St. Frances of Rome: The Iconography
March 9
St. Frances of Rome was a wife and mother who enlisted women like herself into a society of oblates dedicated to prayer and service to the poor that became the Benedictine Oblate Congregation of Tor di Specchi.  She was a mystic famed for her visions and for the miraculous cures she was able to effect in her lifetime.

NARRATIVE IMAGES

Various images present this saint's visions (example), miracles of healing (example), and service to the poor (example).

A painting by Nicolas Poussin presents one of the oddest stories of Frances' works of charity. She encountered a poor man who was desperately ill and nursed him back to health. God helped her become aware that the man's illness was due to his sinful life, so she pleaded with him earnestly and at length to change his ways and gain eternal life. But he refused to change, and she then was given a vision in which she saw his death and the demons taking him off to Hell (Mattioti 158-60).

PORTRAITS

The iconography of this saint is somewhat unsettled. Italian images put her in a simplified version of the Benedictine habit, portraying a black or dark blue tunic and a long or mid-length white veil, usually without a wimple or scapular.

A 19th-century statue from Germany gives her the full Benedictine habit – wimple, scapular, and all – and adds a gold mantle. Other non-Italian images do not portray the  habit in any consistent way.

Mattioti's biography of St. Frances says that she was accompanied during the last 24 years of her life by an archangel whom only she could see (169). Many of her images therefore include the archangel, who is usually pictured as small in stature (as at right).

Amico's Book III, covering her visions, begins thus:
The pure heart of Frances was a furnace aflame with love, so that her soul was like a flame wafting up above natural feelings (especially in prayer or after communion), flying to the heights of contemplation, piercing the spheres and arriving to rest in the Empyrean.
– p. 144
This metaphor is represented visually in a portrait in Rome (above, right) that has the saint gazing toward Heaven with a flaming heart in her right hand.

Prepared in 2013 at Georgia Regents University by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English

HOME PAGE

St. Frances of Rome: The Burning Heart (See description page)


German "holy card," 1861 (Source: Wikimedia Commons

DATES

  • 1384-1440

NAMES

  • In Italy, Santa Francesca Romana
  • In France, Sainte Françoise Romaine
  • In Germany, Hl. Franziska Romana

HAGIOGRAPHY