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St Maria Goretti (6 July)

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

I remember visiting the shrine of today’s saint, Maria Goretti, many years ago - it’s at Nettuno, near Rome, not far from the Anzio beaches where the Allies landed in 1944. Rather curiously, in the basilica, there is a medieval statue of Our Lady that was once venerated in Ipswich but was hidden away at the Reformation and ended up in Italy.

St Maria Goretti was a young Italian girl, who, aged only eleven, was sexually assaulted by a nineteen year-old farm labourer. When she refused to give way to him, she was stabbed and died as a result of her wounds, on this day in 1902. Before she died, she forgave her murderer.

Our saint is often presented as a model of chastity but she is also a great example of forgiveness. Her attacker, Alessandro Serenelli, served a long prison sentence and showed great repentance; he reportedly prayed to ‘my little saint’ every day and attended her canonisation in 1950. He ended his days as a lay brother at a Capuchin monastery.

He wrote in his spiritual testament: ‘at the age of twenty, I committed a crime of passion, the mere memory of which horrifies me today.’ He called Maria ‘my light, my protector’, ‘the good angel that providence placed ahead of my steps to save me.’

The story of St Maria Goretti reminds us of the power of forgiveness and that, whatever our past, there is always a future.

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