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10 Beautiful and Marvelous Deaths Among the Saints

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The Meaning of Feast Day Celebrations

Cake, ice cream, candles, and song—who doesn't love a birthday celebration? It is good to celebrate the beginning of a person's life on earth.

The celebration of saint's feast days, on the other hand, recalls their commencement of heavenly life. This is why the feast days of a saint generally occur on the day of their death rather than their natal birth. However, the word "death" is not the official term used to describe a saint's departure from this world. It is formally known as his or her "transitus." The saint's soul transitions into a higher and more beautiful life. Hence, we celebrate their victory with song, candles, and tasty treats.

Some saints' earthly lives ended brutally as they endured the torments of martyrdom. Others passed quietly with no witnesses other than the angels. Then there are saints whose passing was observed by several witnesses. In some cases, God enabled certain of these witnesses to see beyond the veils covering the spiritual realm. They glimpsed some of the marvelous benefits that God bestows on his faithful servants. This article considers the beautiful deaths of ten saints as described by privileged witnesses.

1. St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1302)

St Gertrude was born in present-day Germany and entered the monastery school of Helfta when she was four years old. She received a thorough education in a variety of subjects and later joined the monastery as a nun. At age 25, she experienced the first of a series of visions and revelations which continued throughout her life. Gertrude is regarded as one of the greatest mystics of the 13th century and her writings have been highly esteemed to the present day.

Like all great mystics, Gertrude longed for death because it was the gateway to full nuptial union with Christ the Bridegroom. As such, death was a frequent meditation, particularly on Friday afternoons. During these moments, she devoted herself to praying for those who were dying and how to prepare for her own death. On one of these occasions, as she was rapt in ecstasy, God gave her a vision of her future death. Gertrude saw herself dying in the arms of Jesus while an immense throng of angels and saints surrounded her. They were holding various tokens such as censors, flowers, or palm branches.

When the longed-for day of her transitus arrived, God enabled certain of the nuns to behold what was taking place on the spiritual plane. It corresponded in all details to what Gertrude witnessed years before: the Lord appeared to Gertrude with a radiant countenance with the Blessed Mother and the Apostle John at his side. The privileged nuns describe the scene: "Celestial spirits also surrounded her bed and she beheld them inviting her to paradise and heard their celestial harmony as they sang continually, 'Come, come, come, O lady! the joys of heaven await thee! Alleluia! Alleluia!'"

The death of St. Gertrude attributed to Baltasar Vargas de Figueroa (1629-1667)

The death of St. Gertrude attributed to Baltasar Vargas de Figueroa (1629-1667)

2. St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510)

Catherine was born into high nobility in Genoa, Italy. At age thirteen, she ardently desired to enter a convent but the nuns considered her too young. Catherine submitted to her parent's wishes and married at age sixteen. Her husband was reckless and caused her much suffering. After years of hell on earth, her husband experienced a conversion. Afterward, they worked at a hospital, attending to the needs of the sick and afflicted.

Catherine was blessed with many mystical experiences and wrote two valuable treatises, particularly, one on Purgatory. As Catherine's death drew near, she was confined to bed and endured horrendous suffering. She received a heavenly visitation at this time which transformed her miserable condition. When asked what she saw, she answered that she had seen some most beautiful countenances, beaming with joy, so that she could not contain her delight.

This joy lasted for seven days and by all appearances, restored her to health. After this, however, invisible demons assaulted her and left black stripes on her body. Nonetheless, she emerged victorious and died peacefully on December 14, 1510. Several holy persons in different locations saw her soul take its flight to heaven; they describe her as clothed in a white garment and shining with a beautiful light.

3. St. Stanislas Kostka (1550-1568)

Stanislas was born in Poland. His father, a wealthy senator, sent the fourteen-year-old Stanislas to Vienna to be educated by the Jesuits. After recuperating from a severe illness, Stanislas joined the Jesuits in Rome. He excelled in all the virtues, especially love of God and mortification. He often experienced ecstasies, especially at Mass. On August 10, 1568, he received an inward assurance that his wish would be fulfilled, namely, to celebrate the feast of Assumption of the Virgin Mary in heaven on August 15.

On August 11, he was stricken with a tertian fever that confined him to bed. The illness grew worse but none of his superiors thought he was going to die. However, in the early hours of the 15th, he told his novice master, Father Ruiz, that he beheld the Virgin Mary and a company of many angels. A witness says, "His face was illuminated with a smile so joyous as even to be described as laughter and his eyes were raised to heaven." It was about three in the morning on the Feast of the Assumption when he passed into eternal life.

The glory of St. Stanislas Kostka, by Giovanni Odazzi, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

The glory of St. Stanislas Kostka, by Giovanni Odazzi, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

4. St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

Teresa was born in 1515 in Avila, Spain. She joined a Carmelite convent at age twenty. At age forty-seven, she was inspired to found Carmelite communities where a stricter life was observed. At the command of various spiritual directors, she wrote many treatises that are now considered classics. In 1970, Pope Paul VI declared her to be the first female Doctor of the Church.

