· Vatican City ·



Saint Zita
the unservile servant

02 April 2022

On April 27, in Lucca, the whole square of the Amphitheater and the one in front of San Frediano are filled with flowers. There is a heady mix of colors and scents that engulf the memory of Zita, the patron saint of the city, whose body has been kept and venerated in the beautiful church in front of it for over 900 years. Her name is used in the Divine Comedy in Canto XXI identified as a Lucchese “one of Saint Zita’s elders”.

The city has never failed to celebrate this saint, the emblem of a popular holiness, who is accessible to all, to women, to peasants, the poor, to laywomen, the lame and even servants!

Zita lived between 1218 and 1278, in the period of the medieval popular movements that in Tuscany gave life to “republican” forms of government. Consequently, it was easy to place an expression of the city’s aristocracy along side the cult of the much-loved Holy Face, a simple, emotional and moving devotion to the Holy Servant!

Like so many poor peasant girls Zita, came from the countryside to serve the noble Faitinelli family, whose stately home is still standing near San Frediano.

Her story could have been the same as that of many girls over time, characterized by fatigue, abuse, harassment, violence, sexual abuse, and the risk of kidnapping by thieves of servants destined to prostitution in brothels or streetwalking.

Instead, she managed to change her destiny. Thanks to her strength, her faith, her nights of prayer, her fasting to bring her food to the poor, her courage in challenging the rules, her masters become her...patrons! Not only after her death as eager proponents of her cult, but also during her life. In fact, to such an extent, that when they uncovered an attempt to sexually assault her by another servant, they believed her and fired him.

We can be certain that this conversion took place through some celestial signs too. For example, the bread to help a poor man, which did not burn even when it was left in the oven too long; and, the water transformed into wine to soothe someone’s wounds. There was a master’s cloak given to a beggar that was miraculously returned. Finally, the most widespread prodigy of female sanctity, an apron full of food smuggled to hungry beggars, which when opened was found to be filled with flowers, in this case “fronds and daffodils”, under the still irate gaze of the master, other times of the husband or just any man. An ancillary sanctity outside of stereotypes, a feminine sanctity that is domestic but not enclosed, a sanctity of a servant, but not servile, “made up of exceptions to the duties imposed by the specific professional statute, holy omissions compensated by the reparative intervention of the prodigy” (Gabriella Zarri. Dictionary of Saints).

Zita, the little servant from Lucca, could then be considered the protector of domestic staff and today the patron saint of carers, the strong and determined women who live in our homes, with their little miracles of care every day.

by Grazia Villa
Lawyer for the rights of the individual