[…]

With my hands I touch the walls
But with my soul the truth,
My fingers dark for me
But God, a flare.

What is distant I feel to be close
When I think, I believe I define;
My body sitting in today,
My soul wavers in the infinite.

Graceful things from the air
Come for my orchestrations.
I hear only birds’ wings
But I see the wings of angels.

Sometimes I sing without a voice,
Just as I think without speaking
The blindness God has given me
Is a way of giving me light.

If I proceed along the way
My pathways are two:
One, where I am walking,
The other, the truth in which I am.

In me there is, at the bottom of a well,
An opening of light towards God.
There, at the very bottom,
An eye made in heaven.

Fernando Pessoa, Sono un sogno di Dio,
Magnano (BI), Qiqajon, p. 53

This lyric poem by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, seems to be the perfect expression of the Christian, spiritual experience of Blessed Margherita della Metola (the town of Mercatello sul Metauro) or of Città di Castello. Hers was a short life, passed in the evocative surroundings of the Massa Tribaria and Tifernum (the old name for Città di Casrello), though contemplation of their beauty was denied her because she was blind from birth until her death, in 1320. These verses which, in the development of their light quatrains, aim at the theological depth of the obstructed relationship between outer blindness and inner light/gaze, seemed to me to be particularly apt for a commentary on the text of the two legendae which, in different ways and variations, insist on the stylistic element of “providential blindness”: she was blind, but she saw the light.

I recall only a few of the passages in which the author of the Vita lunga remarks, with theological perspicacity and scriptural inspiration, on the deprivation of sight as an “intervention of Providence” (Pessoa writes: “The blindness God has given me/Is a way of giving me light”): “In fact she was born without bodily eyes so as not to see the world, but she took her fill of the divine light because, while on the earth, she could contemplate only heaven”[1]. When her parents took her to Città di Castello to pray that she be healed by a Franciscan friar who had recently died in odour of sanctity, they were to be disappointed, because: “[…] the Lord, having already illuminated her mind with the wish to contemplate the heavenly realities, did not want to satisfy them – he who knows all secrets – so that she should not be deprived, by the sight of earthly things, of the vision of heavenly things”[2]; and once, left (or abandoned) alone and mendicant in the streets of the Tifernum town, “[…] she who was considered abandoned was at once welcomed by God, [and] while separated from the world was illuminated by the eternal light, that her mind might be raised to meditate more freely on the eternal realities”[3]. At a later point in the text, the hagiographer raises his voice to proclaim Margherita’s teaching charism, which was, yes, a feminine teaching, humble and delicate, but undoubtedly evangelical in tone: “Blessed blind woman, I say, who never saw the things of this world and who so quickly learned heavenly things! Happy disciple, who deserved to have such a master, who without books taught Holy Scripture to you, blind from birth, who teach even those who can see”[4]. Despite being able to ”see nothing”, nevertheless with that “eye made in heaven” (Pessoa), she contemplated the Invisible made visible, the Incarnate, God made man, present in the Eucharist. “In Church, when the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was consecrated and throughout the time when the sacred mystery was celebrated, she claimed that she saw Christ incarnate[5] and that she could see nothing else going on (actualiter). It is no wonder that he who had deprived her of any sight of earthly things wanted to show himself only to her pure gaze, so that in an earthenware vessel of little value divine mercy should shine forth”[6]. Like Christ who gave himself up for love of humanity, so Margherita did with her own life, apparently insignificant and superfluous to worldly “eyes”, a “life of gift”. 

The metaphor of the “earthenware vessel”, taken from St Paul (“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” – 2Cor.4:7-10) cannot fail to remind us of a famous passage from the Apostle which sheds ample light on the meaning of Margherita’s life and holiness: “For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Once more, as I have often happened to recall in other institutional and/or more official venues, I am aware of an inner, deeply felt need to say again, with inspired conviction, that the newness of the fame of holiness and the vigour of the cult of Margherita are not to be attributed to a sort of artificial discovery or archaeological recovery of a mediaeval Blessed, but rather to a manifestation of the Spirit of God that works in history and that mysteriously, and often invisibly, ferments the dough of humanity with the yeast of its surprising dynamism. The fact is that the fame of Margherita’s holiness and her cult have never ceased, and if, until the 19th century, they were for the most part confined to Italy and within the Dominican Order, they have spread with unforeseen growth, thanks to the religious, men and women, of the Dominican Family, all over the world. Our little Margherita still lives in the hearts and prayers of many of the faithful, not only in Umbria and the Marches, but also in the USA and in the Philippines. The present vitality of her cult, the extraordinary spread of her fame in countries far distant from Città di Castello or Metola, the freshness of her pathway of perfection and the exemplary nature of her poor life bear witness to the fact that still today Margherita can speak to the hearts of thousands of men and women, because in her they recognise a sister, one of their own, one of those humble, blessed creatures whom one day, exulting in the Spirit, Jesus indicated as the only keepers of true wisdom: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21).

Fr. Gianni Festa, O.P.
Postulator General


[1] Vita lunga della Beata Margherita (Recensio major, BHL 5313az), in P. Liccardello, Le vite dei santi di Città di Castello nel Medioevo, Selci-Lama, Editrice Pliniana, 2017, p. 251.

[2] Ibid. p. 253.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p.261

[5] Anne Lécu, a Dominican Sister who has worked for years as a doctor in French prisons, recalling the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel – killed by two militant members of fundamentalist Islam on 26 July 2016 while he was celebrating Mass in the church of St Etienne du Rouvray in Normandy – offers an unusually effective summary of theological expression on the vital bond between the person who takes part and believes in the Eucharist and Christ as really present in the bread and wine: “The Eucharist, inasmuch as it is a summary of the most ordinary life of the believers, is the place where we are configured to Christ and where, by the grace of those who participate, the world is configured to Christ, incarnate, crucified, risen”. Anne Lécu, Valerio Lanzarini, Una vita donata, Magnano (BI), Qiqajon, 2018, p.6.

[6] Vita lunga della Beata Margherita, cit., p.261.