Who was this extraordinary woman?
Her father was a Spaniard, and her mother of Indian blood. Isabel was a sickly baby but soon grew healthy and beautiful. Her family was poor, and hoped that Isabel, growing into an extremely attractive young woman, would marry well and assist the rest of her family. Since childhood, when Isabel was nicknamed Rose, or Rosa for her looks and rosy cheeks, the young girl had an affinity for the religious rather than the secular. She did not wish to marry, and her refusal was something her parents couldn't tolerate. She took a vow of chastity and modeled herself on St. Catherine of Siena, devoting herself to a life of abnegation and self-mortification. Despite her family's objections, the ridicule of friends and family, Rosa continued to practice extreme forms of religious observance.
She disliked her looks and the attention they brought her. Images made at the time of her life show her piously lifting her eyes to heaven, but it is this image that is more in keepng with modern visualizations of her. She fasted, then became a vegetarian, mortifying her flesh with hard work and going so far as to rub lye or lime into her hands, rub pepper into her face and skewer her head with a long pin instead of a circlet of roses fashioned for her by her mother. All this self-cruelty to turn attention away from her beauty and focus it on God.
Additionally, she flogged herself, wore a hair shirt and slept little. It took her many years of prayer, fasting, hard work and secret penances before her family reluctantly agreed to let her become a Dominican Tertiary, or a member of the Third Order, taking vows of poverty, at twenty. She moved out of her family home into a small grotto built on their property, where she continued to devote herself to the care of the poor and infirm. She helped her family with her fine workmanship and was known for her lace.
She continued in her religious practices, denying herself food and mortifying her body, offering up her suffering as a way of atoning for the idolatry of her country, for the conversion of sinners, and for the souls in Purgatory. If she followed these extreme practices today, hno doubt she would be examined both physically and psychiatrically, but during her lifetime, she was either lauded or scorned for her piety.
Following her death at thirty-one, her funeral could not take place for days as the people of Lima thronged to see her body. She was buried in the cemetery of the Dominican convent. Later, as a number of miracles were attributed to her, her remains were moved to the church of San Domingo, where was laid to rest in a special chapel.
Canonized as Santa Rosa de Lima, she is the patron saint of Lima, of Peru, indeed, all the Americas, Phillippines, India, florists, gardeners, and people ridiculed for their piety. She is symbolized by her love for the Holy Infant, roses, as a Dominican tertiery holding roses and as a Dominican tertiery accompanied by the Holy Infant.
The celebration of her feast day in Lima is a particularly important one.
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