In Garments All Red
Who is this that cometh . . . this beautiful one . . . Why then is thy
apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?
Saint Maria Goretti
October 16, 1890 July 6, 1902
Mary, Queen of Martyrs
Beatification Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix
Prologue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xvii
1. Journey for Maria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
2. Home in the Swampland . . . . . . . . . . 5
3. Coming of the Serenellis . . . . . . . . . . 10
4. Misunderstanding and Warning . . . . . 14
5. Marias Happiest Day . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
6. The Little Woman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
7. The Angel of Darkness . . . . . . . . . . . 29
8. Even to Blood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
9. Hours of Pain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
10. The Final Struggle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Epilogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Pictures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Model of Youth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Novena to St. Maria Goretti . . . . . . . . . 70
They say that if you go from Rome to Nettuno by way of Campo Morto and Ferriere, you will hear everybody along the way speaking of Maria Goretti. Through that countryside she has become legendary. The old people remember her; the young have learned to love her. One old lady tells us proudly that she made her First Communion with Maria. Another met the Saint many times on market day. A farmer claims she came to him, a few days before her death, to return a sickle that Alessandro Serenelli had borrowed. A seamstress remembers Maria coming to her mothers shop to try on a dress the very morning of the day Alessandro attacked her. Not yet a half century after her death, Maria Goretti lives in the hearts of her people. When I asked her neighbor, Theresa Cimarelli, about her, she exclaimed: Madonna mia! I used to see her every day as she passed by the door to get water from the well. But she never stopped. She was a serious girl. She came and went quickly and busily, and there was no reproach when we nicknamed her the little old lady.
Maria was always modest and reserved. We all liked her, and deep down
we admired her. She was more religious than the rest of us. I was just a girl
then, and would that I had followed her example! But at that age most of us
are senseless. We scarcely know what we are doing. We seek pleasure and popularity.
We permit ourselves to be distracted from better things. She hesitated
a moment and sighed. She seemed to have more to say, but refrained. Come
in, she invited, and meet Domenico. I needed no urging, for
Theresa Cimarelli and her brother had lived through the events of our story
and were witnesses of many of its details. I sat down at the simple wooden table
and looked about the plainly furnished room. Theresa went to the back door and
Domenico . . . Domenico!
There was no reply, but the wood chopping in a nearby shed ceased. The old lady then drew out a jug of wine and set glasses on the table. In a moment Domenico entered. Domenico was up in years and walked with a stoop. The sun had tanned his skin. His blue workclothes gave off the pungent odor of sheep. He offered me his hand in honest welcome, drew up a chair and filled the glasses with the cool, sparkling wine. Theresa then explained to him my interest
in the life of Maria Goretti and urged him to help her retell the story. The pleasure of these two friends of Maria having a foreigner in their home and being able to retell the drama they had witnessed was all too evident. They seemed to relive those tragic scenes. No detail was omitted. Theresa and Domenico have not left Ferriere since Marias death, and I can only guess the hundreds of times they have gone over the terrible story together in the past forty-five years. All I did was listen. They told the tale from beginning to end and concluded with these words:
The day of the burial of Mariaand it was a real triumphthe whole populace of Nettuno accompanied the body to the cemetery. Her mother, Assunta, came back to Ferriere. She did not stay long. You understand. She could no longer live in the house that recalled such sad memories. So she left this region and returned to Corinaldo with her children. Old Serenelli disappeared, too. No one ever heard of him again. The Ferriere farm was once more abandoned and once more known as the old cheese factory.
What about Alessandro? I asked. I was eager to know how he had paid for his crime.
Alessandro! said Domenico. That is a whole story in itself! First of all, he was imprisoned at Nettuno. They then transferred him to the Regina Coeli at Rome, where his trial began. I was called in as witness. Alessandro was arrogant and cynical before his judges. He denied up and down that he had anything to do with the crime. He pretended that he was the object of grave injustice and was highly indignant that anyone should accuse him of such a transgression. But the evidence was overwhelming. Though he put on a brave front, he was not able to escape, and finally made an avowal of guilt. Then, to influence the judges, he tried to hide behind the curtain of insanity, calling in the cases of his mother and brother. Doctors examined him and declared he was responsible for his own actions. But since he was a minor, he was sentenced to only thirty years of hard labor.