Many supernatural events occurred during her transitus. Sister Catalina de la Concepcion saw a multitude of joyful and hilarious people come into the room shortly before Teresa died. Blessed Ana de San Bartolome, who was holding the saint in her arms, saw Jesus at the foot of the bed in great majesty and splendor accompanied by a myriad of angels. As she died, Teresa's face became gloriously young and beautiful. Another sister saw something like a white dove emerge from her mouth as she breathed her last.

5. St. Catherine dei Ricci (1522-1590)

St. Catherine was born in Florence and joined a Dominican convent at Prato at a young age. In time, she was elected to various offices and eventually became the prioress. Mystical phenomena accompanied her life in the convent, including the stigmata, bilocation, and ecstatic visions of Christ's Passion.

As her death drew near, she poured out fervent prayers before a crucifix that the nuns brought her. When she completed her prayer, the house shook as though an earthquake had occurred. Various groups of sisters visited her and she gave them particular advice. Finally, the day of her death arrived on February 2. As the sisters knelt around her bed, they heard exquisite singing coming from above, which lasted for fifteen minutes. The sisters were convinced that a choir of angels was among them.

Catherine died quietly, her arms spread in the form of a cross. Two holy persons in different locations were privileged to see her soul depart to heaven. They saw a magnificent procession of saints followed by the Lord Jesus who held Catherine's glorified soul in his arms.

6. St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591)

St. Aloysius was born into great wealth and as the eldest child, was destined to be the next marquis of Mantua. However, rather than pursue a life of earthly pleasure, he joined the Jesuits when he was 18. He strove hard to live in union with God at all times and to acquire virtues. When the plague broke out in Rome, he assisted the victims until he himself was stricken. He knew in advance the day of his death. He died peacefully at the age of twenty-three.

Though she was in Florence at the time of his death, the great mystic, St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi (+1607) had an ecstatic vision of Aloysius' glory in heaven. She says: "Oh, how great is the glory of Aloysius, the young son of Ignatius! Can there be greater glory in Heaven than that which Aloysius possesses? I declare that Aloysius is a great saint. Would that I could traverse the whole earth to proclaim it everywhere to God's greater glory! Who could imagine the merit and the price of an interior life! Aloysius was a hidden martyr. Oh, how great was his love of God while on earth! For this reason, does he now possess his God in the fullness of divine love."

In the following video, Fr. Ignatius explains the meaning of death in Christianity.

7. St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

St. John was born in Fontiveros, Spain and joined the Carmelites at age twenty-one. He met St. Teresa of Avila at twenty-five, who convinced him to join her reform movement known as the Discalced. He went on to fulfill many important offices within the Order but is best known for his poetry and mystical treatises. Toward the end of his life, he placed a crucifix in the monastery chapel for the sake of veneration. As he was praying before it, he went into ecstasy and saw Jesus who said to him, "Fray John, ask me for what you wish and I will give it to you for the service you have done me." Fray John responded that he wished to be despised and regarded as worthless [for the love of Jesus].

Jesus accepted his wish. Though Fray John ended his days amid savage persecution, God revealed the sanctity of his servant through many prodigies. First, Fray John's ulcerated body exuded a fluid that had the fragrance of exquisite flowers. Second, John knew the day and hour of his death through divine revelation. Despite his afflictions, the friars gathered in his room assert that he appeared "very serene, beautiful, and happy." He told the brothers, "At midnight I shall be with God to recite Matins."

Shortly before midnight, several friars saw a brightly shining globe appear above the bed. "It shone like the sun and moon," attests one of the friars. As the monastery bell rang at midnight to beckon the friars to Matins, John said "Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit," and breathed his last. Several of the friars present, later swore under oath that they saw a powerful globe of light hover over John's body at his death. Moreover, a "most sweet perfume" emanated from the body.

Christian iconography often depicts the departing soul as a child, or, as in this image by Josep Benlliure Gil (1855-1937), a spiritual breath.

Christian iconography often depicts the departing soul as a child, or, as in this image by Josep Benlliure Gil (1855-1937), a spiritual breath.

8. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi (1566-1607)

Mary was born into a wealthy family in Florence. She entered the Carmelite convent in Florence at the age of seventeen. Mystical phenomena accompanied her journey as a nun—ecstasies, levitations, visions and revelations, and the ability to read hearts and predict the future. She was elected to various offices including that of prioress. As the moment of her death drew nearer, she asked the nuns to chant the divine praises in her company. She died on May 25, 1607.

One year later, her body was disinterred because of flooding. Though her garments were disintegrated, her body was perfectly intact and pliable except for the tip of her nose and lower lip. After the nuns placed new garments on her, the saint's body started to exude a strong and sweet fragrance. Her body continued to flow with this fragrant fluid for twelve years all the while remaining incorrupt. Dozens of miracles took place at her grave.

