The Saint of Shakespeare’s Florence

Romeo + JulietActs III and IV of Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well take place in Florence, Italy.  While he was writing, St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi was living in a Carmelite convent in Florence, Italy.

Shakespeare was born two years before the saintly nun was born.  He lived on for almost nine years after she died.  In other words:  they were contemporaries.  Shakespeare began his career in the theater the same year that Mary Magdalen de Pazzi entered the convent.

The saintly nun died 409 years ago today.  She, too, wrote.   During this time of year, in the fortnight between Pentecost and Corpus Christi, in 1584, she professed her monastic vows and experienced mystical revelations.  More revelations came during the same fortnight a year later.  She wrote:

The Holy Spirit comes into the soul like a fountain, and the soul is immersed in it.  Just as two rushing rivers intermingle in such a way that the smaller loses its name, and is absorbed into the larger, so the divine Spirit acts upon the soul and absorbs it.  It is proper that the soul, which is lesser, should lose its name and surrender to the Spirit—as it will, if it turns entirely to the Spirit and is united.

Mary Magdalen de Pazzi book coverIn the spring of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote to the Archbishop of Florence to celebrate the 400th anniversary of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi’s death.  The pope wrote:

The saint represents the living love that recalls the essential mystical dimension of every Christian life…Grasping the monastery bells, she urged her sisters with the cry, “Come and love Love!”  …May her voice be heard in all the Church, spreading to every human creature the proclamation to love God.

Among Shakespeare’s characters, we find a couple intense Italian women.  For instance: Juliet, of Verona, of the house of Capulet.  While the Bard was writing about the all-consuming love of Juliet for Romeo, St. Mary Magdalen was living such a love—for God.

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