I heard that he was sent first to the penitentiary of Noto in Sicily.
It was said that in the beginning of his term he seemed happy as a bird in its
cage. He even composed a song with the refrain: Take courage, Serenelli, Banish your fears, Youll be welcomed home with cheers.
His conscience did not seem to be troubled with remorse, until one day a priest came to see him. As the guards brought Alessandro in for the talk, fierce anger seized hold of him and he yelled wildly: It was all your fault that I lost her! You and your teachings! The priest tried to reason with him, appealing to Gods infinite mercy and Marias own generous pardon. But Alessandro only howled like a maniac and lunged at the priest. As the guards pulled him away, the priest said, Soon, Alessandro, you will want me. Maria will see to that.
Never, the prisoner screamed. Ill never want you, never!
In the days that followed Alessandro could not sleep. He grew nervous and lost his appetite. Then one night, in the solitude of Alessandros cell, Maria appeared to him. Terrified, he screamed for the guards. When they arrived, he was almost incoherent.
I saw her! I saw her! he gasped in great excitement.
I saw Maria dressed in dazzling white, gathering beautiful lilies in a garden and handing them to me. As I took them from her outstretched hands, they were transformed into small lights that glowed like candles. Call the priest! Bring me the priest!
It was now the jailers turn to laugh. Write to the priest if you have something to say, they answered callously. So Alessandro knelt on the floor
of his cell and scrawled the following note: I am deeply sorry for what has happened. I have taken the life of an innocent girl whose one aim was to save her purity, shedding her blood rather than give in to my sinful desires. I publicly retract the evil I have done and beg pardon of God and of the stricken family. One hope encourages methat I also may one day obtain Gods pardon, as so many others have. Alessandro Serenelli November 10, 1910
This note from Alessandro only confirmed our belief that Maria was a Saint, a real martyr. The word of how she had died passed throughout the country, and people started making pilgrimages to her tomb. We prayed to her and asked for cures . . . and miracles were performed.
I looked skeptical. Domenico noted my astonishment and continued. I saw a boy of Nettuno brought to the cemetery by his mother. He was eaten away by consumption, a wasted child, Hermano by name. They prayed at Marias grave, and the boy left the cemetery cured. From that day forward he grew strong and healthy, and when he was twenty, he was drafted for military service. I heard also of a man in Rome who was instantly cured of an internal abscess by calling on Maria. His doctor attested to the fact. I could tell you of many other incidents equally as marvelous; for instance, the Lady Miscetti, who was to undergo an operation, was cured of a cyst in her thyroid gland after praying to Maria. Then, too, a Sicilian priest was freed of a serious kidney condition by the same prayer. But what does it matter after all? Miracles dont change anything. When one has chosen to die rather than to offend God, one is a martyr and thats that! Thats why our little Maria is a Saint today.
I was going from one surprise to another. The good Domenico seemed to know his history. He was full of his theme. He was not just talking. He was expatiating with remarkable ease. I began to perceive that he had been more closely involved in the affair, though I did not know where he was leading: Did you say she has been canonized? I asked innocently. He was more astonished than I. You mean you think she doesnt deserve it? he asked. No, I replied, but why has it taken so long?
Rome, he answered, moves slowly in canonizing Saints. There are inquiries, depositions, discussions . . . and then all the data is put away in the archives. Then some fine day, the case is taken up again. New inquests, new depositions, new discussions are brought forth. This time it seems we have something. It is going to succeed. And then . . . disappointment! The devils advocate finds an objection: Maria should have disclosed her secret . . . she hesitated before pardoning her assassin . . . she may have provoked him. Such false reasons hold up the process. Thus we have to be patient for years. But the Church knows best.
I was called in several times, Domenico continued, to testify. Police, doctors, nurses were also called ineveryone, in fact, who had something to say. Assunta, naturally, was the first defendant of her daughter. We were all of one mind. Maria was innocent; she had given proof of her heroic courage. But that was not enough. One witness was wantingthe only one able to settle the question, her murderer, Alessandro!
