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A hungry soul

· Ludovica Albertoni described by Franco Scaglia ·

“Everyone should move in the direction marked out by his own heartbeats” said Paul Klee, and I think that his gentle, profound and meaningful words perfectly describe the life of Ludovica Albertoni who lived in Rome from 1474 to 1533. To understand properly the subject of her holiness and of the numerous testimonies offered to us about her, we might say that her earthly life reflects the truth asserted by St Paul: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.

Ludovica acquired the ability to enter directly into contact with Jesus through an intense religious experience, to the point of reaching ecstasy: a state in which all communication with the exterior is suspended and the person is transported to a reserved and privileged “territory”. Ludovica’s life was full of courage and she obtained many positive results through her work of assistance in support of the poor, the outcast and the sick, especially during the Sack of Rome in 1527 by the Landsknechte.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, “Ecstasy of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni” (1671-1674)

Ludovica came from two noble families. Her father, Stefano, a Roman patrician, died when she was still very young. Her mother, Lucrezia Tebaldi, took a new husband and entrusted Ludovica’s upbringing first to her grandmother and then to two aunts. Ludovica felt the need to devote her life to the Lord. But her existence was to take other paths that were certainly not chosen by her or by her heart.

Indeed the family, obeying consolidated rules and traditions, had decided to give her in marriage to a nobleman, Giacomo della Cetara. It cannot be said that Ludovica was happy with this decision that was not her own. The marriage would have been an obstacle to her intention to consecrate her life to Jesus; nevertheless she respected her family’s wishes.

The marriage proved a happy one. Giacomo was an excellent person, of good character and motivated by deep respect for his wife. They had three children and Ludovica loved Giacomo devotedly until his premature death in 1506. Ludovica was 32 years old and had no intention of taking another husband.

Already in the years of her marriage her vocation, rather than growing weaker had, as it were, been strengthened. She was ever more convinced of the need to follow the laws and will of the Lord. She had well understood that the purpose of life is the development of ourselves. She had been a happy wife and a good mother: she could now dare, and so do, what she had not previously been allowed to do. Her soul hungered. She knew that if a person, man or woman, were able to live his or her earthly adventure to the full with self-denial, faith and spirituality, this would give rise to an impulse of joy such as to support all earthly suffering. As a widow, Ludovica wore the habit of the Franciscan Third Order and offered her patrimony to those in need. She was left with nothing but her tunic and her family, somewhat grudgingly, were obliged to provide for her survival. Ludovica devoted herself to prayer, meditation and penance. Besides this work of the spirit she carried out other tasks, showing great practicality and intervening to support those in need. She got together dowries for poor girls who would otherwise have been unable to marry and nursed the sick whom no one else wanted to look after. She had the gift of ecstasy, and episodes of levitation and visions were also attributed to her. It is said that the thought of the Passion of Jesus alone provoked long crises of weeping. When she died in 1533 she had already become a symbol of holiness and was surrounded by deep and authentic devotion. On 28 January 1671 Clement x made her cult official.

Three years later Bernini dedicated to Ludovica one of his most intense works that is attributed indisputably to him. He sculpted her, imagining one of her manifestations of ecstasy. Bernini was already 70 years old and this detail should not be disregarded in the interpretation of the work. In every sculpted feature one senses the artist’s love and respect for this woman who was so gentle and strong, who had lived a full life as mother, wife, Franciscan tertiary and who – after spending part of her life surrounded by luxury and having respected her worldly obligations – devoted herself with the same naturalness to those who needed her and her faith.

As we know, life is short and at times hard to bear. With her wonderful balance between faith and charity Ludovica shows us a way to extend it. With the certainty that the truth always treads with delicacy and compassion.

Franco Scaglia (Camogli, 1944), a writer and journalist, is the author of many novels and essays translated in many European countries. Among others let us recall L’erede del tempo (2014), Il giardino di Dio: Mediterraneo, storie di uomini e pesci (2013), Luce degli occhi miei (2010), Il Custode dell’acqua (2002). For 40 years Director of the Italian Radio and Television (RAI), he has won numerous prizes including the Premio Flaiano for television and the Premio Campiello.

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