Archive for March, 2015

3 Powerful Women of Renaissance Italy

Posted on March 19th, 2015 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »

With Italy’s culture of machismo and deeply engrained gender roles, it can be difficult to think of women as serving a function beyond homemaker in Italian society.  However, as with many countries, Italian history is filled with fascinating and dynamic women, you just have to dig a little deeper to find them.  Renaissance Italy, in particular, with its focus on humanism and individuality afforded women (wealthy women, at least) the ability to become educated and ambitious.  lucrezia

  1. Lucrezia Borgia. While history remembers her more for the colorful side of her reputation, mainly rumors of incest with her father, Pope Alexander VI, as well as a bout of serial poisonings, these have no historical evidence. What is known is that Lucrezia had a diverse political career, married to three different noblemen, some of whom were assassinated as they fell from the Pope’s favor. Working as a clerk in the Vatican, which was then a hotbed of lavish feasts and orgies, Lucrezia developed into a savvy businesswoman. As she matured, she became a patron of the arts, supporting various poets and artists, and put a lot of money into funding convents, hospitals, and roads in Ferrara.
  2. Caterina Sforza. Alchemist, huntress, dancer, and warrior, Caterina was widely schooled in Latin, the classics, and martial arts at the Sforza court, and she learned from an early age to be bold and imperious. Married at ten years old, she moved to the Roman court as a teenager and quickly became embCaterina_Sforzaroiled in the politics of the time. In the chaos following the death of Pope Sixtus IV, Caterina held her husband’s fortress against intruders. Following her husband’s death, she became the regent of his lands for her sons.  Her ruthless efficiency in ruling (she once ordered a swathe of mass executions and torture as revenge for her second husband’s assassination), as well as her rebellion against the forces of Cesare Borgia when he tried to annex her lands, earned her the nickname “The Tiger.”
  3. Catherine of Siena. Enduring as one of Italy’s patron saints, Catherine was a mystic and theologian of the early Renaissance, named by the Pope in 1970 as one of only four female Doctors of the Church. She began having celestial visions as a child and, following her joining the Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic, she had a prolific career of service out in the world. She became a trusted advisor of many political figures, in both secular and spiritual matters, and is said to have had a mystical marriage with Jesus, which a host of heavenly beings in attendance. The fact that she fasted stringently and is said to have gone for years without eating anything except the Eucharist wafer, may have had a hand in her visions and certainly in her death at 33.  Nevertheless, she was a driven and determined woman, whose writings influenced many and are still read to this day.

If you’re curious to find out more about these amazing women’s lives, contact us for information on Italian courses, or to ask us who our favorite female historical figure is. Alternatively, take a look at our Italian courses for yourself.

5 of Italy’s Most Popular Saints

Posted on March 4th, 2015 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »

cathAs the political epicenter of the Catholic Church and with thousands of years of Christian tradition influencing the culture, Italy is a country where saints are an important part of daily life.  Unique to the Catholic sect of Christianity but serving a similar function as bodhisattvas in Buddhism, saints are people who achieved an extra-holy status during life, whether through prayers or good deeds or miracles, and seen as being able to intercede to God on our behalf .  As such, certain saints are patrons of very specific areas, and if you pray to them directly they will do their utmost to help you with your crisis.  Here are five of Italy’s most widely invoked:

  1. St. Anthony. An old favorite of little old ladies and scatterbrained people everywhere, St. Anthony was a Portuguese Franciscan friar of the 13th century, famous for preaching to the fish of the Italian countryside. His enduring popularity owes to the fact that he is the patron saint of finding lost things; plenty of Catholics worldwide will swear that praying to him is all you need to find your missing glasses, which may or may not have been on your head the whole time.
  2. St. Jude. Less widely petitioned than St. Anthony, Jude was one of Jesus’s twelve disciples who later went on to preach the Gospel across the Middle East. Due to letters he wrote urging people to persevere in difficult circumstances, he is remembered today as the patron saint of lost causes and desperate
  3. St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine of Siena came of age during an age when mysticism and stoicism were in vogue, and as a teenager she joined a convent and started seeing visions of Heaven and Hell. Prompted by disembodied voices, she began to take an interest in the political realm and wrote letters to the leaders of various Italian city-states urging them to unite.  After receiving the Stigmata and surviving an assassination attempt, she retired to a life of prayer and contemplation.  Her letters, written in the Tuscan vernacular, are still read today and she is remembered as the patron saint of fire, sexual temptation, Italy, miscarriages, among other things.
  4. St. Francis of Assisi. Born in the 12th century in Assisi, Umbria, Francis went on to found the Franciscan Order. Originally destined to become a merchant, Francis gave up his worldly pursuits and took a vow of poverty.  Wandering through the wilderness in his iconic brown robe and sandals, he was famous for being able to speak to animals and preaching sermons to flocks of birds.  He is still a great favorite of all animal lovers.
  5. Padre Pio. A more recent saint is Padre Pio, born in the late 19th century and virtually unknown outside of Italy. A capuchin friar, he was famous in the Italian countryside for performing miracles and prophesying, despite Vatican persecution.  He bore the Stigmata (crucifixion-style wounds on his hands and feet) until he died, and many people still claim to have been healed by praying to him.

Learn more about the great figures of the early Roman church by contacting us for information on Italian lessons, or check out our different courses for yourself!