After thirty-five years, he came back to Corinaldo, a changed man. Marias prayers had won him completely. His prison sentence had been served, and he wanted to repair the evil of his crime. He who formerly had taken every means to exonerate himself now humbly admitted his guilt. It is no small thing when a criminal rises to the defense of his victim. He affirmed that she had been altogether innocent. She had opposed his brutal passion with all her strength. Finally, he obtained what he soughther vindication.
He even went further than that, and on Christmas Eve of 1937 begged pardon of Assunta. The old mothers voice broke as she fought back the tears: Maria forgave you, Alessandro, she answered, so how could I possibly refuse?
The following morning, Christmas Day, the parish Church at Corinaldo was filled to overflowing as Assunta and Alessandro entered side by side. A hush fell on everyone. At the Communion rail, Alessandro turned and all eyes were upon him.
I have sinned deeply, he said. I have murdered an innocent girl who loved virtue more than life. May God forgive me! I beg your pardon!
After this, I heard that Alessandro had retired to a Capuchin Monastery of Ascoli, where he put on the habit of a tertiary. Hes working there now as gardener, tending the flowers. Lilies are his favorites . . .
Domenico seemed to have finished his tale. I had listened with intense interest. What a story! And yet, all so true. I knew from a friend of mine who had been present what popular enthusiasm accompanied the Canonization on June 24, 1950. In front of that great throng, an old lady, Assunta, had the place of honor. She raised her head with tear-filled eyes and saw the veil removed from the picture of Maria just as His Holiness Pope Pius XII proclaimed her to be a Saint.
The excited Holy Year throng behind expressed her thoughts. There she is . . . Maria Goretti . . . St. Maria Goretti! Thus the drama of Ferriere has terminated in the glory of the Vatican! For me, mused Domenico, she will always be our little Maria. I wouldnt know how to call her otherwise. You understand, we were her neighbors. We lived in the house next to hers. I was twenty years old when she died. Domenico fell to silent musing. He was tired reminiscing. The village clock struck eleven. I was about to leave when the door opened. A little girl looked in. At the sight of me, she hesitated, doubtful as to whether she should enter or withdraw. A great straw hat haloed her head. She wore a blue and white summer dress, which scarcely reached her knees. Her bare arms were tanned with the sun. Angelina, come in and speak to Father, said Domenico. Dont stand there gaping. This is my granddaughter, he explained. The little girl seemed timid, frightened at my presence. But she came over and shook hands with smiling grace. Then she went out by the back door. I rose and thanked Domenico and Theresa for their kindness and hospitality. But for them, my story would have been incomplete. I paused a moment on the threshold to adjust my eyes to the burning sunlight, and then set off resolutely for the long, hot walk to Nettuno. Maria had made the journey before me, and it seemed I was following her. No one else was on the road at that time of day, and I walked alone with my thoughts. Maria . . . Angelina . . . girl of yesterday . . . youngster of today.
Styles have changed. The light dress and straw hat have replaced the heavy
skirts and shawls. Long braided hair has given place to a simple cut and combing.
Adornments and mannerisms have altered. But deep down there has been no transformation.
A girls real beauty is still within. It is a thing of her soul, shining
through her pure eyes and radiating her whole body. It is something by which
she makes men aware of the truth and beauty and goodness of God by reflecting
that beauty and goodness in herself. At Nettuno, in the Basilica of Our Lady
of Grace, I visited the shrine where the body of Maria Goretti
is preserved. A young man was there, kneeling in prayer. He thought he was alone, and I saw him lean over reverently to kiss the marble in front of her reliquary. Then he blessed himself and left, buoyed up with the confidence that Maria, the new patroness of Catholic youth, would help him gain a victory over himself. This is more than enough for the triumphs of today! Let us go back some fifty years to the more important story of how Maria actually won her victory over sin . . .
