An 18th-century saint and mystic has suddenly become known in the Middle East and has astonished all those who read her story. Her extraordinary writings have recently been re-discovered by a new generation and are gaining popularity. What does this mean for our age of crisis and unbelief?
Sister Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727) was a great mystic, victim soul, stigmatist and saint. Her incorrupt body is on display in the Capuchin Poor Clare Monastery of Città di Castello. Amongst the many extraordinary facets of her life of heroic virtue was the mystical wounding of her heart. She told her close confidante that symbols of Christ’s passion and the letters representing the vows she had taken had been etched on her heart.
On the day of St Veronica’s death, her heart was dissected during a post-mortem investigation. To the astonishment of the physician and surgeon Giovanni Francesco Gentili, the Bishop, mayor, medical experts and other witnesses present during the autopsy – these sacred symbols, a cross and the letters she had spoken of were engraved in her right ventricle.
The various letters denoted the names of St Veronica’s virtues: C for charity, O for obedience, F for faithfulness to God and Mary, P for patience and U for humility. The two flames represented love for God and our neighbor and the seven swords signified Mary’s sorrows.
Like a great architect, God finds artistic and creative ways to reveal the unique destinies that each of us are called to pursue. The markings carved on her heart are not just mere symbols, but paradigms of what it means to live a virtuous life. It is through love, faithfulness, charity, obedience to God’s will, patience, humility and a burning desire to embrace our daily crosses that we can mend our broken Church.
This great revival of St Veronica’s story all began in 1994, when Brother Emmanuel from Lebanon stumbled upon her three-centuries-old writings in a monastery in Deir al-Zour, Syria. Our Lord promised that St Veronica’s writings would be for the benefit of many souls:
“The Lord Himself made me understand that I should describe everything; because He wanted it thus; and that these writings would be of great profit to many souls and that He wanted it to be for the whole of Christianity” (D II, 15).
Today, she has left behind her treasured 22,000-page hand-written diary.
St Veronica was born in Mercatello, Italy on 27 December 1660 to Francesco Giuliani and Benedetta Macini. As St Veronica’s mother, Benedetta, was dying, she consecrated each of her five living daughters to the Five Wounds of Jesus. To St Veronica, her mother said, “You, dear Orsolina, still so young will reside in the Wound of the side. I leave you in the Heart of God, where you will not only find protection but also learn what it is to love.”
At the age of 17, St Veronica entered the monastery of Capuchin Poor Clares in Città di Castello. Upon entering the convent, Bishop Sebastiani told the nuns, “Keep this girl as a precious treasure because she will become a great saint”.
As a victim soul, St Veronica was a mediator between God and sinners. She wrote: “My Lord, I will stand at the gate so that no one will enter the abyss, losing You. Send me more penances, more torments, more crosses so that every creature will return to you redeemed.”
She often had visions of souls who were about to sin and would perform great penances for their salvation. Notably, she performed the Way of the Cross by carrying a heavy wooden cross around the convent garden and received the stigmata on Good Friday of April 1697.
St. Veronica also suffered immensely for the souls in Purgatory. She even visited purgatory directly to atone for many souls, including the soul of her father, Pope Clement XI and sisters from her convent:
“I spent tonight as usual in Purgatory, in the midst of fire and ice, sorrows and sufferings, in complete abandonment and without any one’s help. May the Will of God be praised.”
Today, the revival of her story has touched so many hearts. A film directed by Giovanni Zipperna and Valeria Baldan, The Awakening of a Giant, has been produced to share St Veronica’s story to the world. A church dedicated to St Veronica was recently built in Ksaibe, Lebanon. During the inauguration of the Church on her feast day on 9 July 2016, the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, said: “This is my wish: to renew our spiritual lives, the Church in Lebanon and the universal Church, through the intercession of St Veronica Giuliani.”
Just as though the lights of old stars still reach us, the inspirational stories of centuries-old Saints still reach us today – a reminder that holiness generates other saints. To bring healing to our wounded Church in these bitter times, we can start by drawing inspiration from the great Saints who have lived before us. It is through prayer, works of mercy, fasting, charity, and penance offered in union with Christ’s Passion that we can walk in the footsteps of incredible saints like St Veronica.
When we live for others, surrender ourselves to God’s will and sow good seeds, we will be able to welcome a springtime of rebirth, restoration, and renewal.