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Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

Category: Religious

 

Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, O.Carm. (Italian: Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi; April 2, 1566 – May 25, 1607) was an Italian Carmelite nun.

She has been declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  The process for her beatification was begun in the year 1610 under Pope Paul V, and completed under Pope Urban VIII in the year 1626. She was not, however, canonized until 62 years after her death, when Pope Clement X raised her to the altars on April 28, 1669. The church of the Monastery of Pažaislis, commissioned in 1662 in Lithuania, was one of the first to be consecrated in her honour.

Mary is perhaps best known for the very numerous spiritual experiences she had – documented in 5 volumes and known as  The Complete Works of Saint Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi Carmelite and Mystic (1566–1607) . There is an English version, translated by Gabriel Pausback.  From the descriptions the majority of the experiences she had were out-of-body experiences with the possibility that some were near death experiences.  She was also able to practise inter-composer communication – telepathy and mind reading - and she had the gift of prophesy and was able to predict future events. There is also an indication that she was able to heal.

But the methods she used to obtain these experiences were extreme.

Spiritual experiences

 

Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was born into a very devout Roman Catholic family.  At the very young age of nine she was taught how to practise contemplation by the family priest, she had her First Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. It should thus be clear that the influence of the Catholic Church was extremely strong. 

One of the books she was given to study was one explaining how one should meditate on the Passion of Christ. Years later, this book was one of the items she brought with her to the convent and it is clear it had a profound impact on her.  It appears to have encouraged its readers to identify physically with Jesus on the cross, and to try to match his suffering with theirs. 

As we shall see, Mary abandoned contemplation and started to use some very extreme methods as she grew up. Once, one of the sisters asked her how she could bear so much pain without a murmur and she pointed to the crucifix and said:

Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ, and who offer up their own to God through His passion, find their pains sweet and pleasant.

 

She experienced her first spiritual experience when she was only twelve, in her mother's presence. From then on, she continued to have various spiritual experiences.  But they became gradually less meaningful spiritually.  If one looks at them she went backwards spiritually, as time progressed.  From our point of view they are a fascinating record, but as a record of anyone’s progress along the spiritual path, they are a salutary lesson that extreme methods do not pay dividends.

Children find spiritual experiences easy, their minds are generally uncluttered, they are free of desire to have experiences and they are protected somewhat from the diversions and obligations of adult life.  But adolescence often takes away this ability, after which anyone who has very very fervent religious desires and convictions, which Mary had, is likely to be permanently upset at being unable to repeat the experiences.

Very often the almost fanatically religious then take extreme measures and start to practise dangerous overload methods.  And it appears Mary did exactly this.

Hustvedt, Asti. (2012). Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-century Paris.

Pazzi wore a crown of thorns and a corset onto which she had attached piercing nails. She also walked barefoot through the snow, dripped hot wax onto her body, and licked the wounds of the diseased, including those afflicted with leprosy.


She thus subjected herself to extreme pain, hypothermia, flagellation and one might argue also subjected herself to fear and terror.  We can also add the method of humiliation, as according to George Scott in the book History Of Corporal Punishment, she is said to have found pleasure in being publicly whipped.  It is worth noting that both those in convents and monasteries practised flagellation as a means of diverting their minds from sexual repression. 

Psychiatrist Kathryn J. Zerbe has written that Pazzi was “a sufferer of Anorexia mirabilis and displayed behavioral symptoms of bulimia”.  The religious generally call this fasting, but it is often taken to extremes.  Needless to say she was a very unwell lady before she died:

Psychiatrist Armando Favazza - Bodies Under Siege (3rd edition, 2011)

At about age 37, emaciated and racked with coughing and pain, she took to her bed until she died four years later. Her painful gums were so badly infected that her teeth fell out, one by one. Her body was covered with putrefying bed sores, but when the sisters offered to move her she warned them off for fear that by touching her body they might experience sexual desires... A large statue of her holding a flagellant whip can be seen in her church in Florence, where people around the world still come to pay her tribute.

Life

Pazzi was born in Florence, Italy, to Camillo di Geri de' Pazzi, a member of one of the wealthiest and most distinguished noble families of Renaissance Florence, and Maria Buondelmonti.

In 1580, at age fourteen, Pazzi was sent by her father to be educated at a convent of nuns of the Order of Malta, but she was soon recalled to wed a young nobleman. Pazzi advised her father of her vow, and he eventually relented and allowed her to enter a convent. She chose the Carmelite Monastery of St. Mary of the Angels in Florence because the rule there allowed her to receive Holy Communion daily. In 1583 she was accepted as a novice by that community, and given the religious name of Sister Mary Magdalene.

 

Pazzi had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near, so her superiors let her make her profession of religious vows in a private ceremony, while laying in a cot in the chapel. Immediately after, she fell into a trance/out of body/near death state that lasted about two hours. This was repeated on the following 40 mornings, each time after Communion.  In order to preserve the experiences, Pazzi’s confessor asked her to dictate her experiences to her fellow nuns.

Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three record experiences from May 1584 through Pentecost week of the following year. Then began a period of ‘great temptation and of spiritual dryness’ that lasted for over five years, ending only on Pentecost Sunday, 1590.  The fourth book records that period and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal.

At the same time, she served terms as mistress of the junior professed, mistress of novices and sub-prioress. She also had a deep longing for the reform of the Church.  Another book, Admonitions, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women in religious orders.

Pazzi died relatively young—even for her era—on Friday, May 25, 1607, at the age of 41. She was buried in the choir of the monastery chapel. When the nuns moved from the site, they took the saint’s body with them. Today it rests in a glass casket in the Monastery of Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi in Careggi, in the hills to the north of her native city.

Observations

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