JOURNEY FOR MARIA
Assunta, I tell you, wed do better to leave this place, Luigi exclaimed. But the mother only bent over the fire and banked the embers. The flame glowed warmly. Their three children, gathered about the hearth, spread their hands to the heat. Assunta straightened up and heaved a sigh, but said nothing. You know, I was talking to the Cimarellis last night. They are leaving in the Spring, he continued. It was like a shock to her! Assunta guessed immediately that her husband had reached a decision with their neighbor. He was trying to break the news gently. For several winters now the idea of immigrating had tempted him. Luigi was a hard-working farmer, a man of action. On bad days, when snow and rain confined him to pacing the kitchen from window to door, from door to cupboard and back again, he could not help complaining about the land and climate. It was useless to argue with him, thought Assunta. She had tried it often. Early she had learned that discussion was futile. So now she was ready to accept what she could not prevent. She fought back the tears.
Then you wish that we leave with them? she asked. Her voice was calm and slow. Luigi looked at her, but her eyes remained fixed on the flames. She seemed resigned. He had not expected so easy a victory. Yes, Assunta, we must. We can no longer remain here. Over there you will be much happier, believe me. In the neighborhood of Rome there are vacant farms and lands to be leased. We will find ourselves something worthwhile. The storm door slammed! A blizzard was at its height. Snow was falling heavily. Winters are severe in the neighborhood of Ancona, and though one might well love that country for its pure air and steep pathways, when storms arise and fuel is low, it can become a land of misery. There was a long silence in the Goretti home. The two boys and Maria continued to warm themselves by the fire. Assunta passed a damp cloth over the table she had just cleared. She was a farm-bred, healthy woman, in her early thirties, slender still, in spite of the loose skirts that hung in folds about her. Luigi watched her work. Her slow movements spoke more eloquently than words of the painful fatigue and discouragement. He understood that she had just accepted the hardest sacrifice of her life. She was attached to this village, where she had always lived, where her parents lay buried. She had known no other horizon than these mountain slopes. With him it was different. As a soldier, he had traveled over the Apennines and through the fertile plains beyond.
Why should one kill oneself in these mountains steeped in rock, rubble and harsh weather for reasons of sentiment? he had asked himself time and time again. The cold weather whistled under the door. The three youngsters were becoming sleepy by the hearth. Assunta was now washing the dishes. Luigis anguish mounted. With his fingernail he scraped a hole in the frost on the windowpane. A huge blanket of white covered everything, and the snow continued. There was no end of it. It was up to the height of the well now. The stone bench and the rose bushes were buried from sight. Then a little hand slipped into his own. He lowered his eyes, and the hard lines in his face softened. It was his darling Maria, who had come to press herself to his side. He kissed her forehead and ran his fingers through her long chestnut hair. This little girl of six was his favorite. She had indeed a temper that broke out occasionally, but in her calmer moments she was so affectionate and sweet! She turned her limpid eyes to her father and begged him to take her in his arms. Her rosy cheeks reminded Luigi of warmth and sunshine out beyond the Apennines on the shores of the Mediterranean. At length the winter passed. The snow melted and rivers rushed madly to the sea. Then one bright morning, Luigi loaded his cart, hitched up his oxen and drove slowly away from Corinaldo. All he had left was his household goods and a few hundred lire, for he had sold his cottage and his field. The two boys, Angelo and Marino, age nine and four, played amid the bundles of belongings. Assunta, sitting in front with Maria and Luigi, was nursing a newborn child, Alessandro. The Cimarelli cart followed behind them. Domenico and Luigi had always been close neighbors. Theresa and Assunta, friends from childhood, would not have wished to be separated for anything in the world.
Together they crossed the Apennines. Together they followed the winding road
toward Rome. It took them several weeks to make the two-hundred mile journey
by ox cart. At times Luigi walked behind, deep in thought. Maria watched the
white mountain peaks fade in the distance. In her young mind was impressed forever
that last picturethe great snowy heights of Corinaldo reaching heavenward.
Taken from St. Maria Goretti -- In Garments All Red by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.
Other pages discussing Catholic
doctrine and history:
Return to Catholic Doctrine Homepage