Childhood stories of St. Rose of Lima
Jul 5th, 2021 • 14 min
The infant who had thus been miraculously re-named in her cradle grew up, according to all her biographers, into a singularly beautiful and attractive little child, though with an attractiveness of no ordinary sort.
While still a baby in her mother’s arms, there was a sweet serenity and quietness about her, in which deficiency had certainly no part, and which seems to have added to her infant graces rather than to have detracted from them in the eyes of those around her, as though they were instinctively aware that it was a calm not of earth that brooded over the child.
As she grew out of infancy into the most taking age of childhood, this kind of serious serenity developed with her; and she is described as being silent and reflective, and having a longing for solitude, as quite a tiny girl.
This tendency, however, was without anything disagreeably unchildlike attached to it; for Rose, though forward for her age both in talking and in walking alone, had no obtrusive intellectual precocity; and she was so gentle, bright and sweet, as well as so fresh and lovely in appearance, as a child, that the whole household adored her and she was the very life and joy of the family.
Almost before she was out of her infancy, that love of Our Lord’s suffering, which was afterwards to become the ruling passion of her life, began to lay hold of little Rose’s heart. How God speaks to the baby souls of those early-chosen children of His special delight; by what channels the Divine secrets are imparted to their barely-opened minds; what marvellous gift enables them to entertain and understand thoughts far beyond their years—we cannot know; but that such special communications are made to some of the Saints even as little children is certain.
In St. Rose’s case the working of these mysterious operations in her heart was witnessed to by the fact that, as a little thing barely able to walk, she would often be found, having managed to escape from her guardians or companions, absorbed in deep infantine contemplation before a picture of the thorn-crowned Christ, in His mantle of scorn, which hung in her mother’s room.
Her own apprenticeship in her Master’s school, too, began early; for from the time that she was three years old Rose de Flores was the subject of one accident or complaint after another, and was kept perpetually in states of suffering which were sharp trials to her childish patience.
The first of these recorded was a severe pinch in a heavy cupboard-door into which somebody shut her thumb, and over which she showed the most precocious courage. To begin with, when her mother, seeing the accident, ran to help her, she hid the wounded hand under her frock that she might not frighten her, and looked up with a sweet, unmoved little face to reassure her.
Then, when the result of the accident was an abscess under the nail, and the surgeon had to be called in, she held her tiny thumb out to him of her own accord, and without a tear or a sound bore the cutting and the tearing out of her nail, with all its painful accompaniments (and we may imagine what such an operation would be under South American surgery nearly three hundred years ago!), even smiling at the lookers-on, as though to convince them that she liked it. The surgeon in question was a certain Jean Perez de Zumeta; and he said, long afterwards, that in the whole course of his practice he had never met with such heroism as was shown by this baby of three years old.
Again, not many months later, the poor child endured agonies from a bad abscess behind her ear, and from wounds in her head brought about by the surgical treatment for it. Here, as before, she showed not only her wonderful courage in suffering, but the extraordinary thoughtfulness for others which became marked in her even at this early age.
The pain that her ear caused her, it seems, was so violent for some nights, owing to a mistaken remedy used by her mother, that it made her shake and tremble with her strong efforts to restrain herself from even a groan, to such a degree that the little cot she was in shook with her. At last Marie de Flores discovered her thus trembling in her bed, and anxiously asked if her head was hurting her. A little, was all that Rose would reply, in such a manner as to make her questioner think she wanted no help and so to turn away; but determination not to hurt her mother’s feelings by letting her know how much she was suffering made the heroic child actually compel herself during the whole of that night to lie motionless, thus, of course, adding much to the agony she was bearing.
It was only on undoing the bandages that her head had been dressed with, next morning, that they discovered the state of violent inflammation that had set in; and all she would say even then, in answer to their pity, was “Our Lord’s Crown of Thorns was much worse.”
And so it was in other cases of sickness or suffering mentioned in the various accounts of the Saint’s childhood, with details of which we need not take up space. She was constantly acting in this same way throughout all those years when the natural instinct of a girl especially, and of a demonstrative Southern nature still more is to cry out or lament at the first touch of pain as the best means of relief.
Whether the suffering came from the complaint itself, or from the remedies which must have been often worse than the evil, the child endured in silence, keeping cheerful and even merry through all, and never causing a moment’s trouble to anyone else of her own accord.
It was as though she had drunk in, with her frequent contemplation of the picture of her babyish affections, a spirit which even in these tender years gave her the resolution and the soft-heartedness combined which all the world agrees to reckon as the special marks of a hero in the natural order, but which in this young heroine no one could suppose to be any mere natural gift.
