Mary Magdalene de'Pazzi was an Italian Carmelite nun and mystic who has been recognised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Maria Maddalena (as she is known in Italian) was born on 2nd April 1566 to Camillo di Geri de'Pazzi, a member of one of the wealthiest and most distinguished noble families of Renaissance Florence, and Maria Buondelmonti.
She was christened Caterina, but in the family was called Lucrezia out of respect for her paternal grandmother, Lucrezia Mannucci. Even as a girl Caterina was attracted to prayer, solitude, and penance. At the age of nine Caterina was taught how to meditate by the family chaplain, using a recently published work explaining how one should meditate on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Years later, this book was one of the items the young girls brought with her to the monastery.
Caterina made her first Holy Communion at the then early age of ten, and made a vow of virginity one month later.
Caterina experienced her first mystical ecstasy when she was only twelve, in her mother's presence. From then on she continued to exhibit many varied mystical experiences.
In 1580, at age fourteen, Caterina de'Pazzi was sent by her father to be educated at a monastery of nuns of the Order of Malta, but she was soon recalled to wed a young nobleman. Caterina advised her father of the vow of virginity she had taken; he eventually relented and allowed her to enter religious life.
Caterina chose to join the Ancient Observance of the Carmelite Order at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Angels in Florence, because the rule there allowed her to receive holy communion daily.
In 1583 Caterina was accepted as a novice by the community and given the religious name of Sister Mary Magdalene.
A Mystic in Carmel
Pazzi had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near, so her superiors let her make her profession of religious vows in a private ceremony, whilst laying in a cot in the chapel. Immediately after she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated on the following forty mornings, each time after holy communion. During these ecstasies Sister Mary Magdalene received spiritual insights from God.
As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, Pazzi's confessor asked her to dictate her experiences to her fellow nuns. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three record ecstasies from May 1584 through to Pentecost week of the following year. That particular week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial, and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning religious reform and renewal. Another book, Admonitions
, is a collection of Sister Mary Magdalene's sayings, arising from her experiences in the formation of women in religious orders.
Passion for Love
Through much of her life, Pazzi continued to be prone to spiritual raptures and profound ecstasies, but she also experienced a period of great temptation and of spiritual dryness that lasted for over five years, ending only on Pentecost Sunday 1590. A famous incident was her ringing the bells of the monastery one night to announce to the puzzled nuns that "Love is not loved". Whilst her mystical experiences sometimes caused dramatic, even eccentric, behaviour, Mary Magdalene was never narcissistic or self-preoccupied.
Spiritual Gifts and Desire for Reform
It was said that Sister Mary Magdalene could read the thoughts of others and predict future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. She was able, even while in ecstasy, to perform the routine duties of the monastery conscientiously and well. She served terms as Mistress of the Novices, Mistress of the Simply Professed, and Sub-Prioress. She also - and this is perhaps the most important part of her relevancy - had a deep longing for the reform of the Church.
Sister Mary Magdalene de'Pazzi died relatively young (even for her era) on Friday 25th May 1607, at the age of just 41. She was buried in the choir of the monastery chapel in Florence. When the nuns moved from the site some while later, they took the saint's body with them. Today it rests in a glass casket in the Monastery of Santa Maria Maddalena de'Pazzi in Careggi, in the hills to the north of her native city. To say that her body is incorrupt would be something of an overstatement; her body was declared miraculously incorrupt at her canonisation in 1668.
Numerous miracles attributed to God through the intercession of Sister Mary Magdalene de'Pazzi followed her death, and the process for her beatification was begin in the year 1610 under Pope Paul V, and completed under Pope Urban VIII in the year 1626. She was not, however, canonised until 62 years after her death, when Pope Clement X raised her to the altars on 28th April 1669. The church of the Monastery of Pažaislis in Lithuania, commissioned in 1662, was one of the first to be consecrated in her honour.
The saint herself is little known outside Italy, but her cult is very strong, especially in Florence, and she is much loved by her Carmelite Order worldwide.
Mary Magdalene de'Pazzi is patron saint against sickness and bodily ills, against sexual temptation, co-patron of Naples, and patron of the Carmelite Third Order Secular.