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Santa Maria Francesca

Church S.Maria FrancesaEveryone, of course, knows that the patron saint of Naples is San Gennaro (St. Januarius), but of the six people I've just spoken to—and I include myself in that group—not one of us knew that Naples has a co-patron-saint. Maybe the reason for our ignorance is that we all live up on the hill above the "real" city, a section of Naples that is, if not well-off snooty, at least severely gentrified. But if you get down into the Spanish Quarter, off of via Toledo, everyone knows about Santa Maria Francesca, the only Neapolitan woman ever to be elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic church. 

She was born Anna Maria Rosa Nicoletta Gallo in 1715 in Naples and died there in 1791. She entered a religious order at the age of 16 to escape a particularly harsh and abusive family environment. She took the religious name of Santa Maria Francesca delle cinque piaghe (Saint Mary Frances of the Five Wounds of Jesus). She spent the last 38 years of her life as a "home saint," as it is idiomatically called in Italian. That is something like a "worker priest"; that is, she did not live a reclusive life in a convent; she lived in a private home and spent all her time working with and for the poor in the area. She was beatified by Gregory XVI in 1843, and canonized by Pius IX in 1867. Since the beatification, there has been a chapel in the left nave of the Cathedral of Naples dedicated to her. In 1856, Ferdinand II of Naples acquired the house she had lived and died in and made it into a small church named for the saint, the church of Santa Maria Francesca delle cinque piaghe. It is on a street called vico tre re a Toledo in the Spanish Quarter. 

That small church (photo) made the news today because a small statue—not much more than a doll, really—of the Infant Jesus wearing a silk garment with threaded gold hand-sewn by St. Mary Francis, herself, was stolen a few days ago. The aged nun in charge of caring for the object, 90-year-old Sister Aurora, was apparently set-up: one thief distracted her with a question, and the other thief popped the cover on the small display case and made off with the statue. Sister Aurora has refused to eat since then, and a second member of the order, Sister Veronica says, "I hope this is not sinful of me, but I hope they [the thieves] find no peace". The police and a squad from the Superintendency of Culture are on the case, as are members of the church congregation. It is a rough section of town, and if this story has a happy ending, small bands of "angels with dirty faces" will hunt down the ne'er-do-wells and give them a heavy dose of "no peace" before returning the Baby Jesus to the devotees of St. Mary Frances.

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