In the 13th century in Viterbo lived a girl called Rosa. She wanted to take the vows as a nun in the order of S.Francis but, due to her fragile health, this was not allowed by her family. She lived very shortly, just 18 years. Her faith and vocation was so strong that she kept helping the poors as a volunteer – even if she didn’t become a nun – and she had kind and counseling words for everyone she met.
In those times, Viterbo was an important town along the Via Francigena and the emperor Frederick II had a palace and stronghold there. Nevertheless these were the times in which the popes were playing in earthly politics and expanding the Church’s State, so there were battles going on for the domination over the city and its territory.
Rosa, who was preaching left and right about christian values and peace (but also against a group of heretics that the emperor was tolerating) was seen as a threat by the emperor’s appointed governor, who cast away Rosa and her family from the city. It is said that, as she was walking towards Soriano nel Cimino (16km from Viterbo, this is incidentally the place where we live in at the Sanctuary of Joy and where the pope had recently built his Castle back in the days) she had a vision of the emperor dying. By the way, this episode gets re-enacted by actors at the ‘Sagra delle Castagne’ in Soriano, at the beginning of October.
Shortly after, Viterbo eventually became part of the Church’s state and the emperor actually died.
But the cleargy knew that you don’t win a war just by force in a battle but you need to buy into the population’s heart in order to stay successful; hence they needed to work on a marketing strategy that would commove and convince the population that divine design and God’s will were behind the historical facts. They needed to create a ‘hero’, symbol of the city being ‘freed’ from the emperor.
Rosa was almost forgotten until, sever years later, the next Pope had a repetitive dream of a girl who had predicted the death of the emperor and who was asking to be buried within the walls of the convent of the St.Francis’s nuns where she would have wanted to take the vows initially. So by request of the Pope, her body was moved and was found to be completely preserved and intact – like that of a mummy – and this is the state of that corpse that can still be seen today in the convent.
As from here, miracles multiplied and stories spread of the life of Rosa, who was gradually painted more and more like a defender of the Church, a warrior girl who was shot by an arrow (but that didn’t stop her), who jumped in the flames but was not burned, who resurrected various people, and more.
St.Rosa is very dear to the population of Viterbo who, on September 3rd, run a procession carrying on their shoulders a 50-meters tall statuary display adorned with lights (the so called “Santa Rosa’s machine”) from Porta Romana (in the picture) for over a kilometer.