Saint of the Day – 29 May – St Bona of Pisa OSA (c1156-1207) Virgin, Augustinian Tertiary, Pilgrim, Mystic. Born in 1156 at Pisa, Italy and died in 1207 at Pisa, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – Pisa, Italy, of aeroplan staff, couriers, travel guides, pilgrims, travellers.
The Roman Martyrology reads: “In Pisa, Saint Bona, virgin, who made frequent pilgrimages with devotion to the Holy Land, to Rome and to Compostela.”
Bona was born around 1156 in the parish of San Martino in the district of Kinzica in Pisa, in the region of Tuscany in central Italy. Her mother, Bertha came from Corsica and after she settled in Pisa, she met the merchant Bernhard. They married and Bona was their only child. Bernhard left when Bona was only three years old and never returned and Bertha, therefore, suffered great financial difficulties as a stranger and solely responsible parent for the family.
From her earliest childhood Bona was blessed with mystical gifts – visions, the ability to read hearts and intentions. At the age of seven, she had her first encounter with Jesus. The figure on the Crucifix held out His Hand to her. Later, at another Church, she saw a vision of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and three Saints, including James the Greater. She was frightened by the light around these figures and ran away. St James followed her and led her back to the image of Jesus. Bona observed a very pronounced devotion to James for the rest of her life.
Thanks to Fr Johannes from the Augustinian Canons, at the age of ten, she was able to devote herself to a life as a Tertiary according to St Augustine ‘s rule and she lived in the Church of St Martin to live a communal life together with the Canons as a devoted sister.
She chose to subject her body to increasingly harsh physical penance and she began to wear a metal belt with sharp spikes after a new vision of Jesus.
In 1170, Bona set out on her first journey as a fourteen-year-old, when she went to Jerusalem. There Jesus revealed to her that her father lived there and fought in the Crusades. When her father tried to prevent her from disembarking from the ship, she sought refuge with a Hermit named Ubald, who became her spiritual father. In 1175, on her way home, she was captured by Saracen pirates in the Mediterranean, wounded and imprisoned. But she was rescued by a fellow Christian from Pisa and finally arrived home to her little room in San Martino in Pisa.
There she received new visions and in one of them St James came together with Jesus and asked her to join the pilgrims who made the pilgrimage to his tomb in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Not long after, she set off and this time she took with her a large group of pilgrims on the journey of over 150 miles which was covered in nine months.
From then on, she became one of the official guides on the famous pilgrimage route to Compostela under the protection of the Knights of St James. She made the journey nine times, “full of energy, helpful and selfless, always ready to give courage to the sick with her smile” She also often went to Rome and to the Shrine of the ArchangelMikael on Monte Gargano .
She was already ill when she attempted a final pilgrimage and she collapsed not far from home. She managed to return to Pisa, where she died on 29 May 1207 (or 1208) in her small room near the Church of San Martino. She was buried in the Church of San Martino. Her memorial day is the day of her death on 29 May.
In recent times, Bona has begun to be considered the patron saint of travellers along with Saint Christopher. John XXIII (1958-1963) appointed her on 2 March 1962, as the Patron Saint of Italian tour guides, guides and flight attendants. In her tireless pilgrimages, she can be compared to Saint Godric of Finchale (died 1170) or Saint Benedict Joseph Labre (died 1783).
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