Holy Royalty

Most people, I think, would think of royalty today as a bygone institution that mostly continues to exist for our entertainment (and scandal). At the very least, those royals who are not entertaining or scandalous are aloof and have nothing to do with “the people”.

Whatever the case may be, if one delves into the history of Europe a different image of royalty also emerges. Sure, there are those who have caused scandals, done horrible things, been aloof, and so forth, but there are also many who have become quite holy – even saints.

This plaque, on the side of a building near the Trevi Fountain, reminded me of that recently:

Translated from Italian, it says:

After a life completely spent in works of charity and love, on July 13, 1656, here died the Venerable Mary of Savoy, daughter of Charles Emmanuel I and of Catherine of Austria, Infanta of Spain.

Celebrating the Nuptials of Mary of Savoy with Louis Ludwig of Bourbon Parma, the Governatorate of Rome placed this remembrance.

January 23, 1939

(Then at the very end there is an extra number 17 in roman numerals, and I’m not sure what it means, though one reader suggests it could indicate the 17th year of the reign of Mussolini. That works! A commenter also pointed out that Pius XI began his reign the same year as Mussolini, so it could refer to him instead. That works also, if not better!)

The Mary of Savoy who is commemorated, also known as Venerable Maria Apollonia, was a princess of the House of Savoy who entered the convent in Turin. Due to the plague there she had to leave, but she and her sister (who was also a religious) sold off family jewels and donated large sums of money to help the victims. Later in her life she became known as the “royal pilgrim”, going on pilgrimage from city to city around Italy. She died in Rome and was initially buried in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles here. Later her remains were translated to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

A cause for canonization was started at some point for Maria Apollonia, and in fact, she was given the title “Venerable” in 1838. In the Congregation for the Causes of Saints there are hundreds if not thousands of causes for canonization that are sort of in suspense – due to many causes – so who knows if this Venerable will ever “make it” to sainthood. But it’s nice that this plaque commemorates her holiness, which was recognized in her lifetime some three and a half centuries ago, was remembered in the last century, and inspires us today.

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