Friday, August 18, 2017

Saint Rose of Lima, The First Saint of the Americas

Claudio Coello, St. Rose of Lima
Spanish, 1683
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
In 1492 Columbus “sailed the ocean blue”, as everyone used to know.  Sailing west from Spain his three small ships bumped into the islands of the Caribbean.  They went ashore, met people whom they thought resembled the people of India, took some samples and sailed home again, thus becoming the first European ships to clearly record the existence of lands to the west of Europe and Africa and make it home again.1   

Three more voyages by Columbus followed, during which the immensity of the find became obvious.  More and more people and nations set sail, eager to carve out new territories for themselves to turn to profit and within 150 years there were little colonies scattered up and down the coasts and penetrating the interiors of what was now known as North, South and Central America.  But, the first country to do this and thus to gain the largest land area was Spain, whose queen in 1492, Isabella of Castille, had backed Columbus’ first voyage.  Spain held this huge section of the earth (with the exception of Brazil, which was claimed by the Portuguese) for more or less 300 years, losing colony after colony throughout the 19th century.

The earliest Spanish colonies were on the Caribbean Islands, especially Cuba, Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico.  From there they moved out to Mexico and the lands to the west, south and north.  In the United States we don’t think about this part of our country’s history too much, but the states of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and the territory of Puerto Rico are areas originally explored, named and settled by Spain and held for many years by that country. 

Along with Mexico, the richest of Spain’s colonies was probably Peru, center of the great Inca Empire (as Mexico had been the center of the Aztecs) and source of gold.  The Incas were defeated by Pizarro in 1532, just 40 years after the first contact and the viceroyalty of Peru was established.  In 1535 the Spanish viceregal capital was established in Lima to break administrative ties with the old Inca capital of Cuzco. 

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, St. Rose of Lima
Spanish, c. 1660
Madrid, Museo Lazaro Galdiano
Fifty-one years later, in 1586, a baby girl was born in Lima to Gaspar Flores, a Spanish-born arquebusier who came to Peru via Puerto Rico and his Peruvian-born wife, Maria de Oliva y Herrera.  The baby was baptized with the name, Isabel.  She was so pretty that she was nicknamed Rose because her nursemaid compared her to a rose.  It seems astonishing that, a mere 50 years from the founding of Lima, she was to grow up in what amounted to a very European environment.  She was confirmed in 1597, when she took the name Rose as her confirmation name.  From then on she was known primarily as Rosa Flores. 2

During her teenage years she became aware of Saint Catherine of Siena, one of the most well-known of medieval female saints, whose austerities and works of reparational penance and prayer were widely known.3 Rose took Catherine as her model and from this point, modeled her own life very closely on that of Catherine.  She too undertook austerities and penances that to our modern eyes seem wild:  eating little, abstaining from meat, sleeping little, punishing her body with scourging, holding her hands in the fire, wearing a crown of silver thorns with sharp spikes pointed inward, while placing roses in the spaces between the thorns on the outside.  

Harry Clarke, Saint Rose of Lima Burning Her Hands in Penance
Irish, c. 1925
Ballinasloe (Galway, IE), Church of St. Michael

She aspired to become a nun, but her father refused his consent.  So, she withdrew, as Catherine of Siena had done before her, to her own room in the family home, which she left only to go to church or to care for the sick poor.  She continued to contribute to her family income and to provide for the poor by her embroidery, which suggests she was very good at it.

Anonymous, Saint Rose of Lima with the Christ Child
Colombian, 18th Century
Puerto Rico, Private Collection
She pledged herself to perpetual virginity and, to turn away any suitors which her beauty (something agreed upon by all the sources) attracted, she rubbed pepper and dirt into her skin.  Eventually her father relented in his opposition to her vocation to the extent of allowing her to become a Third Order Dominican, again following the example of St. Catherine of Siena.  After this she always wore the black and white habit of a lay Dominican woman, which many misinterpret as that of a nun. 

Anonymous, Saint Rose of Lima with Child Jesus
Peruvian  (Cuzco School), c. 1680-1700
Lima, Museo de Arte de Lima

Finally, at age 31, in 1617, she died, worn out like her model by her exertions.  By that time, however, she was well-known in Peru for her saintliness and her funeral was hugely attended.  Her canonization came relatively quickly, as she was declared a saint in 1671, only 54 years after her death.  She was the first person born in the Americas to be proclaimed among the saints and is the Patron of Peru, as well as the rest of the Americas, North, South and Central. 

