Cascia, Where Everything’s “Coming Up Roses”

May 20, 2016 / Events
Cascia, Umbria

On our first visit to Cascia, Pino and I warmed frozen hands over steaming bowls of roveja soup at a January rural festival. My next visit was in late May when “everything was coming up roses”: devotees of Santa Rita gathered together, arms full of roses. Red ones.

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Santa Rita died in Cascia on May 22, 1457 in the Augustinian convent, having entered the religious life after the murder of her husband and the death of two sons. The winter prior to her death she had asked for figs and a rose from the family garden in her home village of Roccaporena. Legend recounts that her fellow sisters – convinced she was delirious as snow covered the surrounding hills – were astounded when a relative answering her request found a rose blooming in the garden.

Roses. Rita. Inseparable. In Cascia, mementos include silk roses or rosaries emanating the perfume of roses. Rita memorabilia is all over the town and images of her gaze down at customers in bakeries, bars, butcher shops and restaurants.

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On her feast day, May 22nd, a procession winds into Cascia behind young drummers, serpentining down from her home village Roccaporena, with locals in Renaissance dress portraying Santa Rita at different moments of her life – and those personages who were part of her life (her parents, her husband, her sons), many carrying roses. Strong local men in white shirts close the procession, bearing on their shoulders a statue of Santa Rita, bouquets of roses heaped at her feet, stern-faced carabinieri flanking Santa Rita and making space for her passage. Many in the throngs along the route pass roses to the carabinieri to put at the Saint’s feet. Others hold roses that they will have blessed after the feast day Mass, taking the treasured blessed flowers home to relatives.

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The procession winds to the Basilica di Santa Rita for the outdoor Solemn High Mass in her honor, for the Basilica itself would never hold all the crowd: Santa Rita devotees converge on Cascia every year from as far away as Sicily. And what devotion to this saint! Vincenzo from Catanzaro (Calabria), holding his little daughter Elisabetta Rita, dressed like a mini-Santa Rita in her Augustinian habit, explained this devotion to me: “e’ la nostra santa suora piu’ donna” (“she is the most womanly of all our saints who were nuns”), he answered, explaining that she understood the challenges of a wife and mother as she had lived those roles.

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I met another “Santa Rita” in Augustinian habit in the crowd, holding aloft red roses for benediction at the Basilica. Rosa. “I am here for a fioretto of my mother, ” she told me. Meaning literally “little flower”, un fioretto is a good deed as thanks for a prayer answered. Rosa’s childless mother had prayed to Santa Rita, solemnly promising a visit to Cascia on May 22nd as thanks if she became pregnant. Rosa’s mother can no longer come: Rosa comes for her. From Naples. I met other Neapolitans, many of them elderly and with armfuls of red roses, making their annual pilgrimage to Cascia. A Pugliese woman told me proudly that their bus had departed at 3 a.m that morning from Bari for Cascia.

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Young Valerio, from Catania, Sicily was there with his girlfriend, Filippa, hugging a bouquet of red roses. Delighted to hear that my husband Pino was a Sicilian, too, Valerio was chagrined to hear that he was not devoted to Santa Rita. “Pray for him today,” Valerio advised me, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder. “A miracle can happen. Santa Rita is the saint of the impossible causes.”

Santa Rita, you have a challenge.

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Santa Rita's image in a Cascia church - honored with roses

Santa Rita lived a religious life in the Augustinian convent of Cascia

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

38 Responses to “Cascia, Where Everything’s “Coming Up Roses””

  1. John Bellanti

    What a lovely story and tradition. Italians are so created, hey, I know I am Italian and I am part of a team teaching a MOOC…massive open online course. http://www.Coursera.org//C.I.C. Free or for a small fee for credit which you can take all hours of the day and take as long as you need to complete.

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    • Anne’s articles are always so interesting and wonderfully presented with great photos. I feel like I am touring with her. Please keep exploring and writing about these wonderful spots so that we can take your tour and go there eventually.

      Gina

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  2. Marianna Raccuglia

    Another wonderful, informative article with beautiful photos. Thank you Anne, for sharing the “happenings” in your Umbrian area.

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  3. Sally

    Anne, you are such a good writer. I would love to go to this festival!

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  4. Leslie Smith

    Wonderful to read, Anne. Thank you for the gift of your writing and photos.

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  5. Anne, I loved the article. I also love red roses. I am not from Sicily and we will pray for Pino. Great images, great reporting…. bravo!!!

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  6. Sandra

    Grazie mille Anne, for the lovely article. We here in Philadelphia honor St. Rita at her National Shrine in much the same way as those in Cascia Italy. This celebration concurs with a Novena, procession, and the blessing of the roses. How remaarkable that our devotion for Her is shared throughout the world.

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  7. Ginny Siggia

    Many years ago (mid 1990s I think), the American publication,Yankee Magazine, published a recipe for making rose beads, to be strung into a necklace. I did that once, with great success. When I moved, many piles of magazines had to be left behind. The recipe was doubtless in one of those. I would be thrilled if you could find such a recipe in that region of abundant roses! Ironically, I now live a mere 10 miles from the publishing offices of Yankee Magazine. I could also see if I could get the recipe there, but it would be so much more delightful to get it from this source! Mille grazie!

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  8. Jim and Alice Dadario

    Anne…….wonderful post about St. Rita…..pictures look just like what we will be experiencing Sunday (May 22) at the National Shrine of St. Rita here in South Philadelphia (PA)….procession of her statue, a sea of red roses and devotees being bussed in from all over the area. We faithfully attend, upholding the promise we made to a dear, departed aunt (but more like a Nonna) to “continue her tradition.” Look forward to making “un fioretto” in her honor in Cascia someday……..thank you, again!

