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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Jacoba Of Settesoli

February 7, 2019 saints No Comments


Two millennia of Catholicism have produced saints from all walks of life: rich and poor — and the wealthy who became poor, such as St. Francis of Assisi who renounced his inheritance, St. Anthony of Egypt who gave his wealth away, and St. Thomas Aquinas who became a poor monk. There have also been those who lived prominent lives with heroic sanctity such as St. Louis IX, King of France (1214-1270), and St. Stephen of Hungary (973-1038).
There are those who have lived lives of heroic virtue within the state of their life, such as the martyr St. Felicity, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Blessed Jacoba of Settesoli.
Most Catholics know of St. Clare of Assisi who left her life of wealth and comfort to join St. Francis of Assisi. She eventually became abbess of the Second Order of St. Francis, taking a vow as a Poor Clare. Blessed Jacoba of Settesoli was also deeply committed to the ideals of St. Francis, but as a married woman she could not join the Poor Clares. Nevertheless, she held to the rules of the Franciscans as best she could for her state in life.
Jacoba de Settesoli was born in 1190 in Torre Astura, a fief of the Frangipani about 25 miles south of Rome on the west coast of Italy. Her family was noble and the townspeople respected them highly not only for their rank, but also for their generosity. Jacoba married Graziano Frangipane and by 1210 they had two sons, Giacomo and Giovanni. Graziano owned several castles and estates in the Roman vicinity, and thus he was a man of some wealth and nobility.
Around 1212, Jacoba, as a wife and mother, was searching for a way to improve her spiritual life. Having learned of St. Francis of Assisi and his great holiness, she went to hear him preach when he came to Rome. He had come to win approval for his order from the Pope. Deeply moved by his presentation, she decided to live by his rules and seek his spiritual counseling.
It was not long after this that tragedy struck around 1217 when Graziano died, leaving Jacoba in charge of the family possessions. This became a big challenge for Jacoba since disputes of Frangipani property rights required her attention.
She then sought to practice the spirit of poverty as taught by St. Francis: “On no matter when, where, or how a person dies in the guilt of sin without penance and satisfaction, if he can perform an act of satisfaction and does not do so, the Devil snatches his soul from its body with such anguish and distress that no one can know what it is like.”
Seeking to be both charitable and detached from worldly goods, Jacoba wanted to free herself from those things that tie the soul to Earth, preventing it from rising to Heaven. Soon she put her detachment into practice by settling her litigation with the Pope — her husband had started a lawsuit seeking that the debts owed by the Pope be paid and claiming property also claimed by the Holy See. Jacoba renounced any claims to the property and forgave the debts. She also agreed to pay some money to the Pope’s nephew, who claimed that it was due him.
Some historians believe that Jacoba inspired St. Francis to develop the Third Order Franciscans. One of them, Pere Edouard, wrote that although there is no record or date proving her vows as a tertiary, her actions certainly were in keeping with a rule St. Francis made for both the friars and the tertiaries: to avoid litigations and quarrels.
Therefore she settled the disputes mentioned above — certainly such proceedings would be a vexation to the spirit.
Nevertheless, St. Francis advised Jacoba not to abandon her family estates and that she should keep to her state of life while growing in holiness. She then turned the administration of the family properties over to her sons. In addition, she gave one of the properties she owned in Trastevere, Rome, southeast of the Vatican, to the Franciscans to use as a hospice for the lepers. She gave them support for their needs as well.
When Francis came to Rome to preach and handle administrative matters with the Holy See, he stayed at the home of Jacoba and they became close friends. Early biographers, writing of the chaste and humble widow, described her as the woman St. Francis called “Brother Jacoba.”
One day in 1226, Jacoba, by divine inspiration, began the 175-kilometer trip to Assisi to see St. Francis, bringing with her a beautiful linen veil for his face, a cushion made of silk, and a new gray woolen habit. She also made a special sweet for him — mostacciolli — which she had made especially for him. (Today these almond pastries are sometimes given out by the Franciscans on the feast of St. Francis.)
Before Jacoba arrived in Assisi to see St. Francis, she was met by his messenger carrying a note from him. He wrote, “Brother Jacoba, Brother Francis, the poor man of Christ, wishes Lady Jacoba, the servant of the Most High, health in the Lord, and communion in the Holy Ghost. Dearest, I want you to know that the blessed Lord has done me the grace of revealing that the end of my life is nigh. So, if you want to find me still alive, hurry here to Santa Maria degli Angeli as soon as you receive this letter. Because if you get here later than Saturday, you might not see me alive. And bring with you an ash-colored cloth to wrap my body in, and the candles for the burial. I ask you to being me those sweetmeats which you used to give me when I was ill in Rome.”
Jacoba went directly to his residence and, much to the shock of the friars, entered the friary — an act forbidden to women. She went to the bedside of St. Francis where she stayed until he died on October 3, 1226.
After the death of St. Francis, Jacoba moved to Assisi where she continued to live a life of austerity and great virtue.
Her support of the Franciscans never wavered. When she died on February 8, 1239, 13 years after St. Francis, her remains were placed next to St. Francis. Today her body reposes in front of the tomb of St. Francis in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, close to him death as she was to him in life.
The fresco over the original tomb of Blessed Jacoba depicts her in a Franciscan tertiary garment with a black veil. An angel, shown above her on the right of Jacoba, is informing her of St. Francis’ impending death. She is holding the habit she took to St. Francis. This fresco dates from the late 1500s so cannot be used as authentication of either the habit she wore or her membership in the Third Order Franciscans.
Dear Blessed Jacoba, who built up treasures in Heaven, help us to detach ourselves from worldly pursuits and live a life of selfless love and giving. Help us to seek the things that are eternal and lasting, not the temporal mortal things of Earth. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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