Saint Rose in Art

I had not expected to find many representations of Saint Rose in art.  My reasoning was partly that, due to her canonization at the end of the 17th century, there had been little time for an iconography to form before the kind of distinctive iconography I deal with in this blog became a thing of the past.  This opinion was backed up by my personal recollections.  All the images of Saint Rose that I had seen up to this point belonged to the soppy “holy card” images of the first half of the 20th century.  I was surprised, therefore, to find that both assumptions were wrong and that, while not huge, there is a substantial group of images, some fine and all respectable, that do homage to her.

One element that distinguishes Saint Rose from all other female Dominican saints are the roses that recall her name. She is usually shown with a crown of roses, representing the crown of spiky silver covered with roses that she wore in life.  Or, she may be holding a rose or ruses.  Another element is the image of the Infant Jesus.  Like Saint Anthony of Padua, she is often shown holding Him or playing with Him.  Further, again like her model Saint Catherine of Siena, she is often shown making a mystical marriage, taking the Infant Jesus as her spouse. In addition, she frequently, but not always, wears a very large rosary around her neck.

The images divide into groups illustrating certain themes.  Among them are:

Saint Rose as One of a Group of Saints Celebrating Some Aspect of Catholic Faith

Giovanni Ceffis, Saints Pius V, Rose of Lima and Other Dominicans
Italian, 1592
Verona, Basilica of Santa Anastasia

Francois Spierre, Saints Francis Borgia, Luis Beltran, Cajetan, Rose of Lima and Philip Benizi
French, 1671
London, British Museum
These five saints were canonized on the same day, April 12, 1671

Anonymous Copy after Luca Giordano, Madonna of the Rosary with Domincan Saints
Spanish, 18th Century
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
St. Rose is at the right side of the picture, almost in the middle.  She is standing behind the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, looking upward and wearing a crown of roses.

Gregorio de'Ferrari, Saints Rose of Lima, Vincent Ferrer and Luis Beltran
Italian, c. 1700
Taggia, Church of San Domenico, Chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Luca Giordano, Madonna and Child with Dominican Saints
Italian, c. 1700
Naples, Church of Santa Maria della Sanità

Anonymous Apulian Artist (possibly Ferdinando Sanfelice). Saint Nicholas Appearing to Saints Anthony of Padua and Rose of Lima
Italian, c. 1743
Nardo, Church of Santa Maria della Purità

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Virgin and Child Appearing to Dominican Saints
Italian, 1747-1748
Venice, Santa Maria del Rosario

Saint Rose with the Madonna and Child

Jose Antolinez, St. Rose of Lima Before the Madonna and Child
Spanish, c. 1650
Budapest, Szépmûvészeti Múzeum

Gaspar de Crayer, Sketch of the Virgin and Child Crowning Saint Rose of Lima
Flemish, c. 1660-1669
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland

Anonymous Peruvian Alabaster Carver, Saint Rose of Lima Kneeling Before Christ, the Virgin and St. Joseph
Peruvian, c. 1675-1700
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Nicolas Correa, Mystic Marriage of Saint Rose of Lima
Mexican, 1691
Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Arte

Jacques Eubert Van der Burcht, Landscape with the Virgin and Child and Saint Rose of Lima
Flemish, c. 1700-1714
Lille, Church of Saint Maurice

Luca Giordano, Vision of Saint Rose of Lima
Italian, c. 1700
Naples, Chiesa della Pietà dei Turchini

Saint Rose Alone with the Christ Child

Cornelis Schut, Saint Rose of Lima
Flemish, c. 1650-1685
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espaňa

Richard van Orley, Saint Rose of Lima
Flemish, c. 1690
Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium

Blas Ametler Rotlan, Saint Rose of Lima (after Murillo)
Spanish, c. 1800-1840
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espaňa

Saint Rose By Herself

Juan Rodriguez Juarez, Saint Rose of Lima
Mexican, c. 1710
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Anonymous, St. Rose of Lima
Spanish, Portuguese or Brazilian,19th Century
Salvador (BZ), Museu de Arte da Bahia

Saint Rose Attacked by Demons

Cornelis Galle, St. Rose of Lima Attacked by a Demon in the Form of a Dog
From Vita et historia S. Rosae
Providence (RI), John Carter Brown Library

Cristobal de Villalpando, Saint Rose Tempted by the Devil
Mexican, c. 1695-1697
Mexico City, Metropolitan Cathedral. Capilla de San Felipe de Jesús

Saint Rose As a Witness to the Christian Faith

Anonymous Apulian Artist, Entombment of Christ with Saint Rose of Lima
Italian, c. 1743
Nardo, Church of San Domenico

Death of Saint Rose

Melchiore Caffa, Funerary Monument of St. Rose of Lima
Maltese, 1665
Lima,  Church of San Domingo

Melchiore Caffa, Reduced, Gilded Copy of the Monument of St. Rose of Lima
Maltese, 1665
Private Collection
Caffa was sufficiently sure of popular interest in Europe that he prepared several reduced copies of the monument for Saint Rose which he was commissioned to produce for the church of San Domingo in Lima for sale in Europe.

