*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 27th of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today’s show takes us back to the 13th century in Tuscany- it’s a fascinating time in the church in Italy, and for a domestic worker who would become hailed as the heavenly patroness of domestic servants, all who toil in service at home, and to those who have lost their keys.
Let’s jump back to the era of St. Zita of Tuscany. Zita was born in 1212 in Tuscany and died on the 27th of April in 1272. Her story could belong in the early church, or with some editing, in the modern church- perhaps this is one of the reasons she has remained very popular over the centuries.
Her years put her in the 13th century- and being near Tuscany in Italy, she would have had a relatively front row seat for the remarkable century.
This is the century when the Crusades would keep proliferating but were increasingly unsuccessful. And this is the century of Francis of Assisi and his earthy spirituality. It is also the century of Thomas Aquinas (one of the big A names and a hero of Catholic systematic theology). And Zita, this domestic servant, would even be mentioned by name in the preeminent work of literature in the next century- Dante’s Divine Comedy. He would say St. Zita in a throw-away line that suggests everyone knew of her cult.
The story is simple- at the age of 12, she was sent to work as a domestic servant for the wealthy Fatinelli family. She was said to have been an excellent servant, so much so that other servants were jealous of her. But she would not retaliate- only working silently and quickly.
Stories of her piety and work ethic began to flourish. She was so dependable that her employers didn’t require any specific work or hours from her- knowing that she would do the work necessary.
Miracle stories- some 150- proliferated about her during her last years and after her death. We see with Zita a familiar tale about smuggling bread to the poor only to be caught and open her jacket to see the loaves transformed into flowers.
She is said to have turned water into wine, but more so than the miraculous; what I find interesting is that this woman was venerated enough in the 13th century- that anyone who knew anything about her wanted to associate themselves with her legend.
Guilds proliferated under her name. When her body was exhumed in 1580- over 300 years after her death, it was said her body was uncorrupted (while I don’t discount supernatural explanations, there are many scientific explanations as to why some bodies seem uncorrupted from “they are corrupted, but displayed such that they don’t look like it” to “they were secretly embalmed” to “the chemicals where they were entombed worked like embalming).
Nonetheless- she became the person to pray to if you lost your keys. And while I don’t pray directly to saints, it might be better for me to say something about st. Zita than some of the non-sanctified words which come out of my mouth when I can’t find my keys.
Ultimately, I think we can see the significance of this very popular saint in her 1. imitation of Christ and 2. Elevation of the “ordinary” vocation of service (which is also a kind of imitation of Christ).
For all the crusaders and “St George slaying a dragon” style saints- maybe today it’s good for us to remember a quiet saint- a faithful servant- and frankly, anything to help me with my lost keys could help.
The Last Word for today comes from the daily lectionary from Luke 12:
4 “I tell you, my friends, don’t be terrified by those who can kill the body but after that can do nothing more. 5 I’ll show you whom you should fear: fear the one who, after you have been killed, has the authority to throw you into hell. Indeed, I tell you, that’s the one you should fear. 6 Aren’t five sparrows sold for two small coins?[a] Yet not one of them is overlooked by God. 7 Even the hairs on your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who was sad when Zita went away; he always liked that lightly carbonated, transparent alternative to beer. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who wished his car keys actually did something in the car- they just sit there, and then I lose them. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.