I once read a book on Saints that described Saint Rose of Lima as being so beautiful that she would literally turn heads and have her fellow villagers staring at her as she walked into town. If you’re a fan of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, this description will probably remind you of the Little Town/Belle song: “there she goes again, that girl is so peculiar…”
Thanks to scientists from the University of Saint Martin de Porres and the Brazilian Anthropological and Dental Legal Forensics Team who reconstructed her face, it turns out that Rose was indeed a head-turning beauty.
This is the story of Saint Rose of Lima!
What if I told you that her name wasn’t really Rose? Actually, her real name was Isabel de Santa Maria de Flores…or Isabel de Flores for short. She was one of Gaspar de Flores and Maria d’Olivia’s ten children. She was named after her godmother, Isabel de Herrara, but she was such a beautiful baby that she was often called “Rose.”
If it feels like I’m beating you over the head with how beautiful she was, that is an intentional move because Rose herself was constantly reminded of her beauty. Her mother made a wreath of flowers that she placed on her daughter’s head. She couldn’t take two steps without someone commenting on how lovely she was.
Rose was the kind of person who was uncomfortable with praise. She was a humble soul, so vanity and superficiality did not sit well with her. Another factor could be that she was being praised for the wrong reasons. Her family gained popularity by having a gorgeous daughter and being the town eye-candy made her uneasy.
Rose was a working girl. When her family fell on hard times economically, Rose pitched in by selling the laces and garments that she sewed. She grew flowers and sold them at the market. Like Saint Joseph, she was content with working hard and using her earnings to help out her family.
Rose was also a devout Catholic. She looked up to Saint Catherine of Siena and spent hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, falling in love with Jesus. To be loved by her Savior was more rewarding to her than the compliments of her fellow Peruvians. The sincerity of seeing inner beauty and rejecting the world’s definition of attractiveness reasonated with her. Rose sought to please Jesus with the beauty of her soul, even if it meant sacrificing her physical appeal.
When she was old enough to be pursued by suitors, that was when she knew that she had to act fast if she was going to be a faithful bride of Christ. It became her mission to make herself look as unattractive as possible.
Her fair complextion was the first to go when she smeared pepper all over her face. Long hair was the mark of feminine youth, so she chopped off her dark locks, and I can imagine that her short hair didn’t look like the stylized pixie-cut of Hollywood actresses. She rubbed lime on her delicate hands, inducing terrible pain. To put it lightly, she looked like a wreck by the time she was done de-beautifying.
The townspeople couldn’t understand why she would want to do such damage to her appearance. Her parents, who had planned on marrying her off, were not thrilled when she told them her desire to be a perpetual bride of Jesus. The only person who took the time to understand where she was coming from was her brother Ferdinand. All we know about him is that he readily defended his sister whenever he came across the uncharitable gossip of others.
They say that weak people don’t end things themselves; rather, they wait for others to put an end to things for them. However, Rose was anything but weak.
The array of suitors who sought to court her continued to grow and being single wasn’t an option in her day. To put an end to the pursuit of her once and for all, she entered the Third Order of Saint Dominic. Donning the habit and taking a vow of perpetual virginity, she confined herself to a small garden hut that became her oratory.
Now here comes the part of her life that often gives people the perception of Rose as being too extreme; the self-mortification. She wore a silver wreath with sharp points on the inside, symbolizing the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. She cut back on sleeping to just two hours a night so that she could devote more time to prayer. Meat was not on her personal menu, for meat was a delicacy that she felt undeserving of. Instead she took to chewing on bitter herbs in order to weaken her tastebuds. When she was outside, she would drag a heavy wooden cross across the garden.
Are all of these actions extreme? Yes, they are. However, look at it this way: Think of someone in your life who you really love and admire. It could be a friend, a family member, anyone you want. Imagine that person was in the hospital, suffering tremendous pain. You care for this person, so you want to stick by them and go through their journey with them.
Rose loved Jesus. He was her friend, her mentor, her inspiration, her everything. His Crucifixion was an agonizing ordeal and He had to endure it alone. The thought of her Savior being struck and humiliated broke her heart. She felt unworthy of the comforts of life because her soul was paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice. Her practice of self-mortification was her way of going through Jesus’ Passion alongside Him.
Rose’s own personal Passion came to an end when she was called home to Heaven on August 24, 1617 at the age of 31.