St. Frances of Rome: The Archangel and the Flaming Heart
One of the most celebrated mystics of the fifteenth century, Saint Frances of Rome, was born in the Eternal City in 1384, to a noble family. She had from a young age desired to enter religious life, but her father had other plans, and she was married as a young woman to Lorenzo de’ Ponziani, a nobleman and soldier. Saint Frances distinguished herself by her charity towards the poor and her zeal for the salvation of souls. Many of her friends from the ranks of the noblewomen of Rome were converted by her good example from frivolous lives to the ardent practice of the Faith. She formed for them an association of oblates attached to the White Benedictine monastery at Santa Maria Nouva; their constitutions were later approved by Pope Eugene IV in 1433.
These oblates lived as religious sisters. However, they did not live under the strict cloister, nor did they take formal vows. Their days were spent in prayer and good works. Frances’ husband Lorenzo agreed to let her take a vow of continence; she was thus greatly aided in a life of contemplation of divine mysteries. She was also gifted with ecstasies and the working of miracles. She beheld the bodily vision of her guardian angel. She was permitted to see into the consciences of others and detect schemes hatched in Hell. She was renowned for her deep humility and detachment, as well as the virtues of obedience and patience. She received private revelations from God on the realities of Hell and Purgatory, and she was permitted to foretell the end of the Schism of the West.
One of the miracles from her life involved her son Battista, in a time of war. Saint Frances’s husband fought in the Pope’s army in the wars against the anti-Popes of the Western Schism. On one occasion, the commander of the opposing army had ordered her son to be turned over to him as a hostage. Obeying the order because this was the will of her spiritual director, Frances stopped in a church on the way to deliver her son, entrusting his life to the Blessed Mother. When they arrived at the designated spot, the soldiers attempted to carry away her son on a horse. When whipped repeatedly however, the horse refused to budge. The soldiers saw Divine Providence at work and decided to return the boy to his mother.
St. Frances’ husband died in 1436; it was then that she retired to be with her oblates. Upon entering, she was made superior. Visiting her son one day, she fell sick and her death came on the day she had foretold, the 9th March. It is on this day that her feast is traditionally kept.
Saint Frances of Rome is the patron of Benedictine oblates, automobile drivers, and widows. Her status as the patron of drivers comes from a pious tradition according to which when the saint traveled, an angel would cast a light on the road ahead of her with a celestial lantern, ensuring her safety. Her example of holiness in everyday life and her salutary influence on those around her teaches us that holiness is indeed attainable for those living in the world, not just those in religious orders. We see from the example of Saint Frances that devotion to God is practicable in every walk of life.
Images of Saint Frances of Rome often feature her with the attributes of a Benedictine habit, in honour of the association of Benedictine oblates which she founded. Many depictions of her also include an archangel, in a tribute to the special grace she received of the sight of her own guardian angel. As her heart was like a burning furnace of divine charity, she is also frequently shown holding a flaming heart in her hand.
She was canonised by Pope Paul V in 1608. For many years before her canonisation however, the faithful came in large numbers to venerate her body in the Church of Santa Maria Nuova, in the Roman Forum. This church is now dedicated to her and known as the Santa Francesca Romana.
Prayer: “Bright jewel of the Order of Saint Benedict, illustrious Saint Frances of Rome, thou who wast led by Divine Providence through various stations in life, that thou mightest be a pattern of every virtue, to maidens, to matrons and to widows, pray for us to our Divine Saviour that we may be detached from the vanities of the world and may be able, under the guiding hand of our guardian angel, to grow daily in the love of God, of His Church and of our neighbour, and finally to be made partakers in Heaven of thy felicity. Amen.”