Monday, March 09, 2020

When plague in Italy killed 1.5 million people in a single year ~ Saint Frances of Rome and the Plague of 1656

Saint Frances of Rome intercedes on behalf of the plague-stricken
people of Italy. Click to enlarge.
Today, March 9, is the feast day of Saint Frances of Rome. She was an Italian woman who lived in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. A previous post about this amazing saint may be found here. It was claimed that in 40 years of marriage, Saint Frances never once quarreled with her husband.

St. Frances was invoked as an intercessor by the people of Rome even centuries after her death.

In AD 1656, a ship entered the harbor at Barletta carrying a deadly pathogen—very likely, the Black Plague. The town was immediately infected and the impact was dramatic. By the time the plague abated a year later, about half of the town's 20,000 citizens had been killed. It is speculated that the Kingdom of Naples suffered 1.5 million deaths as a result of the plague. Read more here.

Meanwhile, it appears that the affliction was considerably less in Rome by comparison. The city suffered a mere 9,000 deaths during the same period. This reprieve is celebrated in several works of art from this period, including the one shown above by Nicholas Poussin entitled Sainte Fran├žoise Romaine (1657). This work was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, who would later be elected Pope Clement IX. Poussin created the image to celebrate the end of the plague and interpretations of its content vary. It shows either Saint Frances appearing in a vision to a devout 17th century Roman woman begging her intercession (as per the Lourve website), or the Blessed Virgin appearing to St. Frances in response to her own prayers (as per Sheila Barker in Art, Architecture, and the Roman Plague of 1656).

In either interpretation, the artist offers a spiritual solution for those in the midst of a deadly pestilence. In the background, an archangel armed with a sword chases a personification of plague: a monstrous being who can be seen carrying off one of the victims.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Italy and the subsequent closure of all churches in Rome for a month, may Saint Frances intercede on behalf of of the Italian people and anyone who is suffering from the virus. May Christ bring swift succor to the infected, relief to those who are enduring anxiety, and comfort to those whose family members have died.

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