Biography of Saint Rose of Lima

The Life of the First Saint of the Americas

Saint Rose of Lima
••• Saint Rose of Lima. Painting by Claudio Coello (public domain image)

Isabel Flores de Oliva was born in Lima, Peru on April 20, 1586. Her parents -- a Spanish harquebusier (a type of carbine-bearing cavalryman) and a native-born limeña (resident of Lima) -- enjoyed a respectable social status but lacked financial stability.

Isabel, one of at least 11 children (13 according to the Archbishopric of Lima), soon became known to family and friends as Rosa. In one of the first miraculous moments of her life, her mother saw a rose bloom upon the face of the sleeping infant, from which day forward she was known as Rosa (Rose).

Rose later became saddened and concerned by the apparent vanity of her new name, but learned to accept the rose as a rose in her soul rather than as a symbol of external beauty alone.

Penance and the Beautiful Saint Rose of Lima

It soon became apparent that Rose was no ordinary child. According to renowned English Roman Catholic priest and hagiographer Alban Butler (1710 – 1773), “From her infancy her patience in suffering and her love of mortification were extraordinary, and, whilst yet a child, she ate no fruit, and fasted three days a week, allowing herself on them only bread and water, and on other days, taking only unsavoury herbs and pulse.”

As she developed into a young woman, Rose became increasingly concerned by her own physical appearance and the attention she received from potential male suitors. She was, by all accounts, a young woman of considerable beauty, but she became unsettled by the harm, temptation and suffering that her appearance could cause in others.

Rose cut off her hair in order to lessen her own attractiveness, despite the objections of her family. Her mother was particularly distraught; she wished to see her daughter married, quite possibly as a means of securing an advantageous union with a wealthier family.

Rose, however, was not to be swayed.

She began disfiguring her face with pepper and lye, and further shunned male attention. Devoting her life to God, she concentrated entirely on her religious studies, the contemplation of the sacrament and prayer. At the same time, she went to great lengths to support her struggling family, carrying out domestic duties and selling flowers that she cultivated herself.

Rose and the Third Order of Dominicans

In 1602, at the age of 16, Rose was allowed to enter the convent of the Third Order of Dominicans in Lima. She took a vow of perpetual abstinence and further dedicated her life to others. She opened a clinic offering medical services to the poor. She continued with her harsh fasting, eventually denying herself meat and surviving on only the most basic of foods. Her daily penances and mortifications continued, and she donned a crown of thorns over her veil.

According to Alban Butler, her complete devotion to self-denial and suffering led her to ask God for greater trials. She would frequently pray: “Lord, increase my sufferings and with them increase thy love in my heart.” Despite the extreme nature of these self-inflicted trials, Rose found both the time and the strength for charitable works, particularly those aimed at helping the poorest and most downtrodden of Peru’s native population.

The Death of St Rose of Lima, First Saint of the Americas

Rose succumbed to her life of hardship on August 24, 1617. She was 31 when she died. Lima’s elite, including religious and political leaders, came to her funeral.

Pope Clement X canonized Rose in 1671, after which she was known as Santa Rosa de Lima, or Saint Rose of Lima. Saint Rose was the first Catholic to be canonized in the Americas -- the first to be declared a saint.

Saint Rose of Lima has since become the patron saint of, among other things, the city of Lima, Peru, Latin America and the Philippines. She is also the patron saint of gardeners and florists. Her feast day is celebrated on August 23 in much of the world, while in Latin America the feast falls on August 30 (a national holiday in Peru, known as Día de Santa Rosa de Lima).

Saint Rose also features on the Peruvian 200 nuevo sol banknote, the highest denomination of Peruvian currency.

The remains of Saint Rose lie in the Convent of Santo Domingo, located on the corner of Jirón Camaná and Jirón Conde de Superunda in the historic center of Lima (one block from Lima’s Plaza de Armas).

References:

Alban Butler – The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, John Murphy, 1815.
Sistema de Bibliotecas UNMSM -- Santa Rosa en la Bibliografía Peruanista
Arzobispado de Lima (www.arzobispadodelima.org)-- Santa Rosa de Lima Biografia