Very little is known about Saint Rosalia or La Santuzza (the “little saint”) as she is called by Sicilians. Supposedly, she was born into a noble family around the year 1130 A.D. and may even have been distantly related to the Emperor Charlemagne. The pious young girl was distressed by the sinfulness of her city and, in 1159, withdrew to live the life of a hermit. According to legend, she was led by two angels to a cave on Mount Pellegrino where she remained alone until her death in 1166.
It seems Rosalia was forgotten by her people the moment she went up Mount Pellegrino. She was never even mentioned until nearly five hundred years later when Palermo was ravaged by a plague that is largely thought to have been the Black Death. In the year 1624, Rosalia appeared to an unnamed sick woman. Shortly afterwards, she appeared to a hunter and led him up Mount Pellegrino where he discovered her remains. The saint asked him to take her bones back to Palermo. She was soon declared the patroness of the city and her cave was turned into a shrine. The Santuario di Santa Rosalia is now one of Palermo’s most popular tourist attractions.
The same year her remains were discovered, Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck created a work that portrays the saint surrounded by angels who are crowing her with roses. The painting’s title is “Saint Rosalia Interceding for the Plague Stricken of Palermo”. Click here to see this beautiful painting. The picture seen above is also by Van Dyck and portrays Saint Rosalia kneeling before the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus who is holding out a crown of roses. Saint Peter is on the right and Saint Paul is on the left.
Saint Rosalia is the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily. On this day, the faithful of the Palermo community traditionally walk barefoot up Mount Pellegrino to her shrine. There is also a great celebration in Palermo on July 15, the anniversary of the translation of her relics. The “festino” held on this day is the most famous Sicilian celebration in the world. Saint Rosalia is also very popular with the Italian-American community and, on the days surrounding her September feast day, there is a great celebration in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints