Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, Virgin

[Saint Mary Magdalen of Pazzi]Article

A.D. 1607

The family of the Pazzi was one of the most illustrious in the republic of Florence, and was allied to the sovereign house of Medicis; but the birth of this saint hath reflected on it greater glory than the long list of heroes, statesmen, governors, and other great personages which it displays. Nor was her maternal family of the Blondelmonti inferior in rank, or less fruitful in great men. She was born in that city in 1566, and in honour of Saint Catharine of Sienna received her name in baptism. From the first dawn of reason there appeared in her the happy presages of that eminent virtue of which she became a perfect model. When only seven years old, she was so compassionate to the poor, that she was wont to deprive herself of her meat to to give it to some beggar; and such was her devotion, that it was her custom to steal privately from the company of her play-fellows to spend her time in secret prayer. In her tender infancy she was accustomed to repeat often the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Creed, and other devotions; and she taught other poor children the same with wonderful care and zeal. When her father carried her into the country, it was her custom and her delight to assemble together the little girls of the village, and to teach them what she knew of the Christian doctrine; which she did with wonderful modesty and patience. One day it happened that she had begun to instruct a young girl of one of her father’s tenants in her catechism, when she was told that she must go back to Florence; but she cried so much at the thought of leaving her work of charity imperfect, that her father carried the other girl with them to the city, where the young saint finished her instruction. At eight or nine years of age she began more ardently to apply herself to holy prayer, and she employed whole hours in that exercise. In this divine school she learned the most perfect sentiments of all virtues, and began to feel so strong a desire to love and please God that worldly amusements were tedious and bitter to her. She knew no pleasure but in speaking to God, or of God, or heavenly things. She often left her bed in the night to lie on the floor or on straw. One day she made herself a crown of rushes interwoven with thorns, tied it on her head and lay all night with it, suffering the pain which the pricks of the thorns gave her. To this action she was moved at nine years of age by a meditation on the sufferings of Christ; which mystery from that time was the chief object of her pious thoughts and devotions during the remainder of her life. Once on Saint Andrew’s day, in her meditation, her heart was so inflamed with a desire of suffering with and for Christ, that she swooned away; and her mother was afraid she was dying. After she was grown up and a nun, coming to herself from a like fit, she cried out: “O Love, this grace is like that which I received in my childhood, when my mother thought it a corporal disorder.” By hair-shirts, and other severe mortifications, she endeavoured to conform herself to Christ crucified, and put on her head in the night a plaited crown of prickly olive branches. She always wept at the sight of any grievous corporal distress, and much more for any spiritual misery of her neighbour. Such was her tender devotion to the blessed eucharist, that she loved to be near those who came from the holy communion, as if by love she perceived the odour of Christ’s presence. She made her first communion with wonderful devotion at ten years of age; and at twelve, by vow consecrated her virginity to God. At fourteen, her father being made by the grand-duke governor of Cortona, she was placed by him a pensioner in the monastery of Saint John in Florence. There she gave full scope to her devotion, and employed every morning four hours in pious meditation on her knees. Out of humility, she usually kept at a distance from the nuns, whom she respected as the favourite spouses of Christ.

After fifteen months her father took her home, with the view of procuring her an honourable and advantageous match. Several proposals were made to her, and her parents were very pressing for her consent. But she protested that the disposal of herself in marriage was no longer in her power. In the choice of a religious state, being much pleased with the custom of frequent and almost daily communion practised among the Carmelite nuns, she preferred that Order, and entered their monastery, in Saint Fridian’s suburb, at Florence, on the eve of the Assumption, in 1582. She continued some days in a secular habit, that she might be the better acquainted with the rule. It is not to be expressed how much those holy and fervent virgins were edified by the great virtues which she practised. But her parents, after fifteen days, took her home again for three months, the better to try her vocation. However, she would by no means consent ever to put on fine clothes, or do anything which seemed to favour vanity or sensuality. Having obtained their blessing, she on the 1st of December returned to the monastery, being then fifteen years old, and took the habit on the 30th of January following. When the priest put the crucifix into her hands, saying those words: God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; a seraphic ardour appeared in her countenance, and she felt herself inflamed with a burning desire of suffering during her whole life for Christ; and trampling under her feet all the vanities of the world, she gave herself most perfectly to Christ crucified with the most firm purpose never to have any other spouse. After taking the habit, she threw herself at the feet of her mistress, begging she would never spare her in the most sensible self-denials and humiliations. During her novitiate, the example of her fervour excited those who were witnesses of it to the divine love. Being visited by a severe fit of sickness, her desire of suffering for the love of Him who died for us, was a subject of edification to the whole house. One of her sisters asking her how she could endure so much pain without any complaint, and even without speaking of her ailments, or even asking for anything to comfort her, she answered, pointing to a crucifix which was near the side of her bed: “See what the infinite love of God hath suffered for my salvation. This same love sees my weakness, and gives me courage. They who call to mind the sufferings of Christ, and offer their own to God through his passion, find their pains sweet and amiable.” Under this illness, she was admitted to her religious profession on the 17th of May, 1584.

