Saint of the Day – 12 March – Saint Seraphina (1238-1253) Virgin. Born as Fina dei Ciardi , in 1238 at San Geminiano, Tuscany, Italy and died on 12 March 1253 of natural causes, aged 15. PATRONAGES– crippled, paralysed and disabled people, spinners. Also known as Fina, Serafina. Saint Seraphina is celebrated in San Gimignano on both 12 March, the anniversary of her death and the first Sunday in August.
Fina dei Ciardi was born in San Gimignano in 1238. The Daughter of Cambio Ciardi and Imperiera, a declined noble family, she lived all her existence in a humble house located in the historic centre of the famous “city of beautiful towers” (today the small road on which her house stands takes her name).
There is little record of the first ten years of her life and what information is available comes from legends narrated after her death. Some accounts note Seraphina’s strong devotion to the Virgin Mary and that she went out, only to hear Mass. She was also said to be extraordinarily kind.
In 1248, Seraphina’s life was changed by a serious illness, which began, progressively, to paralyse her (probably a form of tuberculous osteomyelitis). Her deep faith relieved her pain. She refused a bed and chose instead, to lie on a wooden pallet. According to her legend, during her long illness, her body became attached to the wood of the table, with worms and rats feeding on her rotting flesh. During her illness, she lost her father and later her mother died after a fall. In spite of her misfortunes and poverty, she thanked God and expressed a desire that her soul might separate from the body, in order to meet Jesus Christ.
In her reading, St Seraphina had heard of the great sufferings of St Gregory the Great and he became her special Patron. She prayed to him, drew strength from the sufferings that he had to endure and prayed, that he would obtain for her, the patience she needed to bear her own sufferings. She was now so weak and helpless, that it was clear to everyone she could not live very long.
Seraphina’s immense devotion was an example to all the citizens of San Gimignano, who frequently visited her. Visitors were surprised to receive words of encouragement from a desperately ill young girl who was resigned to the will of God. On 4 March 1253, after five years of sickness and pain, her nurses Beldia and Bonaventura, were waiting for her to die. Suddenly, Saint Gregory the Great appeared in Seraphina’s room and predicted, that she would die on the 12th of March .Seraphina died on the predicted date at the age of 15.
Miracles attributed to Seraphina are mentioned in stories, paintings, poems and in notary documents. The most important miracle of her life, was her vision of Saint Gregory, also because she died on Saint Gregory’s Feast day (12 March) as he predicted.
When Seraphina’s body was removed from the pallet that was her deathbed, onlookers saw white violets bloom from the wood and smelt a fresh, floral fragrance throughout her house. The violets grew on the walls of San Gimignano and still grow there today. For this reason, the townspeople call them “The Saint Seraphina violets.” The young girl’s body was brought to the Church and during the transfer, the crowd proclaimed “The Saint is dead!”
For several days, pilgrims went to the Church to venerate Seraphina’s remains and in the same period, there were many evidences of her intercessionary power. One was her nurse Beldia. The woman had a paralysed hand for the labour in supporting Fina’s head during her sickness. While she was near the body, the dead young girl cured Beldia’s hand. Legends say that, at the exact moment of Seraphina’s passing away, all the bells of San Gimignano rang without anyone touching them.
Many sick people who visited her grave during the following years were cured and some of these became some of Seraphina’s most fervent devotees.
Another legend tells that during a walk with two of her friends she heard another young girl, Smeralda, crying. Smeralda had broken a pitcher given her to fill with water from well. While she was entertained by other children, she forgot the pitcher on the ground which unfortunately rolled down and broke. Seraphina told her to arrange the pieces and put them under the water and the pitcher became whole and full of water.
Another anecdote about Seraphina’s miracles is the one of Cambio di Rustico, the Ciardi family’s neighbour. On one anniversary of Seraphina’s death, when the townsfolk had a holiday to remember her, Cambio went to cut wood and hurt his leg. Suffering, he asked forgiveness of Saint Seraphina and was very sorry for not having respected her memorial. His cut then miraculously disappeared.
Saint Fina is celebrated in San Gimignano on two separated days. Her first feast is on 12 March – the anniversary of her death – which has been a statutory holiday in the town since 1481. The second feast on the first Sunday of August, commemorates her miraculous intercession for the cessation of two incidents of the Plague, which had ravaged the town in 1479 and 1631.
On both days, her relics are carried in procession in order to bless the town. Her example of devotion has been handed down by the people of San Gimignano through her veneration, despite not being formally canonised by the Church. So, as written in some paintings dedicated to her, it would be correct to call her Blessed Fina. In fact, the official Patron saint of her town, is still Saint Gimignano.
The most important memorial produced in the memory of Saint Fina is the hospital which took her name and was built in 1255, thanks to donations given at her tomb. The hospital gave hospitality to old and poor people and pilgrims too. It became in the following century one of the best in Tuscany. In the hospital’s Chapel, the original oak wood table where Saint Seraphina lay for five years is preserved.
*A Shrine dedicated to Saint Seraphina is a Chapel (designed by Giuliano da Maiano in 1468 and consecrated in 1488) located inside the Church of San Gimignano where, inside theAaltar (built by the brother Benedetto da Maiano), her bones are kept. On the left and right walls of the Chapel there are two frescoes painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio – one shows the vision of Saint Gregory; the other shows the funeral where the violets in blossom on the towers are represented. We also see an angel ringing the bells, Beldia’s cured hand and the self-portrait of the painter and his brother-in-law Mainardi, who painted the Chapel’s ceiling. On the altar there is a bust with Saint Seraphina ’s relics inside.*
Inside the Civic Museum of San Gimignano there is a wood tabernacle (by Lorenzo di Niccolò 1402) depicting Saint Seraphina with the town on her lap, an icon of St Gregory and some of her anecdotes. Another image of Fina is in the nearby Sant’Agostino Church, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli. Other artists depicting the Saint’s life were Piero del Pollaiolo and Pier Francesco Fiorentino. In others small Churches in the countryside, further paintings of the Saint reside.
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