The 17th-Century Peruvian Saint With a 21st-Century Social Media Presence

Saint Rose of Lima church in Lima. Image from Flickr by user Natalia Cartolini (CC BY 2.0).

Saint Rose of Lima may have died more than 400 years ago, but she has online wishing well, a mobile app, and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and even WhatsApp.

This Catholic saint is an important figure in Peruvian culture, and devotion of Saint Rose offers a clear example of how long-held traditions in Peru have been incorporated into a modern world of quickly advancing technologies and social media.

Saint Rose of Lima was born as Isabel Flores de Oliva on April 20, 1586, when the city was the capital of Spain's Viceroyalty of Peru and was the first person born in the Americas to be canonized as a saint. She passed away on August 30, 1617 and was canonized in 1671. She was named patroness of Peru in 1669, and of the New World and Philippines in 1670. In the Roman Catholic Church, a patron saint is regarded as the heavenly advocate who intercedes on behalf of of a person, group, country, craft, etc. before God.

Saint Rose is also the patroness of the Peruvian Police Force, and appears in the highest banknote denomination. In fact, she's the only woman represented on Peruvian currency.

Saint Rose's house in Quives. Image from Flickr by user Lucerito Corrales (CC BY 2.0).

Saint Rose was the fourth of 13 children. Her father was Gaspar Flores, from Spain, and her mother was María de Oliva y Herrera.

She spent most of her childhood and teen years with her family in Quives, in the highlands of the department of Lima, where her father worked as the manager of a mine:

[…] reducción indígena ubicada en la sierra de Lima, entre la confluencia de los ríos Chillón y Arahuay. Hasta allí se trasladó la familia […]. De niña, la futura Santa Rosa de Lima sufrió una enfermedad que le imposibilitaba la movilidad de las piernas. Su madre quiso aliviarle con una receta local, cubriéndole las piernas con pieles de buitre, medida que finalmente agravaría los males de la pequeña, sufriéndolos en silencio. Recibió en 1598 el sacramento de la confirmación […] de manos del arzobispo Toribio de Mogrovejo, también futuro santo.

[Quives is an] indigenous settlement located in the Lima highlands, at the confluence of rivers Chillon and Arahuay. The family relocated there […]. As a child, the future Saint Rose of Lima suffered from an illness that made it impossible for her to move her legs, Her mother wanted to offer her some relief with a local remedy, and covered Rose's legs with vulture skins, something that would eventually aggravate the little girl's woes, which she suffered in silence. In 1598, she received the sacrament of confirmation […] from Archbishop Toribio de Mogrovejo, who would also become a saint himself.

Her family had long called her Rose, but she also received the name for her confirmation in the Church, one of the most important rites of passage in Catholicism:

[…] Rosa, apelativo que sus familiares empleaban prácticamente desde su nacimiento por su belleza y por una visión que tuvo su madre, en la que el rostro de la niña se convirtió en una rosa. […] asumiría definitivamente tal nombre más tarde, cuando entendió que era “rosa del jardín de Cristo” y adoptó la denominación religiosa de Rosa de Santa María.

[…] Rose, a name that her family used practically since she was born due to her beauty, and because of a vision her mother had in which the girl's face became a rose […] would end up assuming that name definitely, when she understood she was a “rose from Christ's garden” and adopted the religious denomination of Rose of Saint Mary.

As Rose's devotees know, she used to torment herself from a very young age: She would refuse to eat or would wrap her body with a spiked cilice, she would apply spicy pepper on her eyes to avoid leaving her house, she would ingest pus from ill people and she even put an iron chain around her waist, locked it and threw the key deep into a well.

Given these behaviors, renowned Peruvian psychiatrist Mariano Querol thinks Saint Rose may have suffered from schizophrenia:

Para mí fue una persona que padeció trastornos mentales muy difíciles de clasificar y catalogar. Presentó graves disturbios de personalidad, disturbios emocionales, de conducta, de autoflagelación, impulsos masoquistas enormes, incluso iluminaciones, posesión divina.

In my opinion, she suffered from a mental disorder, one difficult to classify or categorize. She had serious personality disturbances, emotional and behavioral disturbances, self-flagellation, huge masochistic impulses, even enlightenment and divine possession.

Saint Rose in the technology garden

Despite her history of self-harm, the saint's devotion remains strong and has carried over into the 21st century. Her followers believe she fulfills wishes that are deposited every August 30 in a well located at the Basilica of Saint Rose. The tradition attracts a number of people and lines are always long, as blogger Cyrano recalled:

Al lado del templo (de Santa Rosa] existe una casa donde la creencia popular afirma que Santa Rosa pasó gran parte de su vida. […] Dentro de la casa, que recibe visitas durante todo el año, existe un pozo llamado el Pozo de los Deseos en donde los fieles lanzan papeles de distinto tipo y tamaño que contienen sus más íntimos deseos u ofrecimientos para que Santa Rosa se los cumpla. No son cientos sino miles los que arrojan el 30 de agosto su papel al pozo. Ya se imaginan el alboroto que causa esta tradición.

Besides [Saint Rose's] there is a house where popular belief says Saint Rose spent part of her life. […] Inside the house, which can be visited all along the year, there is a well named Well of Desires, where believers throw little pieces of paper, of all kinds and sizes, containing their most intimate desires or offerings so Saint Rose may grant them. There are not hundreds but thousands of people throwing their papers into the well each August 30. You can imagine the fuss that comes from this tradition.

But there is good news for those who wish to participate but, for whatever reason, can't go all the way to the Saint Rose's temple: They can deposit their wishes online on the saint's official website:

Millones de personas dan fe de las gracias, tanto espirituales como materiales que Rosa brinda, si ésta está en los planes de la Providencia divina.

¡Envíanos tus peticiones, agradecimientos o tu testimonio!

Millions of people attest the graces, both spiritual and material, that Rose brings if they are in the plans of the divine Providence.

Send us your requests, your messages of gratitude or your testimony!

The saint also is present on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, and offers a mobile app for download:

We have more than 100,000 likes and 100,000 followers on Facebook!
Let's keep sharing!

Image: Saint Rose of Lima – 400 years making intercessions for you.
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