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi enters heaven; ceiling painting at the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, Florence

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi enters heaven; ceiling painting at the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, Florence

9. St. Dominic Savio (1842-1857)

Dominic was born into a pious household and rapidly matured in his spiritual life. At age 12, he joined the Salesians founded by St. John Bosco. Through his resolve to become a saint, Dominic excelled in all the virtues, especially in prayer and purity of heart. He was found several times to be rapt in ecstasy.

At age fourteen Dominic contracted pleurisy and returned to his native air. As he was bedridden he learned the hour of his death through a divine revelation. His countenance beamed with joy and he said to his father, "Goodbye, Dad, goodbye. What was it the parish priest suggested to me?... I don't seem to remember ... Oh, what wonderful things I see." He died shortly after saying this.

Both Dominic's father, Carlo, and St. John Bosco were privileged to have visions of Dominic's glory in heaven. St. John describes being transported to a heavenly garden where he heard music of exceeding beauty. He then saw a group of smiling people approach him, headed by Dominic, who appeared radiantly beautiful. St. John asked if this was the reward of the just and Dominic replied, "Not at all! Here we do not enjoy supernatural happiness but only a natural one, though greatly magnified." St. John asked if he could see the supernatural light and Dominic responded, "No one can see it until he has come to see God as He is. The faintest ray of that light would instantly strike one dead because the human senses are not sturdy enough to endure it."

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10. St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)

Therese was born in Normandy, France, and raised in a very devout family. She entered a Carmelite convent at fifteen years of age. After several years in the monastery, her superiors asked her to write her memoirs. Though only twenty-four years old when died, her fame spread quickly around the world. This was due in part to her writings and the prodigious number of miracles obtained through her intercession. Nonetheless, St. Therese's life in the monastery was very ordinary and hidden—she worked, prayed, and fulfilled her duties quietly and faithfully.

It was when she was struck down with tuberculosis, however, that her true greatness began to sparkle. For example, even though her lungs were ravaged and she could barely breathe, she remained ever cheerful and patient. In addition, her faith was put to a fierce test as she was tempted to disbelieve in the existence of heaven. Nonetheless, she continued to trust—her earnest wish being to "die of love," as described in the mystical writings of St. John of the Cross.

In her last hour, the community of nuns gathered around her bed. Therese's face was purple and contorted for lack of oxygen but she managed to kiss her crucifix and say, "My God...I love you." She then closed her eyes and appeared to be lifeless. Suddenly, she sat up in her bed as though in full health and gazed above a picture of the Virgin. Her face now appeared fresh and beautiful. One of the nuns held a torch near her face but the light produced no movement in the eyelids—Therese was in ecstasy.

The nuns witnessing her death said her gaze was one of "amazement and extreme happiness." Another said, "There was such depth in her gaze that I had to turn my eyes away, so near was I to being overcome."

Finally, Therese's blood sister, Sr. Genevieve, describes it this way: "I have often tried to analyze this ecstasy since then and tried to understand that look of hers, which was not just an expression of beatitude. There was an element of great astonishment...she seemed unable to cope with the sight of so much love."

In a word, God granted Therese's desire—to die of love.

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Sunset or Sunrise?

One person's sunset is another person's sunrise. Though one is tinged with melancholy, the other is a welcome joy. The end of a saint's earthly life is often heart-rending for those left behind. For the angels and saints, by contrast, it is an occasion of delight—they welcome a new brother or sister into their domain. And just as a beautiful sunset crowns an otherwise ordinary day, so a beautiful death can shed luster upon a person's entire life.

In conclusion, however much a person may suffer in this "vale of tears," when he or she rides the first rays of eternal life, the brief sorrows of life are forgotten. Though suffering is one of the prerequisites to eternal happiness, it is well worth it, as the Venerable Bede reminds us: "It is only through the sadness of the present age and its afflictions that it is possible to reach the joys of eternity...once we have entered our eternal reward, the years we spent suffering here below will seem like no time at all."

References

The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude the Great, published by Tan Books, 2002

St. John of the Cross by Fr. Bruno, O.C.D., published by Sheed and Ward, 1957

Butler's Lives of the Saints, vol. 1,2,&4, edited by Frs. Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater, S.J., published by Christian Classics, 1956

The Life of St. Stanislas Kostka by Edward Healy Thompson, published by Burns and Oates, 1881

St. Therese of Lisieux, By Those Who Knew Her, edited and translated bt Fr. Christopher O'Mahoney, O.C.D., published by Our Sunday Visitor, 1975

Saints: A Year in Faith and Art by Rosa Giorgi, published by Abrams, New York, 2006

Saint Teresa of Avila, a Biography by William Thomas Walsh, published by Bruce Publishing Company, 1943

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Bede