In Sicily, she's often called "Rusulia." She is also known as "Rosalie" in English and French.

2 The Benedictine Order claims her as a Benedictine, but the evidence seems goes to the fact of St. Rosalia having been a Basilian. In either case, she would have worn black.

3 Dianthus rupicola, the pinks that grow on the cliffs of Mt. Pellegrino and which adorned St. Rosalia's dress:

4  The July St. Rosalia festival is known as "u fistinu" mostly in Sicily, but as "il festino di Santa Rosalia" or "la festa di Santa Rosalia" elsewhere in Italy (and by some Sicilians).

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