Written on: April 28, 2020
The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart have made a commitment to “offer faithful witness as women of the Church.” One of the ways we are doing this is through a series of articles on women who have made an impact on the Church, but whose stories are mostly untold. This is the third offering in the series.
Zita was born into a poor but devout Christian family in the year 1211. At the age of 12, Zita became a housekeeper in the house of a rich weaver named Fontinelli in Lucca, Italy. She stayed with that family for the last forty-eight years of her life. She would rise several hours before the rest of the family and spend a considerable part of the time in prayer, including attending daily mass. She carried out her household duties so perfectly that the other servants were jealous of her, often suffering abuse and ridicule.
By her patience, she gradually overcame all opposition, and became the friend and advisor of the whole household. Her master and mistress, realizing at last what a treasure they possessed in Zita, made her chief house-keeper and the children’s nurse.
When a local famine occurred, Zita gave away beans to the poor and hungry from her master’s supply of provisions. Unaware of what she had done, the master decided that the time had come to sell the beans for a great profit. Fearful of her master’s anger, Zita prayed to God for help. When the master checked, he found that the supply of beans had not diminished.
One morning, Zita stayed in Church longer than she intended after Mass. It was baking day, and as she traveled home she realized she was far behind in her work. When she entered the kitchen, she found the bread had already been baked. As she searched for the servant who had completed this task, she discovered that there was no earthly explanation. This led to the story that Angels had been responsible.
When Lucca lay under an interdict from 1231 to 1234, Zita would go into Pisan territory to receive Holy Communion, a dangerous trip at the time; but mysterious strangers befriended Zita on her way. During the later years of her life, when she was relieved of much of the domestic work, she was free to continue her visits to the poor, the sick, and prisoners to her heart’s content.
After foretelling her own death and spiritually preparing for it, Zita died in Lucca on April 27, 1271. Many residents regarded her as a saint and began to seek her intercession, to which a large number of miracles were attributed. Some writers even began referring to the city of Lucca as “Santa Zita” in her honor. The Fatinelli family, which had once caused Zita such suffering, eventually contributed to the cause of her canonization.
Soon after Zita’s death a popular cult grew up around her, centering on the church of St. Frigidian in Lucca where she attended Mass during her life. Pope Leo X sanctioned a liturgical cult within the church in the early 16th century. In 1580, her body was exhumed and found to be miraculously incorrupt. This fact was confirmed by Pope Innocent XII in 1696. In 1748, Pope Benedict XIV added her name to the Roman Martyrology. Her body is still venerated today in the Basilica of St. Frediano. During the late medieval era, her popular cult had grown throughout Europe. In England she was known under the name Sitha, and was popularly invoked by maidservants and housewives, particularly in the event of having lost one’s keys, or when crossing rivers or bridges.
Each year, a joyous procession is held in Lucca on April 27th her official Feast. To this day, many families bake a loaf of bread in her honor.
Download a printable copy The life of St. Zita
Sr. Anne Zita Crudden first chose the name Zita for her Confirmation name in 3rd grade. She found the name using an original Butler’s lives of the saints in her search for something different. Since then, she has tried to share St. Zita’s story with others. When she entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart sixty years ago, she chose to keep the name.
Featured photo from Catholic Online.