Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville 1618 –1683), Saint Rose of Lima, around 1670, 145 cm x 95 cm, oil on canvas, Madrid, Lázaro Galdiano Museum
23 August, Memory of Saint Rose of Lima.
The Saint, with her Dominican habit, is on her knees, contemplating the Christ Child, who is sitting on a pillow on the linen basket and is raising his left hand towards the Saint in a caressing gesture, while with his right hand he seems to give her (or is he rather taking them?) roses. From the mouth of the child comes out a Latin inscription that means: "Rose, you will be the bride of my heart." On the floor, next to the basket, there is a book and there are other roses. In the background, on the right, there is a building, which is undoubtedly the convent, partly covered by a bush of roses.
Born in Lima, capital of the then rich Peru, on April 20, 1586, tenth of thirteen children, she grew up in a noble family of Spanish origin. Her given name was Isabella, but she soon became known with the name that her nurse of Native American origin, Mariana, gave her: Mariana was struck by the beauty of the child and, following the indigenous traditions, gave her the name of a flower. "You are beautiful," she told her, "you are Rose."
Rose had a happy and wealthy childhood. Soon, however, her family suffered a financial collapse. Rose helped her family in all kinds of activities, from housework to the cultivation of the garden and embroidery, in order to earn a living.
From a young age she aspired to consecrate herself to God in the cloistered life. She then read something of St. Catherine of Siena and immediately took her as her model of life, learning from her the love for Christ, for the Church and for her indigenous brothers and sisters. Like the Saint from Siena, she wore the habit of the Dominican Third Order. She was twenty years old. She set up a sort of shelter for the needy in her mother's house, where she looked after abandoned children and the elderly, especially those of Native American origin.
From 1609, she devoted herself intensely to prayer and a life of penance. In 1614, forced by her family, she moved to the home of the noble Maria de Ezategui, where she died, torn apart by hardship, three years later, on 24 August 1617.
Her reputation for holiness, already great when she was alive, spread immediately. In 1668 she was beatified. Two years later she was unusually proclaimed patron saint of the Americas, the Philippines and the West Indies. Finally, she was canonised on April 12, 1671 by Pope Clement X.
Her body is venerated in Lima, Peru, in the Dominican basilica of the Holy Rosary.
The beautiful painting by the Spanish painter - one of the most famous in his time for his portraits of saints - is practically contemporary to the canonisation of St. Rose and bears witness to the great spread that her cult had. We do not know who commissioned this canvas and whether it was intended for private devotion or public devotion in a church. Anyway, due to the great quality of the painting as well as to the obvious devotional intent of the subject, we can infer that Saint Rose was very soon invoked, prayed for and looked at as an example already in several places, especially in Spain.