Saint of the Day – 12 March – Blessed Giustina Francucci Bezzoli (c 1257-1319) Virgin of the Order of St Benedict, Hermitess and Anchoress, Mystic – born in c 1257 in Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy and died on 12 March 1319 in Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy of natural causes while praying. A white lily grew out of the stone of her tomb. Her body is incorrupt. Patronages – eye and sight diseases and problems, demonics.
In Florence, in the Benedictine monastery of St Maria del Fiore in Lapo, the incorrupt body of Blessed Giustina Bezzoli Francucci is kept and venerated, moved here from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit of Arezzo in 1968, when the two cloistered communities met. The large church of the monastery, in the centre of the village north of Florence, on Via Faentina, has also been a parish since 1938 and so, in admirable harmony, the two communities live and pray side by side, enriching each other with different gifts of the Spirit. The nuns’ choir is the extension of the church and in the centre there is the tabernacle. The community was founded by the wealthy Lapo da Fiesole who in 1350 hosted the first nuns here. On 13 October of that year, Bishop S. Andrea Corsini consecrated the monastery with the rule of St Augustine and with the title of St Maria del Fiore which is older here than the Florentine cathedral . The Augustinians remained until 1808, when they had to leave because of the laws for the suppression of religious orders, the Benedictines took over in 1817. The tomb with the body of the Blessed is placed in a wall that unites the two communities and is visible from both sides – her face looks towards the cloister and seems to invite the lay faithful to dedicate time to prayer.
Blessed Giustina was a descendant of a very noble family, the Bezzoli Francucci and was born in Arezzo between 1257 and 1260. With a lovable and humble character, she quickly gained a certain maturity. In the rich paternal home, between ease and comfort, she assimilated with daily prayer, the most genuine religious sentiments. She often deprived herself of food and loved to retire to her room to pray, thus the decision to consecrate herself to God matured at a very young age. Her parents refused her permission and denied her any argument. A single, beloved daughter, heir of conspicuous wealth, she had a very enviable future ahead of her – marriage to a man worthy of her family. We know, however, that the ways of the Lord are not the ways of men – she first convinced her father with many tears and pleadings, then it was the turn of her paternal uncle, who was also determined not to deprive himself of his only
niece. A serious illness of the father made everyone reflect on the transience of things and Giustina obtained the desired approval. She was only twelve years old and this decision is incomprehensible to us but, at that time, important choices were sometimes made at that age.
Giustina was welcomed into the monastery of St Marco (which no longer exists today), bringing only an image of the Crucifix with her. A dove landed on her head upon entry, an eloquent sign that the Holy Spirit was already assisting the humble daughter of the Holy Father Benedict. She left everything to devote herself to meditating on the Word of God – the rough habit took the place of opulent silks and satin clothes. Giustina was an exemplary novice, in the simplest tasks she responded with obedience to the needs of the community. Giustina stayed in the monastery for about four years, until she was forced to leave with her sisters because of the wars that devastated the city. With her Crucifix she moved to the Monastery of All Saints but even here the stay was not long.
One day she heard that in a cave, at the Castle of Civitella, a virgin named Lucia voluntarily lived. To join this Lucis, it to share the most austere practice of Christian virtues became her greatest desire. With the permission of Bishop Guglielmo Umbertini she moved to the hermitage where Lucia, very happily, welcomed her. In extreme poverty they received a visit from Giustina’s father who, we can imagine with how much anguish, he tried in vain to bring her home.
The coexistence of the two anchorites lasted only a few years, until Lucia became seriously ill and the young companion assisted her with love until the moment of her death. Left alone, Giustina continued to live devoted only to prayer and penance, visibly comforted by the Celestial Bridegroom who, through an angel, defended her several times from the attacks of wolves. Such and many deprivations could not fail to undermine her health and at only thirty-five she began to have serious vision problems. She was forced to return to the monastery amidst the jubilation of the sisters who
now saw in her a heavenly soul. However, the monastery was subject to soldiers’ raids
and the bishop Ildebrando Guidi had to transfer it to a safe place. It was the year 1315 and Giustina changed residence again.
The Blessed had a singular devotion to the Passion of Christ and, although sick, she practised many mortifications. She spent the last twenty years of her life, completely blind, falling into ecstasy several times, even in the presence of her sisters. She lived in conditions of great misery but always confident in Providence and those who asked for a word of comfort did not fail to help them as much as she could. She died praying, surrounded by her companions, on 12 March 1319. On her body were evident, the sores caused by an iron chain, that for years had encased her fragile body.
The graces obtained through her intercession were immediately numerous. A white lily grew spontaneously on her grave and with this attribute, Giotto painted it for the Florentine Church of Mercy. The body, ten years after her death, was surprisingly flexible and the Bishop of Arezzo, Buono degli Uberti, confirmed the spontaneous cult that had been born in the people. Two centuries later her body was enclosed in an iron chest until 1709, when it it was again exhumed and confirmed to be incorrupt. An ancient war flag was found in the coffin left by a captain as an ex voto around 1384. Some fragments of the banner were distributed to the faithful as relics.
Blessed Giustina is invoked especially for eye and sight problems but some demoniacs have also been exorcised in front of her Shrine.
Blessed Giustina was Beatified on 14 January 1891 by Pope Leo XIII (cultus confirmation).
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