Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi

An engraving of Magdalena de Pazzi
from an 1878 book,
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints
Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi (Italian: Maria Magdalena de Pazzi; April 2, 1566 – May 25, 1607) is an Italian Carmelite mystic and saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi was born April 2, 1566, into one of the wealthiest and most distinguished noble families of Renaissance Florence, the Pazzi. She was christened Caterina, but in the family, was called Lucrezia out of respect for her paternal grandmother, Lucrezia Mannucci. Even as a girl Caterina was attracted to prayer, solitude, and penance.

At the age of nine she was taught how to meditate by the family chaplain, using a recently published work explaining how one should meditate on the Passion of Christ. Years later, this book was one of the items she brought with her to the Carmelite convent. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. She experienced her first ecstasy when she was only twelve, in her mother's presence. From then on, she continued to witness many varied mystical experiences.

At fourteen Catarina was sent to school at the convent of Cavalaresse. In 1583 she was received as a novice in the enclosed Carmelite monastery of St. Mary of the Angels in Florence. She took the name of Sister Mary Magdalene, and chose the Carmelite convent because the rule there allowed her to receive Communion daily.

St. Mary Magdalene had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near, so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel during a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours.  This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings.

As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. That particular week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, "Admonitions", is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious.

Vision of Saint Maria Magdalena de Pazzi
(painted by 
Pedro de Moya).
Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was rather given to raptures and profound ecstasies through much of her life but she also experienced a period of great temptation and of spiritual dryness that lasted for over five years, ending only on Pentecost Sunday, 1590. A famous incident was her ringing the bells of the monastery one night to announce that Love was Itself not loved. While her mystical experiences sometimes caused dramatic, even eccentric, behavior she was never narcissistic or self-preoccupied.

It is said that Sr. Mary Magdalene could read the thoughts of others and predict future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. She was able, even while in ecstasy, to perform the routine duties of the monastery conscientiously and well. She served terms as Mistress of Professed, Mistress of Novices, and Sub-Prioress. She also, and this is perhaps the most important part of her relevancy, had a deep longing for the reform of the Church.

She died relatively young—even for her period in history—on Friday, May 25, 1607 at the age of 41. She was buried in the choir of the monastery. When the nuns moved from the site, they took the saint’s body with them. Today it rests in a glass casket in their monastery in the hills overlooking her native city. To say that her body is in corrupt would be something of an overstatement.

Numerous miracles allegedly followed Saint Mary Magdalene's death, and the process for her beatification was begun in the year 1610 under Pope Paul V, and completed under Pope Urban VIII in the year 1626. She was not, however, canonized until 62 years after her death, when Pope Clement X raised her to the altars on April 28, 1669. The church of the Monastery of Pažaislis, commissioned in 1662 in Lithuania, was one of the first to be consecrated in her honor.

The saint herself is little known outside Italy, but her cult is very strong, especially in Florence. Paulist Press issued a selection of her writings in English translation in their series of "Classics of Western Spirituality".

In 1670, the year after her canonization, the feast day of the saint was inserted in the General Roman Calendar for celebration on 25 May, the day of her death. In 1728, the date of 25 May was assigned instead to Pope Gregory VII, and the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi was moved to 29 May, where it remained until 1969, when it was restored to its traditional place in the calendar.

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