Teofilo Castillo, Funeral of Saint Rose
Peruvian, 1918
Lima, Museo de Arte de Lima
Presumably this picture was painted to commemorate the 300th anniversary of her death in 1617.

As can be seen from the above, works of art depicting Saint Rose are, by no means, confined solely to the Spanish-speaking world, although some of the finest come from there.  But, it must be remembered that the world of New Spain and Peru was never cut off from the European world.  At the center of the Empire Spain was a two-way door, opening in both directions, with the Catholic faith as one of the main hinges.  Images traveled out from Europe and in from the far-flung Empire.  

The close relationships within Europe between what seem today to be very distinct countries also account for much interaction.  Spain and its monarchs were at the center of a web of relationships that may seem strange to us today, after two centuries of nationalism.  Spain ruled not only the Iberian peninsula but was, in addition, the ruler of the Low Countries.  Initially Spain ruled the entire area before the Dutch Republic broke away, and ruled what is now Belgium for much longer.  For a time, Spain also ruled Naples and southern Italy.  In addition, the ruling families of Spain and of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were closely related, through a series of intermarriages.  And, finally, through another set of intermarriages across several generations the royal Spanish Habsburgs were related to the French Bourbons.

Thus, images originating in Spain could travel within Europe as well as within the Americas and into the Far East, through Spain’s colony of the Philippines.  And, further, the Catholic culture of Europe could spread them into regions somewhat removed from these main lines, such as Germany.  Hence Saint Rose’s iconography was able to spread around the entire world, as the examples below demonstrate.

Philippine Ivory Carver, Saint Rose of Lima
Hispano-Phillipine, Late 17th Century
Private Collection

Carlo Dolci, Saint Rose of Lima
Italian, 1668
Florence, Galleria Palatina, Pitti Palace

Oswald Onghers, The Virgin and Christ Child with Saint Rose of Lima
Flemish, c. 1675
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Saint Rose of Lima with a Lamb
Peruvian, 18th Century
Moreton-in-Marsh, Oxfordshire (UK), Castleton House

Saint Rose is one of the small number of saints with two feast days.  Although she died on August 24, her feast day was initially set on August 30 in order to avoid conflict with the feast of one of the Apostles, Saint Bartholemew.  In the revision of the liturgical calendar promulgated by the Motu Proprio Mysterii Paschalis in 1969 by Pope Paul VI it was moved to August 23, “the day before her death”.  However, because August 30 was a well-established secular as well as religious date in Peru and other Latin American countries no change was made and the date of her feast is still August 30.  August 24, 2017 is the 400th anniversary of her death.

© M. Duffy, 2017
  1. There is, as everyone probably knows, considerable debate over who was actually the first European to “discover” the Americas.  This debate is rather silly.  It scarcely matters that the Irish, or the Scandinavians or English or French fishermen landed in America first.  We know for certain that the Scandinavians did attempt a settlement in Newfoundland (the very name implies something).  The point surely is that these small scale “discoveries” made no real impact.  The Scandinavians appeared to have stayed for a few years but found the land inhospitable and the natives fierce.  So they left.4  However, the somewhat more advanced technology of the era of Columbus meant that the natives could be more easily subdued and true settlement attempted by first, the Spanish, and then by every European power of the early modern era.  Portugal followed in Brazil, then France (in Canada), England (along the North American East coast and in the Caribbean), Holland (in what is now New York) and Sweden (in what is now Delaware and Southern New Jersey).  European internal struggles affected the colonies, so that by the time the eighteenth century dawned, the primary colonial powers were Spain, Brazil, France and England, with Spain holding what was, by far, the largest territory.
  2. See my comments on the life and iconography of Saint Catherine of Siena for comparison at
  3. Easily available biographies of Saint Rose can be found online at a number of locations.  Some sites are relatively clinical, some are sites of popular devotion to the saint, all contain tidbits of information:
Aymé, Edward. "St. Rose of Lima. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.
The website of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at Berkeley, which is illustrated by a series of what look like late 17th century engravings the source of which I have been unable to identify:
A blog about Catholic saints also illustrated with the same series of as yet unidentified prints:
The Wikipedia article, which includes links to images, some of them additional to my own list:
 4.        For a brief overview of the Viking settlement and the questions it raises see:
Linden, Eugene, The Vikings: A Memorable Visit to America, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2004, available at:

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