Religious of the Order of Malta
Memorial: 14 July
She was born in Zevio, near Verona (Italy) about 1280 and married a man from Verona, Albert Canoculi with whom she began to do remarkable work for the poor. After her husband's death, she sold all that she owned and became a nun in the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, where she devoted her life to prayer and caring for the sick. She died on 14 July 1343 or 1344.
O God, who kept your servant Toscana unscathed by the turbulence of this world both as a wife and as a widow, and made her the instrument in our Order of a remarkable work of charity for the poor, grant us the grace of serving you as she did and of pleasing you by our faith and by our actions. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(From: The Missal with readings of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes, & of Malta, London 1997)
Toward the end of the 12th century, it was in Venetia that Saint Toscana first saw the light of day, at Zevio, a small city seven miles from Verona. Her parents were noble and good Christians. While quite young, she had a great devotion for modesty and virginity; she refused all the suitors presented to her with a view to marriage. Yet her family insisted. Because she believed it was her duty to obey that indication of Providence, she married the nobleman Alberto, of the house of Occhi di Cape. With him she went to live in Verona and gave to all the example she herself had learned from the women of the Old Testament, as well as from Saint Anna and Saint Elizabeth. Like them, the young lady lived in perfect matrimonial chastity taking care of her husband and her house, but also doing good works. She gave all the alms she could, and each day at three in the afternoon, she went to the Hospital of the Holy Sepulchre belonging to the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in order to visit the poor and wash their feet, to take care of the sick and wounded, from whose ulcers she pressed the pus and sanies without showing disgust or revulsion. She served everyone and helped them with all her heart. Then she would return home happy to attend to her other duties.
Heaven had not wished to grant her any issue. Thus, when her husband met an untimely death, she took a vow of chastity, although she was still young and quite beautiful. She mourned he companion and said:
"I thank Thee, o Christ! for having delivered my husband from the perils of the world and from its trials and tribulations, and me from the very heavy burden of marriage. Now, I consecrate myself entirely to Thee; now, I offer Thee myself as Thy servant and Thy slave. I desire no other husband or beloved than Thee; no one, if not Thee, will I take as a second husband. I love no one. Receive me. I shall follow the path which is straight in Thine eyes. In Thee are my hope and my faith. Thou wilt give me strength and aid; then I shall overcome the very cunning enemy. What can man do without Thee? And what would the creature do without its Creator? If Thou art present, I am victorious. If Thou bringest help, I win a glorious triumph".
With these words she began an angelic life of prayer, inflexible penance, and works of mercy. To live, she had to work. But the price of her labour was always divided into three parts: one for the priests, the other for the pilgrims and the poor, and the third for her own livelihood.
In spite of the austerity of her life, her beauty only increased. Three young men saw her, admired her, and were impelled by the devil to plot to share her, with or without her consent.
One evening, Toscana was absorbed in contemplation in her room when one of these knaves entered through the window and approached her. But he had not taken three steps when the Lord permitted the devil to choke him; the wretch fell to the floor, dead. Horrified, the saint did not dare call out, for fear of scandal, and, feeling faint with fear before the lifeless body, she besought God's counsel: she knelt and began to pray.
Meanwhile, the second would-be thief of honour grew impatient outside. He was troubled by the long silence, expecting a great deal of commotion. He followed the path taken by the first. Stunned, he noticed the corpse and the woman prostrated at its feet. Seized by fright, he was rushing headlong toward the window when the Evil One seized him by the collar and strangled him.
The Situation for Toscana did not improve for all that. At the outcry of his companion, the third malefactor rushed in. Before the terrifying spectacle, he fell stone dead.
Although her embarrassment grew deeper, the saint did not lose confidence and awaited the Lord's decision. It appeared in the guise of the parents of the three young men, who, no doubt, had been informed of the escapade. Surprised at not seeing them return to tell of their progress, the parents came for news to the young widow's house. How great was their consternation when received by the saint, they found their offspring lifeless! They threw themselves at her feet and implored her to restore the men to life so that they might do penance for their sin. She consented to do so and began to pray fervidly; the three cads revived, went to confession, said their prayers and died again - an event which excited the greatest astonishment and the most respectful fears in the city.
But this adventure convinced Toscana of the difficulty a young and pretty woman experiences when living alone in the world. She decided to enter the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem to which she had already rendered so many services. She obtained a very solitary little cell in the garden of the convent of the Holy Sepulchre, in Verona. She took on the habit of the sisters and continued with renewed ardour her noble macerations.
She begged for her food and ate only bread and water, never eating to satiety. On Sundays, she made a feast of vegetables mixed with a small amount of oil. Entirely free now, she visited the churches and the holy places of Verona on solemn occasions in order to earn indulgences. But not to be seen - supposedly her prayers were lost in ecstasy? - she went there as soon as dawn appeared in the sky, when there was still no one in the streets. One day, as she went toward the church of the Holy Apostles, she met some thieves who did not feel ashamed to take her poor cloak. She relinquished it to them gladly and fled. But they wishing to divide their booty, drew their swords; immediately their hands withered. Stunned and grieving, they ran after the saint, returned her cloak, and implored her forgiveness. She consented to pray for them, made the sign of the cross on the hands struck by the wrath of God, and they became whole again as before. But she did not allow these wretches to leave without delivering to them a little sermon to exhort them to change their lives and do penance.
She was seized by a serious attack of fever, and an angel came to warn her that her end was near. She felt such deep joy at the news that she gave thanks profusely. Then she had herself laid on the bare ground and remained there in the greatest spirit of mortification. That is why she obstinately refused to take the wine that a doctor had ordered for her "to prevent dropsy". And when a priest tried to mix some with her other potions, she noticed it and pushed away the drink.
She asked to be buried in the gateway of the Hospital, in the road, without honours. Finally she died, saying:
"I have chosen to be scorned in the house of God, rather than to live under the tents of sinners".
As she was closing her eyes and giving up the ghost, there was heard, like an echo, the sound of angels answering her in Latin (for angels always speak in Latin!):
Veni, famula Christi, Toscana, accipe coronam quam tibi Dominus praeparavit in aeternum.
That was in the year 1343.
As is customary, her desires were disregarded: she was properly interred in the church of the Holy Sepulchre which was later dedicated to Saint Toscana. In 1612, on June 23 or 24, the relics of the saint were transported to Zevio, to a chapel built for them. On that occasion, another miracle occurred: water having failed the masons, they found some in a pit which had been dry up to that time. Later, a procession carrying the remains of Saint Toscana obtained rain during a period of frightful drought. Numerous cures were obtained by our holy woman, who takes pity especially on fevers from which she herself had suffered so much.
Her feast is celebrated on July 14.
A woman of the world, a wife and widow before entering the cloister, Saint Toscana does indeed present the model to be followed by women living in the world.
(From: Ducaud-Bourget, Msgr. François: The Spiritual Heritage of The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Vatican 1958)
Page last modified on Thursday, 21 July 2016 04:40:34
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Zevio, Italy, the birthplace of St. Toscana
The parish church at the Piazza Santa Toscana
St. Toscana's Church in Via Santa Toscana, Zevio/Italy
Church of St. Toscana, Verona, Italy