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  9. Alexandra

    Where can the rose scented rosaries be purchased online

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  10. How very very beautiful. Having known of Santa Rita in the Spain of my childhood – Santa Rita Rita Rita, lo que se da no se quita = St R,R,R, what one gives one does not take away – I never really knew where this saint came from nor her story. And now I know, thanks to Anne! You did it once again! Love your notes, especially this one, as I love the saints, and those of Italy particularly!

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  11. Riccardo

    My twin sisters were born on May 22. The 1st twin was named, Rita Marie and the 2nd twin was, Marie Rita. They are both deceased and from now on, I will place a red rose on each grave.
    Ann, thanks for post.

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  12. Louise Montalbano

    What a winderful tradition! Thanks Anne, for bringing it to us with all the beauty in the photos and the humor in your writing. God Bless Pino!!!

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  13. Britani Carbone

    I am always impressed with your description of Italian traditions, Anne. The adoration of St. Rita seems so heartfelt and sincere, and I hope the faith of her followers will continue. Thanks for sharing these photos and encounters with the people who come to the festival in Cascia.

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  14. Joseph DeRuyter

    What a great article! May certainly is festival time in Italia! Anne had already taught me the story of St. Rita, but I was unaware of the festival. Yet another to add to my list of “must dos!”

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  15. Anne, How apropos, & God’s coincidence that you write of the honor given toon’s that you write about st. Rita of cascia…my bible study group gave her prayer out last Sunday….. I’ve read more about her since your article!!! my mother and I enjoyed you tremendously when we had you as our guide around Assisi. Umbria…..God Bless You!!!

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  16. Ann Krapf

    Beautiful story, beautiful people…beautifully written. Thank you for the introduction to Saint Rita

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  17. Patrice Makovic

    Lovely tradition, great story and especially loved your ending!

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  18. KarenKotoske

    Anne, your photos of the pilgrims doing their fiorettos to Cascia are utterly fascinating. I love every face. One photo in particular I found especially interesting, the small child dressed in an Augustinian nun’s habit. That’s not a sight we see often in California. These parents seem to be showing beautiful devotion to the tradition through their sweet little girl reaching for the roses on her exciting day of ‘dressing up.’ I love your story and photos, thank you!

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  19. David Fleming

    Marvelous!! As tenders of many roses in out garden my wife and I were delighted with Anne’s description of events in Cascia. Yet another reason to visit Italy in May.

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  20. Dear Annie,
    I loved your pictures, and the people in them.
    As a flower lover I find this an especially beautiful tradition.
    So much enjoyed your farm tour last week too.

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  21. Rosemary Johnson

    What a wonderful story about St. Rita! I would have loved to have been at the festivities and taken home one of those beautiful rosaries with artificial roses. Everything looks so colorful and fresh. My son graduated from Iowa State 2 weeks ago, and is very hopeful that he will find work soon. We still reminisce about the fun we had in Italy last spring!!

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  22. Sarah

    Anne, I really enjoyed reading about St. Rita and the beautiful devotion to her in Cascia. Thank you for sharing!

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  23. Rolla

    Annie, I have a younger sister Rita! We celebrated her namesake saint Rita but really did not know the story of this saint’s life…..Thank you for this lovely post xoxoxox

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  24. Lina Falcone

    Thank you Anne for the article and great pictures. Grazie mille.

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  25. Lynn Cowhig

    What fun! Anne always makes her trips and “finds” sound so delightful. I yearn to return.

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  26. As always your article is wonderful. You are a fabulous writer and photographer. My only regret is that we could not be at Cascia with you to share the day.

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  27. Suzanne and Jack

    Anne thank you for another beautifully written article that brings a greater understanding of Umbrian traditions. I will, from now on, think of St Rita when I tend to our red rose bush here in our garden in Western Australia.

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  28. Rosemarie

    Anne, Thank you for writing this beautiful story about Saint Rita! There is nothing like the roses of Italy and the connection of red roses to Saint Rita is truly amazing. I am going to have to add being in Umbria for her feast day next year. Thank you Anne!

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  29. sophia

    Thanks to this wonderful reminder, I am over compelled to seek and beg her intercession. She is real…. She works!! What a beautiful woman to bear the trials of a challenging husband and struggles of her motherhood… It’s no wonder so many seek her in these areas due to themselves experiencing the similar. I am enamored by the devotion of the Italians to her… What honor they bring!! So beautiful to see, a beautiful testimony. The saints are real… We must not be desensitized to their intercessions and active help in our lives… They WANT to help us! Praise God you were able to experience this great celebration, and thank you for sharing.

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  30. carol weed lundin

    Anne taunts our curiosity to visit places in Italy one would be highly unlikely to find in any guidebook. Stick by Anne for a true taste of Italy’s treasures!

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  31. Matt Cappiello

    Another good one from Anne…..you can tell it’s her writing in the first few lines…..well written and informative….and always, great pictures….and, by the way, we recently had two great days of touring with Anne in Assisi, Spello and Gubbio…..

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  32. Giovonne Mary Calenda

    Dear Anne,
    Thank you for another beautiful posting. I loved reading about Santa Rita and enjoyed this post as I do all others on the blog. Your pictures are fabulous. I am so looking forward to my upcoming visit to Umbria and exploring with you.

    Giovonne

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  33. Glenna Maney

    Anne, what a delightful read! Thanks so much for sharing! You are amazing! Don’t know how you do all you do…and do it all so well!

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  34. Stephanie W

    What a touching recounting of the people and this special festival. I love the Italians passion for their devotion to faith, family and community. Beautiful pictures help to tell the story and make me feel as if I am there making the pilgrimage as well. Thank you for sharing, Anne, as only you can.

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  35. Anna Retsker

    Wonderful tradition! Pretty pictures, Annie. Thank you very much.

    Reply

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