Maria Goretti

For the Indian actress, see Maria Goretti (actress). For the neighbourhood in Porto Alegre, Brazil, see Santa Maria Goretti, Rio Grande do Sul.
Saint Maria Goretti
Virgin and Martyr
Born (1890-10-16)October 16, 1890
Corinaldo, Province of Ancona, Marche, Kingdom of Italy
Died July 6, 1902(1902-07-06) (aged 11)
Nettuno, Province of Rome, Lazio, Kingdom of Italy
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified April 27, 1947[1], Rome by Pope Pius XII
Canonized June 24, 1950, Rome by Pope Pius XII
Major shrine Nettuno, Province of Rome, Lazio, Italy
Feast July 6
Attributes Fourteen lilies; farmer's clothing; (occasionally) a knife
Patronage Victims of rape, Crime victims, teenage girls, modern youth, Children of Mary
La Cascina Antica (right), the Goretti home

St. Maria Goretti (October 16, 1890 – July 6, 1902) is an Italian virgin-martyr of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of the youngest canonized saints.[1] She was born to a farming family. Her father died when she was nine, and they had to share a house with another family, the Serenellis. Maria took over household duties while her mother, brothers, and sister worked in the fields. One afternoon, Alessandro, the Serenellis' son, made sexual advances to her. When she refused to submit to him, he stabbed her fourteen times. She was taken to the hospital but she died forgiving him. He was arrested, convicted, and jailed. During imprisonment he repented. After twenty seven years he was eventually released from prison, and visited her mother to beg forgiveness, which she granted. He later became a lay brother in a monastery, dying peacefully in 1970. She was beatified in 1947, and canonized in 1950.


Early life

Maria Teresa Goretti[2] was born on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Province of Ancona, then in the Kingdom of Italy, to Luigi Goretti and Assunta née Carlini, the third of seven children: Antonio (who died in infancy), Angelo, Maria, Mariano (Marino), Alessandro (Sandrino), Ersilia, and Teresa.[3][4][5][6]

By the time Maria was six, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers. In 1896, they moved to Colle Gianturco, near Paliano and Frosinone, about fifty miles outside Rome; and then in 1899 to Le Ferriere, near modern Latina and Nettuno in Lazio, where they lived in a building, "La Cascina Antica," they shared with another family which included Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro.[3][6][7][8][9] Soon, her father became very sick with malaria, and died when she was just nine.[10] While her mother and siblings worked in the fields, she would cook, sew, watch Teresa, and keep the house clean. It was a hard life, but they were very close.

Maria's death

On July 5, 1902, eleven-year-old Maria was sitting on the outside steps of her home, sewing one of Alessandro's shirts and watching Teresa, while Alessandro was threshing beans in the barnyard.[11] Knowing she would be alone, he returned to the house and threatened her with a knife if she did not do what he said; he was intending to rape her. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning him that he would go to hell.[12] She fought desperately and kept screaming, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" He first choked her, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times.[13] She tried to reach the door, but he stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.[14]

Teresa awoke with the noise and started crying, and when Assunta and Giovanni came to check on her, they found Maria on the floor bleeding and took her to the nearest hospital in Nettuno. She underwent surgery without anesthesia, but her injuries were beyond the doctors' help. Halfway through the surgery, she woke up. The pharmacist said to her, "Maria, think of me in Paradise." She looked at him and said, "Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first?" "You, Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," she said. She also expressed concern for her mother's welfare.[15] The following day, 24 hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for Alessandro and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, she died of her injuries.[16]

Journalist Noel Crusz provided a more detailed account:

On July 5 in 1902, exactly a hundred years ago, at 3pm whilst [Maria's mother] Assunta and the other children were at the threshing floor, Serenelli who persistently sought sexual favours from the 12-year-old [sic] girl approached her. She was taking care of her infant sister in the farmhouse. Allesandro [sic] threatened her with a 10 inch dagger, and when she refused, as she had always done, he stabbed her 14 times.
The wounds penetrated her throat, with lesions of the pericardium, heart, lungs and diaphragm. Surgeons at Orsenigo were surprised that she was still alive. In a dying deposition, in the presence of the Chief of Police, she told her mother of Serenelli's sexual harassment, and two previous attempts made to rape her. She was afraid to reveal this earlier since she was threatened with death.[6]

A third account of the assault was presented by Italian historian Giordano Bruno Guerri in 1985. He asserted that, while in prison, Alessandro stated that he did not complete the assault and Maria died a virgin. Guerri identifies the weapon as an awl rather than a dagger.[6]

Serenelli's imprisonment and repentance

Alessandro was captured shortly after the attack: the police taking him to prison overtook the ambulance carrying Maria to the hospital.[17] Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life, but since he was a minor at that time it was commuted to 30 years; judges even considered he was not as mature as he was expected to be for a 20-year-old, and that he grew up in a poor, neglectful family, with several brothers and relatives suffering from madness and an alcoholic father.[18] It has also been suggested that it was due to her mother’s plea for mercy that he was not sentenced to death.[19] He insisted he had attempted to rape her several times and decided to kill her because of her refusal and desperate crying. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. He wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, "in which Maria gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands."[20]

After his release, Alessandro visited Assunta and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her death bed then she could not do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side.[21] He reportedly prayed to her every day and referred to her as "my little saint."[22] He attended her canonization in 1950.

