Woman of the week - Eustochium Calafato

Name: Eustochium Calafato - born as Smeralda
Born: about 1434, Messina, Sicily
Died: 1468, Montevergine, Sicily
Married to: None
Occupation: Nun

Eustochium was born as Smeralda (Italian for emerald); some sources say she was born on Good Friday, but the truth of the matter the exact date is not known and it might be a fact added later to further underline the holiness of the woman. She was born as the daughter of Bernard, a wealthy merchant and his wife, the countess Matilda (Macalda) Romano Colonna of Calafato – a very pious woman. Over all the upbringing of the girl was very centered around the Christian faith and it made a great impression on the young girl.

When her father died, in 1346, she entered a convent of Poor Clare РSanta Maria di Basicò Рhaving experienced visions of the crucified Christ. Some legends claim the nuns were reluctant to receive her, her brothers having threatened to burn the convent down would she join it. Either this is another apocryphal fact, or they just did not follow through, whatever the reason she did become a nun, now with the name under which she would become famous, Eustochium, and the convent was not burnt down.

Eustochium was a very pious woman, and she soon found the convent far too lax for her taste. This made her ask for permission to found a new convent, nearby, with a stricter rule. This was granted in 1457 – and the new convent followed the Franciscan rule. The convent moved to Montevirgine in 1463 and the following year she was elected abbess. By now her mother and sister had joined her convent. She was very pious woman, being very influenced by the life of Christ and among other things writing a treatise on the Passion (though that text is now lost). But her life was hard and she was not very strong in body. She passed away in 1468, around thirty-five years old. She was buried at Montevirgine.

A cult soon developed, and her uncorrupted body was described by the archbishop of Messina in 1690. The cult was formally approved in 1782 and she was canonized as a saint in 1988. Her feast day is nowadays January 20, but earlier it was February 16. Her body is still venerated too. Her name is sometimes given as Eustochia, but it is not entirely correct and should have the ending of -um.

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