Saint of the Day – 20 May – Blessed Columba of Rieti OP (1467- 1501) religious Sister of the Third Order of St Dominic, Mystic, Apostle of the poor, renowned for her spiritual counsel, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and fantastic miracles were attributed to her. Born on 2 February 1467 at Rieti, Umbria, Italy as Angelella Guardagnoli and died on 20 May 1501 at Perugia, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – Against sorcery, against temptation, Perugia, Italy. Also known as – Angelella Guardagnoli, Colomba of Rieti.
Columba was the daughter of a poor family in the Umbrian city of Rieti. When she was born, angels gathered around her house, singing and during her Baptism, a dove flew down to the font. From then on, no-one referred to her as Angelella but as Columba , which means “dove”.
From infancy Columba led a supernatural life. She strewed her little bed with thorns and from an old sieve ,plaited a hair-shirt. As a small girl, Columba learned to spin and sew, repairing the clothes of the local Dominican Friars. She was educated by Dominican nuns. The Holy Eucharist formed her one desire and almost her sole nourishment. Hunger, thirst, sleep and the other needs of nature, not only never tormented her but she lived unconscious of them.
As a teenager, she prayed to discern her vocation in life and received a vision of Christ on a Throne surrounded by Saints. She took this as a sign to dedicate herself to God and so, she made a private vow of chastity and spent her time in prayer. When it was revealed that her parents had arranged a marriage for her, she cut off her hair and sent it to her suitor as a way of letting him know, where her real interest lay.
Columba became a Dominican Tertiary at age 19. She was given to ecstasies, during one of which, her spirit toured the Holy Land. She was much sought after as a spiritual counselor. Citizens from the City of Narni, tried to kidnap her so she could be their miracle worker but she escaped.
Upon an interior prompting that she should leave Rieti, Columba wandered away, having no concept of where she was going. Along the way she was arrested in Foligno as a vagrant. The Bishop there ordered her to go to Perugia and to found a Third Order Convent, which she did but only against the strong objections of the citizens of Foligno and Rieti, who wanted her for their own needs.
She worked with the poor extensively in Perugia, so much so, that her sanctity reportedly incensed Lucrezia Borgia for years. At one point Borgia had even issued a complaint accusing Columba of practising magic. On the other hand, Pope Alexander VI, Lucrezia’s father, held Columba in high regard. He consulted her and she ordered him to repent of his sins.
If Columba’s reception of Holy Communion was delayed by but one hour, she fainted from exhaustion and her life seemed in danger. Her Confessor, fearing some delusion, asked her how she was able to live on the Blessed Sacrament alone. “When I receive this heavenly food,” she replied, “I feel so satisfied in soul and body that all desire for earthly food vanishes and I have a horror of it. I hope that before this year is over, God will give you a sign which will remove your doubts.” On Christmas-day, as this Priest finished his first Mass, he felt an unknown refreshment of soul. When he had said his third Mass, this heavenly love had reached such a height, that he felt it impossible to touch food and so remained fasting throughout the day. This was revealed to Columba, who said, “I rejoice, Father, that you have received my heavenly food and now know, by experience, how I can be satisfied by the Bread of angels alone!”
Columba spent eleven years as Prioress in Perugia, dying on 2 May 1501, at the age of 34. At the moment of her death, her friend and fellow Dominican Tertiary, Blessed Osanna of Mantua (1493-1565), saw Columba’s soul as a “radiance rising to heaven.”
The whole City attended her funeral, which was paid for by the City administrators.
She was Beatified on 25 February 1625 by Pope Urban VIII and her Feast day is celebrated within the Dominican Order on the anniversary of her death. As Patron of Perugia, she is highly venerated and Statues of her abound in the region.