(Patron Saint of abused women, impossible dreams, and lost causes.)
(ink on panel, 18×24)
The Italian St. Rita, as is usually the case with the saints, greatly desired to join a convent as a young child, but was prevented. In obedience to her parents, at 12 years old she married, and bore her violent and otherwise criminally-inclined husband two sons. He beat her continually and otherwise brought her not much happiness, but she stayed with him, and towards the end of his life even managed to convert him to Catholicism and a new path. This was one of the first steps towards what she would become: the patron saint of impossible dreams and lost causes—and abused women.
Shortly after his conversion, her husband was ambushed and killed, and Rita was forced to channel her energies towards protecting the souls of her sons, who wanted to avenge their father’s death. She prayed that God not allow their souls to be sullied by such an act as murder, and they instead died within the year. At that point, she returned to her attempts to join a convent, but was refused, several times, because of her status as widow and mother (as opposed to virgin, the requirement for a bride of Christ).
However, she persevered, and one morning, the good nuns awoke to find that she had been spirited into the locked convent in the middle of the night by her own patron saints. Feeling they could not ignore such a clear statement from God, they permitted her to stay.
Later, on her death bed in the convent, she made another impertinent request. She asked that a visitor bring her a fig and a rose from a garden she had always loved. The problem, of course, was that it was the dead of winter, and there would be no figs and no roses.
But, of course, there were. The visitor went to the garden she’d named, and found there just the fig and just the rose, and brought them to Rita.
There are many details that make the fig tree a good companion for a saint. First of all, that it will grow out of rock, like an orchid, only gigantic; that it could even grow out of the “ruins” of our civilization.
It is now believed that fig trees were the first plant species to be bred for food, some 11,000 years ago in the Middle East—several hundred years before wheat cultivation began. Because its wood is terribly difficult to chop down and provides nothing of interest to our markets, its existence in places like Queensland’s national and state parks has saved those areas, and their other trees, from logging. The roses shown here are Alain Blanchard, from the species “Rosa gallica,” which, according to Wikipedia, is one of the earliest cultivated species of roses.
One of Rita’s miraculous aspects was her ability to acquire a fig and a rose from a favorite garden in the dead of winter simply by wishing it so. Here, her presence has caused both to bloom from the same fig tree. After all, many things come from a fig tree: according to legend, underneath it, Buddha found enlightenment, and from between its roots sprung the Sarasvati river, very important to the Hindis; according to a NASA clean air study, the weeping fig also produces clean air, processing out our nasty pollutants—bringing us back full circle in this post and in the world, with new life forming from our ruins—by way of the fig tree.
(I have also made a color version here )