1280 – 1343
Saint Toscana was born in Zevio, near Verona, in 1280, she descended from the noble family De’ Crescenti. Even though she lived in the flourishing time of the city under the rule of Cangrande della Scala (1291 – 1329), she didn’t forget those who were on the fringe of society. When her husband (Alberto of the Occhi di Cane family) died, she devoted herself completely to the poor. Following her charitable nature, every day she went from San Zeno in Monte to the Church Hospital of Santo Sepolcro, near today’s Porta Vescovo. She became a lay sister of the Gerosolimitano Order, now called the Order of The Knights of Malta and She moved to a small room inside the Church. She died in 1343, immediately proclaimed Saint. Today the Church of Santo Sepolcro is named after her – Santa Toscana.
Verona, San Zeno in Monte, 1312, it’s a sunny Saturday morning.
Spring is coming.
Toscana is wearing a worn-out dress that doesn’t reflect her noble roots.
When she ties the rope round her waist, she smiles, thinking about the corset her family would have liked to sew her into.
She looks up at the sky and she gathers her long hair in a veil, thinking about the bulky headdress she would have had to wear.
She sighs, looking at the wedding ring on her left hand, a symbol of an imposed but not wholly unhappy marriage, ended by God’s will. Now Toscana can fully dedicate herself to her vocation.
It’s nine in the morning, time to walk up to the Church of Santo Sepolcro to reach the ill, the needy, plague victims, orphans and all those living on the fringe of society, who are waiting for her care in the Church Hospital.
We arrive at Porta Vescovo, knowing that Santo Sepolcro Hospital was built in the 12th century, so we ask ourselves: why is it no longer possible to visit it? Three centuries after its construction, it was in very bad condition, so the hospital was converted into a church called Ospitaletto, until its complete disappearance in the 19th century due to the construction of the road near Porta Vescovo. Verona was a destination and city of passage for pilgrimages, already in the middle of the 12th century it was a place of solidarity and hospitality. In those years the first xenodochia, (free hospices for foreigners) and later the hospitalia were built. This was the natural consequence of pietas widespread by Christianity. Widows, orphans and poor people found merciful help here. But they weren’t the only ones.
Hospitals were built near churches, so they became a passage for the refreshment of pilgrims and crusaders coming back from the Holy Land. So crusaders became guests and security guards of the Hospital. Santo Sepolcro Hospital was built in 1158 under the rule of Bishop Tybalt II as a connection between Francigena road and Burgidalense road. It was entrusted to the Order of Jerusalem, today called the Order of the Knights of Malta.
The Saint’s miracles
Many readers may be wondering why Toscana earned her sainthood so soon after her death: the answer lies precisely in her life, spent in an aura of holiness.
Limina dum Sancta haec peteret Tuscana latrones.
Ex humeris vestem diripuere Sacram.
Arescunt miseris palma virtute superna.
Sed precibus Divae est reddita prima salus.
While Saint Toscana was walking these streets
some criminals tore the cloak off her shoulders
Then the hands of those wretches withered by divine intervention
but thanks to the Saint’s prayers, they were given back their health
Thus reads the text on a plaque in the chapel of the church of the Holy Apostles dedicated to Teuteria and Tosca. This object, mentioned by Luigi Navarini, one of her main biographers of the late Eighteenth century, is no longer visible today but has left traces of one of the miracles of Santa Toscana. The three thieves were healed and redeemed, thanks to the intercession of Toscana.
Toscana’s mercy also forgave the three men who tried to rape her. During the violent act, the three choked to death, one by one. They stayed lifeless in the Saint’s house, killed. In the evening their fathers, having not seen their sons come home and unaware of the fate that had befallen them, began a desperate search which soon ended in front of the dead bodies of the three youths. They asked for mercy and soaked Toscana’s cloak in their tears of despair. She prayed for their lives and asked the Lord to forgive the three brutes. Thus they returned to life and lead a life of redemption and repentance. The reason for her sanctification, which took place a year after her death, was the devotion of the people.
In the heart of Verona, at the intersection of Piazza dei Signori and the Scaliger Tombs, there’s a plaque to commemorate a third miracle performed by her in 1882 when Verona was devastated by a huge flood. During the night between the 19th and 20th of September, her devoted followers in Zevio (her birthplace) prayed to Saint Toscana, begging her to protect the city. The following day the miracle took place: the water level dropped considerably. The 20th of September became the day of the solemn celebration of Santa Toscana, adding to the already ancient feast of July 14th , the day of her ascent to heaven.
Saint Toscana’s Rectory
Walking near Porta Vescovo we find Saint Toscana’s Rectory, jealously guarded by a small garden. Looking at it from the external courtyard, an architecturally anomalous detail stands out: there is only the left nave. Entering the little church, we notice how the absence of the right aisle has been fixed: the trompe-l’oeil shows visitors the missing part giving the impression of three-dimensionality. The church of the Holy Sepulcher already existed in the 12th century and the numerous Malta Crosses on the walls and columns denote the important presence of the Order of the Knights of Malta, who have kept it in their custody since 1158. In 1489 the church was consecrated to Saint Toscana, who was buried there under an arca, as per her will, in perennial memory of the charitable woman who was resolute in helping people in need in the adjacent hospice.
The Order of Knights of Malta
The Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta was born in 1048, when some merchants from the Marine Republic of Amalfi obtained (from the Caliph of Egypt) the permission to build a church, a convent and a hospital in Jerusalem. The Order had two moral principles: the protection of faith and pilgrims and the assistance to sick people. That’s why they are called Hospital Knights.
The Order had two moral principles: the protection of faith and pilgrims and the assistance to sick people. That’s why they are called Hospital Knights. Because of the Crusades, pilgrimages towards the Holy Land became more difficult, so new routes were created towards Rome, the Eternal City. These new routes were opened due to The Jubilee of Pope Bonifacio VIII . There was new interest for other Italian cities, including Verona. This city soon became a destination for important journeys and a place easily accessible by everyone. This condition was attested in the Archdeacon Pacifico’s codes in 1400-1500. In those codes he identified Verona as Minor Hierusalem, in a seal dated 1474.
The Holy Sepulchre
The Peregrinationes maiores had Jerusalem, Santiago and Rome as primary destinations. Devoted people went towards those lands, far from their homelands, to visit places connected to biblical events. When they came back from their journeys, Pilgrims from Verona associated some churches to locations that they visited in Palestine. San Rocchetto (Mount Cavro) reminds us of Crucifixion Place, while Santa Maria di Nazaret recalls the city where Jesus grew up. Santa Maria in Betlemme, today called San Zeno in Monte and Santo Sepolcro now named Santa Toscana, revoke respectively the birth and the death of Jesus. The Santissima Trinità in Monte Oliveto (the Holy Trinity In Mount of olives) reminds us of the Mount of Olives and is located outside of the city walls. The church of Santi Siro e Libera is in memory of Cenaculum, because of the legend about the first Veronese mass celebrated in this church, whereas the Church of Santa Maria in Organo thanks to the presence of the little wooden mule reminds us of the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem. An itinerary suited to the topography of Verona, where the bend in the river Adige divides Mount of Olives from Mount Cavro (San Rocchetto), just as the stream Cedron divides Jerusalem from Mount Calvario.
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