In religion, she changed her name Catharine into that of Mary Magdalen, out of devotion to that great model of penitent souls. After this consecration of herself to God, she enjoyed great heavenly consolations and frequent raptures during forty days, especially after her communions; as if her heavenly spouse would by these caresses celebrate with her his spiritual nuptials. It is the general remark of the most experienced masters of a spiritual life, that God frequently visits souls, upon their fervent conversion from the world, with his comforts; in which, by the divine lights which he infuses, they see their own nothingness, and advance in the sentiments of sincere humility; and are at the same time attracted by the feelings of his goodness to run in the sweet odour of his perfumes. This taste of his consolations encourages them to suffer trials with joy for his sake; and these never fail to succeed. For God, who is infinitely jealous of the hearts of his servants, will not suffer in them any rival. Wherefore, perfectly to crucify in them all secret self-love that they may be fitted for vessels of his pure love, and to teach them thoroughly to know themselves, he throws them into the crucible of internal tribulation; and this fire is usually the more severe, the higher the degree of sanctity is to which he in his mercy designs to raise them. This our saint experienced by the state of interior desolation into which she fell from this first taste of his spiritual joy. But her virtue was solid, because humble, patient, and constant. She desired not heavenly comforts, deeming herself of all others the most unworthy; and the favours which she received she endeavoured to conceal from men, referring them entirely to the gratuitous goodness of their author, and from them learning the more to humble herself and to raise her soul to his most pure love. It was always her desire to suffer for his sake, and this her thirst of the cross seemed insatiable. But whether in anguish or in consolation, the spring of her affections was the most ardent love of her heavenly spouse. She was often heard to cry out, “O Love! Love is not loved, not known by his own creatures! O my Jesus! if I had a voice strong and loud enough that I could be heard by all men in all the parts of the world, how would I cry out that this love might be known, loved, and esteemed by all men as the only true incomprehensible good! but the cursed poison of self-love robs men of this high knowledge, and renders them incapable of it.” She often invited, with all the fervour of her soul, all angels, men, stars, birds, beasts, plants, grains of sand, drops of water, and the whole chorus of the creation, to convert themselves into tongues, to praise, bless, and magnify the divine immensity and love. She sighed and wept much for the conversion of sinners, and when called away by public duties, or obliged to go to rest, often said, “Is it possible that I should take any rest whilst I consider how much God is offended on earth? O Love! I do it by obedience, and to fulfil thy holy will.”

Fearing lest at the time of her profession she might have offended God by too eager a desire of making that sacrifice, she begged and obtained leave to live as a novice two years after her vows. This term being completed, coming out of the novitiate, she was made second directress of the extern young girls. Three years after, she finished her juniorate, or term amongst the young nuns, and was employed in instructing the novices. During these first five years, Almighty God was pleased to exercise her by most severe interior trials. She fasted always on bread and water, except on Sundays and holidays, on which she took Lenten diet. She added all other kinds of bodily austerities, and at the same time suffered most grievous pains and anguish of soul. She was assaulted with the most violent temptations of impurity, gluttony, pride, infidelity, and blasphemy. Her imagination was often filled with those abominations, the very name or thought of which fills chaste souls with the greatest horror. She had recourse by prayer to the spouse and to the queen of virgins against the obstinacy and rage of this enemy, and chastised her body with disciplines, hair-shirts, studded iron girdles, lying hard, and the like inventions. Her mind was also troubled with the most hideous images of hellish monsters, and seemed abandoned, like Job, to the power of hell; and her soul was plunged into a state of darkness in which she was able to see nothing but horror in herself and in all things about her. Thoughts of blasphemy and infidelity infested her so violently, that she sometimes cried out to her sisters: “Pray for me that I may not blaspheme God instead of praising him.” Fasting, which by habit and grace was formerly easy, now became grievous. Her sisters likewise despised her, looking on her foregoing graces which they had formerly admired to have been illusions. Nevertheless, God did not totally withdraw himself from his faithful spouse. Her chief support and comfort was in the meditation of Christ’s passion, in which she conceived fresh burning desires to become still more like that man of interior as well as exterior sorrows. After five years in this suffering state, God restored to her soul his holy peace and the comfort of his divine presence. In 1590, on Whitsunday, at Matins, when the Te Deum was intoned she fell into a rapture, and after the divine office, the joy which shone on her face and appeared in her words testified the return of her inward comforter. Squeezing by the hand the mother prioress and the mistress of the novices, she desired them to rejoice with her, saying: “Now winter is passed with me; assist me to thank and glorify my good Creator.” She was endued with a spirit of prophecy, and, among other things, foretold the popedom to Leo XI and his death soon after his election.

