Not much is known about the life of Santa Rosalia. She was born to a noble family. She rejected that life, instead pursuing one as a hermit in a cave on Mount Pellegrino. She died there alone in 1166.
Things became more interesting in 1624, when a plague struck Palermo. At that point, Saint Rosalia appeared to a sick woman, then to a hunter. She told the hunter where her remains could be found and ordered him to bring them to Palermo, where they would be carried in procession throughout the city.
The hunter climbed the mountain and found her bones in the cave, exactly where the saint had told him to look for them. He brought them back to the city, where the people carried them in procession three times. After that, the plague ceased. In gratitude for this miracle, the people of Palermo adopted her as their patron saint, and a sanctuary was built in the cave where her remains were discovered.
Crown of roses, lily, rose, skull, pilgrim’s staff, crucifix, Bible, rosary, chisel, Basilian monastic dress or hermitic dress, the following epitaph (in Latin):”I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses, and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Why that skull, though?
The skull indicates a saint who spent much of their life contemplating death. St Gerard, for example, is said to have kept a skull and crossbones on his desk to inspire continuous contemplation of death; he is now often depicted with a skull in his icons. In this case, the skull is essentially a Memento Mori. But is that the case for Santa Rosalia? We know so little about her life, how can we be sure she spent it in contemplation of death?
PATRON SAINT SERIES
After she saved the city of Palermo from plague, Santa Rosalia became known as a fierce protectress. She was credited with defending the people from earthquakes and storms, and was appealed to in prayers for a safe and successful harvest. Discover our collection dedicated to this legendary Italian icon.