St. Rose s childish troubles, however, were not all of a physical sort; she had very early to suffer from an injustice which must have given great pain to a loving child’s heart, and which was earned for her by the miraculous change of name recounted above.
Isabel de Herera, her god mother, was apparently a woman both of uncontrolled temper and of strong pertinacity in her own way, as well as full of trivial jealousy for her own rights and dignity. Perhaps she did not in her heart believe that the occurrence which had so impressed Marie de Florcs was supernatural; but, be that as it might, she could not forgive her for the change in her little daughter’s name; and she privately resolved that, from herself at least, her god-child should never hear any but the name that had been given her at the font.
Accordingly, no sooner was the little girl old enough to understand and answer to her name than there began between the two women, when they were together at the Flores house—which seems to have been often the case—a contention equally undignified in itself and painful to its unlucky subject. When ever (we are told) either of these ladies called the little girl by the name she herself preferred, the other immediately made a point of calling her by the one she had adopted; and the poor child was perpetually being scolded, and even struck, for answering to one or other of her two names in obedience to the respective wills of mother and godmother.
This sort of squabble, which reads to us as almost incredibly childish and silly between two grown people, both bred as gentlewomen, was constantly carried on over the devoted head of the child-Saint for three or four years; but the recurrence of such scenes between her elders never seems to have roused in her the smallest inclination to take her own way and disobey one of the two, or to respect either of them the less.
She was used to their hot temper, and took all angry expressions as a sign that she herself was probably to blame, though she could hardly see how; and so she bore everything with the greatest sweetness and docility, albeit the feeling of being perpetually in disgrace with those she warmly loved, and whose real love for her she did not doubt, hurt her childish affections keenly.
This state of things went on till St. Rose was somewhere about six years old, when the question of her name was settled by no less a person than the Archbishop of Lima, who in the Sacrament of Confirmation definitely bestowed on her the name of Rose. Whether merely subdued by the act of so high an authority, or convinced at last of a really supernatural intervention in the matter, does not appear; but from this time forth Isabel de Herera withdrew her opposition and called her godchild by the name which was henceforth to be hers throughout her native city, and beyond it.
One more incident in connection with the Saint’s name will be best told in this place, so that we may have done with the subject, though it is forestalling matters as to time. As the child grew into girlhood that dread of personal vanity which was the cause of so many of her after acts grew with her; and, becoming very soon aware of the purely vain motives and aims that were perpetually actuating the frivolous women among whom she lived, she grew almost excessively sensitive as to the smallest germ of such a motive in anything connected with herself. She could not help discovering very early how much her looks were admired among her friends.
There can be no doubt, from all accounts, that St. Rose in her youth was singularly lovely, and, above all, that her complexion was exquisitely fair, with a beautiful colour of a kind most uncommon among her countrywomen. Seeing this, knowing Marie de Flores’ overweening interest in matters of personal appearance generally, and also, apparently, either not having heard or having paid but little attention to the story of the mysterious appearance over her cradle, Rose could not help the springing up in her heart of an unwilling suspicion that her mother’s keen attachment to her name sprang from a vain fancy that it suited her looks, and that, in fact, she wished by means of it to draw attention and admiration to her daughter’s beauty.
Now, we shall see better later on what powerful causes were at work within to make the bare notion of such a thing as this inspire a feeling of simple horror in the humble maid, to whose natural bashfulness alone the idea of such conspicuousness would have been painful. It is enough to say here that the thought was so repugnant to her as to be a real distress, and that when it had once taken possession of her mind, she could not rest satisfied till she had poured out her trouble, and the humiliation it caused her, to the Blessed Mother of Our Lord, to whom she was wont to go with all her wants and anxieties in the most simple and childlike spirit.
Rose had a special devotion to a certain image of Our Lady kept in the Rosary Chapel of the Dominican Church; and here she was one day kneeling in fervent prayer, when it pleased God by means of the image to show once more that His will was concerned in this apparently trivial matter of a girl’s name. Looking earnestly up into the face of the statue, which to her young imagination had always appeared full of divine motherliness and beauty, the young petitioner saw it suddenly appear as though lit up and instinct with life, smiling down at her with the sweetest kindness; and as she gazed with delight at the marvel, she further heard a voice distinctly say: “Your name is infinitely pleasing to the Son I bear in my arms; but henceforth you must add mine to it, and be called Rose of St. Mary. Your name is to be a fragrant flower, consecrated to Jesus of Nazareth.”
It may well be supposed that after this no further doubts about her name troubled the over-awed but enraptured maiden. She told her mother of the incident when she got home, doubtless with much compunction of heart for having unjustly suspected her motives, and simply begged that she would keep her constantly in mind of the duties that were henceforth implied in the use of her name.
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