St. Rosalia, born in Palermo in Sicily, was the daughter of a noble family descended from Charlemagne.
Legend suggests that she was born at the court of Roger II, king of Sicily. Her father was Sinibald, Lord of Roses and Quisquina. Even as a young girl Rosalia was drawn to the Lord and committed herself to him wholly.
At the age of just 14, Rosalia took her crucifix, her discipline and a few books and left her father’s castle by night. She made her way to the summit of Mount Quisquina. She found the entrance of a grotto hidden among the trees, buried under the snow. In this secluded grotto was a cave, and upon the walls of her cave, Rosalia wrote: “I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.”
There, she remained entirely hidden from the world for 16 years and completed the sacrifice of her heart to God by austere penance and manual labor, sanctified by assiduous prayer and the constant union of her soul with God.
Rosalia had a vision of angels who warned her that her parents were searching for her. Seeking to avoid detection, she fled to the top of Mount Pellegrino, from which she could view her parents’ home. There, she lived a life of penance and mortification, praying daily, and being nourished only by the Eucharist, for the remainder of her life.
St. Rosalia died in her 30s, and her body — which her parents never stopped searching for — was not found until the 17th century.
In 1625, during the outbreak of the Black Plague, a hermit had a vision of St. Rosalia, who instructed him to search for her remains. A group of monks, led by the hermit, did as she requested and found the cave on Mount Pellegrino where she had died. Discovered, sheathed in rock crystal, the relics of St. Rosalia are treasured, and numerous miracles have been attributed to their presence. Her remains were paraded through the streets, and the plague ended shortly thereafter.
St. Rosalia was credited with ending the suffering of the plague, and her feast day was raised to the rank of a holy day of obligation by Pope Pius XI in 1927, for local observance.
Palermo’s enthusiasm for Santa Rosalia has not ceased. Both of her hermit caves have been turned into devotional chapels. Her relics themselves repose in the Chapel of St. Rosalia in the Palermo cathedral. Her sarcophagus, made of pure silver, weighs more 1,400 pounds and is only exposed to public view on three liturgical occasions during the year.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini