04 September – Feast Day of Santa Rosalia (la Santuzza)

Santa Rosalia Interceding on Behalf of Plague-Stricken Palermo, by Antony an Dyck
Santa Rosalia Interceding on Behalf of Plague-Stricken Palermo, painting by Anthony Van Dyck

There’s a special wonder to Rosalia’s legend. Even the faithful declare that she “died alone, in 1160, ending her strange and wonderful life unknown to the world“, and that “Nothing was heard from her again until 1624.”

From my story, in All the Saints of the City of the Angels,  for Santa Rosalia Drive, in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles:

In 1624 the Flemish artist Anthony Van Dyck traveled to Sicily at the invitation of the Spanish viceroy. While he painted portraits of the Genoese aristocracy, the Black Plague raged across the countryside.


At the same time a hunter lost on the mountains above Palermo saw the vision of a young woman who told him her name was Rosalía and that she had died in a nearby cave 464 years ago.


Rosalía’s remains were brought into Palermo, her hometown, and the plague ended; she was declared a saint and named patroness of the region; and Van Dyck was commissioned to paint her portrait.


Why should, how could, her bones lie undisturbed in a cave above Palermo – a town of over 130,000 – for four and a half centuries? And how did a Flemish court painter, working “from musty bones and fervent spirit” make of it all such art?


Published in: on 4 September 2008 at 9:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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