Alessandro later became a laybrother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and gardener until he died peacefully in 1970 at age 87.[23]

Beatification and canonization

A statue of Maria in peasant garb holding lilies and a knife
Maria's major relics on display at St. Joseph Cathedral (Columbus, Ohio)

Maria was beatified on April 27, 1947. In attendance at the ceremony were both Assunta and Pope Pius XII. On the evening of the ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica, the Pope walked over to and greeted Assunta. She later reported, "When I saw the Pope coming, I prayed, 'Madonna, please help me', and I felt faint. He put his hand on my head and said, "Blessed mother, happy mother, mother of a Blessed!" Afterwards, both could be seen with eyes wet with tears.[24]

Three years later, on June 24, 1950, Pius XII canonized Maria as a saint, the "Saint Agnes of the 20th century."[1] Assunta was again present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. Alessandro was also present.[25][26][27]

Owing to the huge crowd present, the ceremonies associated with the canonization were held outside Saint Peter's Basilica, in the Piazza San Pietro. Pius XII spoke, not as before in Latin, but in Italian. "We order and declare, that the blessed Maria Goretti can be venerated as a Saint and we introduce her into the Canon of Saints". Some 500,000 people, among them a majority of youth, had come from around the world. Pius asked them: "Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of grace of God?" A resounding "yes" was the answer.[28]

Maria's three brothers would claim that she intervened miraculously in their lives. Angelo heard her voice telling him to emigrate to America. Alessandro was reportedly miraculously given a sum of money to finance his own emigration to join Angelo. Sandrino died in the United States in 1917, and Angelo died in Italy when he returned there in 1964. Mariano said he heard her voice telling him to stay in his trench when the rest of his unit charged the Germans in World War I. He, the only survivor of that charge, lived until 1975 and had a large family.[5]

Maria's body is kept in the crypt of the Basilica of Nostra Signora delle Grazie e Santa Maria Goretti in Nettuno, south of Rome. It has been often reported that it is incorrupt but this is not the case. It is kept inside a statue which is lying down beneath the altar, which has been mistakenly believed by some to be its entirety.[29]

Feast day

Maria's feast day, celebrated on July 6, was inserted in the General Roman Calendar when it was revised in 1969. She is the patron saint of chastity, rape victims, girls, youth, teenage girls, poverty, purity and forgiveness.[30]

In art

Maria is represented in art as a wavy-haired young girl in farmer clothes or a white dress, with a bouquet of lilies in her hands, and she is sometimes counted among the ranks of the Passionist order since her spiritual formation was guided by the Passionists. Both lilies and white garments are traditional icons of virginity in Catholic iconography.

In media

A Catholic elementary school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is named in her honor. It is the largest school with over 1000 pupils.

Santa Maria Goretti is an Italian film based on Maria's life.

Heaven over the Marshes (Cielo sulla palude) is another Italian film based on her life, filmed in 1949 and directed by Augusto Genina. Ines Orsini plays her and Mauro Matteuci plays Alessandro. It was awarded a prize at the 10th International Exhibition of Cinema Art at Venice in 1949, as the one which contributed most to the spiritual and moral betterment of mankind.[31]

Marcel Delannoy wrote a radiophonic opera, Maria Goretti, in 1953.

In 2003, Maria Goretti, a RAI Italian TV movie directed by Giulio Base, starring Martina Pinto as Maria, was acclaimed by critics.[32]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Lives of the Saints, For Every Day of the Year, (Hugo Hoever,, ed.), New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., (1955) p. 259-60
  2. Ruef, Vinzenz. Die Wahre Geschichte von der hl. Maria Goretti, Miriam, Jestetten, 1992, ISBN 3-87449-101-3 p. 12
  3. 1 2 "Saint Maria Goretti by Her Mother", compiled by Rev. D. Luigi Novarese, Glasgow: John S. Burns & Sons, (1967) p. 1.
  4. Poage, Rev. Godfrey. "In Garments All Red", Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, (1977) pp. 48 and 59. ISBN 978-0-89555-615-8
  5. 1 2 O'Grady, Desmond. Maria Goretti: A Rush to Judgment?, February 25, 1985 in The Age newspaper of Melbourne, Australia. Accessed April 11, 2010.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Crusz, Noel. Maria Goretti – Saint Under Siege, July 7, 2002, The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka. Accessed April 11, 2010.
  7. Ruef, 20
  8. Sister Mary Germaine. "Saint Maria Goretti: Martyr For Purity," St. Maria's Messenger, 2006. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  9. Città di Paliano. “Un itinerario fuori le mura” (“A route out of the walls”). Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  10. Ruef, 21
  11. Poage, Godfrey. In Garments All Red, Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, (1977) pp. 87-89.
  12. Ruef, 46
  13. Poage, Godfrey. "In Garments All Red", Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, (1977), pp. 90 and 101.
  14. Ruef, 44
  15. Ruef, 54
  16. Poage, Rev. Godfrey. "In Garments All Red", Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, (1977), pp. 97 and 105.
  17. "Saint Maria Goretti by Her Mother", compiled by Rev. D. Luigi Novarese, Glasgow: John S. Burns & Sons, (1967) p. 54.
  18. Poage, Rev. Godfrey. "In Garments All Red", Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, (1977) pp. 36, 60 and 64.
  19. Raemers, Rev. Wm. "St. Dominic Savio and St. Maria Goretti", Glasgow: John S. Burns & Sons, (1954) p. 60.
  20. Ruef, 87
  21. Ruef, 88
  22. Ruef, 88-91
  23. "Alessandro Serenelli" (in Italian). Santuario di Santa Maria Goretti in Corinaldo.
  24. Ruef, 67
  25. St Maria Goretti Biography at
  26. St. Maria Goretti at
  27. St Maria Goretti at
  28. Ruef, 71.
  29. The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati, TAN Books & Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-89555-066-0
  30. 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal
  31. Poage, Rev. Godfrey. "In Garments All Red", Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, (1977) p. 118.
  32. "Maria Goretti". IMDb. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
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