Saint Rita's Cell

Next to the wedding ring cell, is the frugal and narrow cell of Saint Rita, with the wooden sarcophagus, the so-called “solemn case”, which contained the body of the saint from around 1475 until 1745.

The saint rested in this cell, often devoting part of the night in prayer and contemplation of the Passion of Jesus. The oldest evidence, such as the ex-votos examined one by one in the process of beatification of 1626, allow us to state that Rita took the Gospel’s invitation to be vigilant very seriously: she wore sackcloth day and night, and often fasted on bread and water, giving everything to the Lord. In her last years, very ill and no longer able to walk, she remained almost always in this cell, illuminated only by a small window, to left on high.

The SOLEMN CASEdates back to 1457-1462. According to very reliable testimonies from the proceedings of 1626, it was made (very probably on commission) by Mastro Cecco Barbari da Cascia cwho, with crippled hands, was cured by visiting the body of the saint. This sarcophagus contained the body of Rita from 1457-62 until 1745. Inside, it contains the “humble case”, Rita's first coffin. For more information, see also the first miracles of Saint Rita.

The tempera paintings on wood are attributed to Paolo da Visso. At the centre of the sarcophagus is the Christ standing in the tomb with the crown of thorns on his head and the wounds to the chest and hands clearly visible. He is depicted at the moment of Easter, at the passage from death to life. This humiliated and glorified Jesus is the centre of the spirituality of our saint.
The solemn case represents the first relevant evidence about Saint Rita: this is the oldest depiction of the saint which, presumably, shows us her physical features. The sarcophagus also reveals the historicity of the stigmata, providing a valuable testimony of the worship that started a few years after the death of the Saint.

The front panel, divided into three segments, shows St. Mary Magdalene, Christ and Saint Rita, dressed as an Augustinian nun, radiating rays of light from her head; on her forehead is the sore, in her right hand a big thorn and in her left hand a small rosary crown. The face, expressive and joyful, inspires intelligence and strength.
On the sloping cover there is Rita lying peacefully on her death bed and, next to her head, there is an epitaph (a phrase of praise extolling the virtues of the saint).

Translation of the solemn epitaph of 1457:
O blessed, how you have illuminated us
with your constancy and virtue before the Cross
where you received from Christ the King great sufferings,
after having abandoned the sad worldly life (of Roccaporena)
to go and enjoy (for singing hossanas to)
your moral infirmities
and the unknown wounds of your soul
before those far more atrocious of Christ!
What merit so great you have earned!
What great faith, greater than that of any other woman,
you were given!
So much so that you received from Christ one of his thorns,
not as earthly reward
because you never thought of having greater treasure
than Christ to whom you gave yourself entirely;
nevertheless, it did not seem sufficient
to consider yourself well purified,
so you bore it on your forehead for fifteen years
before ascending to heaven. 1457.

Inside the cover, there is a painting of the soul of the Saint being carried to heaven by two angels. According to the judges of 1626, the case was badly damaged. Only with the restoration of 1925 was it possible to read the epitaph correctly and clearly distinguish the images.

After 1920, the canvas by C. G. Bertelli was placed on the back wall. The canvas depicts a dying Saint Rita, assisted by the guardian angel, indicating Jesus and Mary to her; on the right side of the painting, there are St. Nicholas of Tolentino, St. Augustine and St. John the Baptist.
Above the altar, in the drawers, are conserved some relics: the habit of Saint Rita, the veil, the bands used to wipe the sore on her forehead, a pillow. They were placed here and sealed in 1745.

The ceiling and the door, painted by Giuseppe Congionti, like the wooden altar, were made in 1745, turning the cell into a chapel. In the same year, the solemn case was placed here. In the room surrounding the cell of Saint Rita, you can admire four canvases by an unknown painter of the first half of the 17th century. Starting from near the door: Blessed Rita receives a rose and two figs from a cousin in winter; The homage of the crowd to the body of the Blessed Rita while an angel rings the bells; Pope Urban VIII approves the worship of Blessed Rita; An Augustinian anoints the sick with oil near the tomb of Blessed Rita.