Lucia of Narni (1476–1544)
Lucia of Narni (1476–1544)
Dominican nun and political adviser to Ercole I of Este, duke of Ferrara. Name variations: Lucia Broccadelli; Lucia from Narni. Born Lucia Broccadelli on December 13, 1476, in Narni, a town in South Umbria; daughter of Bartolomeo Broccadelli and Gentilina (Cassio) Broccadelli; married Pietro di Alessio, count of Milan.
Following her husband's death, entered the Third Order of Penance of St. Dominic, and was received into a nunnery in Viterbo; received stigmata and was considered deserving of the name of saint (1501); served as political and spiritual advisor of Duke Ercole I of Este in Ferrara; following his death, fell into disgrace and spent her last years in the cloister, devoting herself to contemplation.
Pursuing a religious life during the final years of the 15th century, as the winds of the Reformation were beginning to stir, Lucia of Narni was caught in the religious complexity of her times and paid dearly for her radical choices.
Born in 1476, Lucia Broccadelli was the daughter of Bartolomeo and Gentilina Cassio Broccadelli of Narni, an ancient village in the Umbria of the Tiber River. She received an education typical of her family's status and at the appropriate age was given in marriage to Pietro Alessio, the count of Milan. Bound by their deep religious convictions, the couple lived a chaste life until Pietro's death. In 1494, the young widow decided to take the veil of St. Dominic's Third Order of Penance. As a novice, Lucia was greatly influenced by St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), the devoted Dominican nun who administered to both religious and secular followers, and whose influence extended beyond spirituality to church politics and public affairs. Although a tertiary and able to live a secular life, Lucia chose to enter the Dominican convent in Viterbo, where a halo of fame soon surrounded her, kindled by the holiness of her life and her charismatic personality.
From Viterbo, Lucia contacted Columba of Rieti , whom she considered to be the living embodiment of Catherine's goals and ideals. Columba kindly and discreetly responded to Lucia. Until her death in 1501, Columba was her spiritual guide. This was especially crucial to Lucia, particularly when she was approached by emissaries of Ercole I of Este (1431–1505), duke of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio, who had succeeded his brother Borso in 1471. Ercole offered to grant Lucia the authority to found a religious community if she left the convent in Viterbo and took on the role of spiritual advisor for the duke and his family. (Ercole I was married to Leonora of Aragon [1450–1493], and their eldest son Alfonso I d'Este would later marry Lucrezia Borgia , the daughter of Pope Alexander VI). Lucia was attracted by Ercole's offer, which she viewed as an opportunity to further emulate her ideal, Catherine.
Ercole's rule coincided with great upheaval within the Roman Catholic Church which preached social welfare and priestly vows, but failed to practice these ideals. The effort to reform the church brought with it criticism aimed at government policies which favored the rich and powerful and ignored the poor and suffering. Ercole's invitation to Lucia corresponded with a sincere attempt to ethicize court life, and the Dominican nun enjoyed a brief period of fame and prestige as the duke's advisor, particularly after 1501, when the stigmata—signs of her manifest holiness—appeared on her hands. Lucia collaborated with Ercole on matters of religion and also on strictly political issues, which embittered those factions already against the duke.
Following Ercole's death in 1505, the animosity against Lucia grew, and her religious authority was furthered called into question when her stigmata suddenly vanished. Forsaken by everyone and forced into seclusion, Lucia lived the rest of her life in isolation and misery, relieved only by her growing spirituality. Her autobiography, finished eight months before her death in 1544, was published in 1879.
Granello, M. la b. Lucia da Narni. Ferrara, 1879.
Tozzi, I. "La religiosità femminile tra Umbria e Lazio dal Medioevo alla prima età moderna," in Atlante Rieti. Terni, Rieti, 1993.
Zarri, G. Le sante vive: Per una tripologia della santità femminile. Trento 1980.
Ileana Tozzi , D. Litt., and member of Società Italiana delle Storiche and Deputazione di Storia Patria, Rieti, Italy