In 1598 she was appointed mistress of the novices for three years, according to the custom of the house, and in 1601 was continued in the same office; but in 1604 chosen sub-prioress, which office she discharged till her death. Her union with God seemed uninterrupted, and his name sufficed to transport her soul in raptures of love. She often repeated the doxology, Glory be to the Father, and always with incredible ardour bowing her body, and offering herself to all labours and every sort of death for God’s honour. She considered only the pure will of God in all things with inexpressible fervour, and often repeated, “The will of God is ever most amiable:” and to her sisters, “How rich a traffic have we with God when we do everything with a pure and vehement intention to please and honour him.” She appeared in every action like a glowing seraph, glorifying her Creator with all the powers and strength of her soul, and sometimes cried out: “Come, souls, come, love your God who so much loveth you. O Love, I die with mortal anguish when I see how little you are known and loved. O Love! Love! if you find no place to rest in, come all to me; I will lodge you. O souls created by Love, why do not you love? She instructed her novices to sing the divine office with such awe and trembling in the company of the angels, as if they in spirit prostrated themselves at every word. If the divine office was sung too fast, she asked leave to go out, and would afterwards say: “What business could you have of greater importance that you were in such a hurry?” Her extreme thirst after the salvation of souls made her shed perpetual tears for the conversion of infidels, heretics, and sinners; and she often exhorted her sisters in the most moving manner to offer up all their actions for that end. Her devotion to the holy eucharist was extraordinary; and she used to say, that if it were necessary, she would joyfully enter the lion’s den, and suffer all pains for the sake of communicating. But her humility was most admirable. She always spoke of herself as of the bane of her community, and the outcast and abomination of all creatures. It was her delight to be forgotten, contemned, reprimanded, and employed in the meanest offices. She would often cry out, “O nothingness! how little art thou known!”

In 1602 she contracted a violent cold and cough, which in 1603 was followed by the bursting of a vein and an abundant vomiting of blood, which often returned upon her. However, she recovered a little, and in October, 1604, she was chosen sub-prioress. The three last years of her life she endured violent headaches, fevers, sweats, pains in her breast, was subject to a spitting of blood, and a scurvy in her gums, by which she lost all her teeth. With these bodily pains she sometimes laboured under the most grievous inward spiritual dryness and desolation of soul; yet her prayer was to suffer more, to suffer without any comfort, and to drink gall without any honey. Love on one side made her desire to die to be united to her God; yet life seemed desirable that she might still suffer for love. Having exhorted her sisters to fervour, and to the love of suffering, she received extreme unction, and still communicated every day during the twelve days she survived. She expired soon after receiving the holy sacrament by way of viaticum, on the 25th of May, 1607, being forty-one years, one month, and twenty-four days old, of which she had lived twenty-four years and three months in the religious habit. Her body has been often examined, and always found without any corruption. It is kept in a sumptuous shrine in the church of her monastery, which was since removed into the city of Florence in 1628. God has honoured it by frequent miraculous cures. The saint was beatified by Urban VIII. in the year 1626, and canonized by Clement IX in 1669.

It was the prayer of this saint under her severest trials, that she might live only to glorify God by her patience and submission in suffering by his will, and for his sake. Our love of God must be very imperfect, since we are so impatient under the least trials, and so unwilling to suffer, and since we find the duties of religion troublesome and uneasy. They appear severe in the beginning of a virtuous life; but to him who has conquered, the yoke of Christ is easy, and to fervour and love harsh things become pleasant. It is also the property of a habit to render difficult things easy; for as it becomes a second nature, what flows from it is natural, consequently pleasant and easy. When the love of virtue has once rooted itself in the soul, its practice is no more than embracing and enjoying what we love. This therefore is one constant character of perfection in scripture, that delight and pleasure accompany the practice of virtue. The ways of wisdom are the ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. And to him who loves, the commandments of God are not grievous. Hence it is that the good man’s delight is in the law of the Lord, and he meditates therein night and day. Nor does he delight less in action than meditation. The Psalmist frequently expresses an inconceivable joy and transport in the meditation and practice of the commands of God. The first Christians, whose whole lives were a continued fervent exercise of devotion, faith, and charity, are said to have eaten their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. The holy Ghost gives us a delightful description of the apostles as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things. Another property of divine love is, that it is always active, and never ceases to exert itself with zeal and fervour in all manner of good works.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, Virgin”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 12 May 2013. Web. 1 August 2014. <>