The Sacred Rose of Winter and a National Holiday

In the height of the coastal winter, when clouds drop low and shroud Lima in twilight, the city, and indeed the country celebrate a rose.  Not any rose, but the first person born in the new world to become canonized as a Saint.

She was born in 1586, half a century after the Spanish had taken this land and during a time when the Spanish pressured the Indians more and more with reforms to force them into a Spanish view of reality and away from their indigenous ways.

Her birth in the City of Kings, Lima–just north of the great Indigenous temple complex of Pachacamac and in a city punctuated with native pyramids and centuries of civilization–took place some twenty years after the Indigenous revitalization movement, the dancing sickness–the Takiy Onqoy–shook the Spanish and about the same time as the Indian led cult of the Virgin of Copacabana was spreading even in her city.

Her name was the very poetic Isabel Flores de Oliva. Not only did she carry the last name of Flores (Flowers) but as a baby it is said her face was transformed into a rose.  After she died at the young age of 27 word of her holiness spread quickly, in part through the offices of the same man who helped spread the cult of Copacabana, Archbishop Mongrovejo, who himself was raised to sainthood and in life was known as a defender of the indigenous people against the Spanish elites of Peru.

It is written that Saint Rose of Lima was the daughter of a Spanish father and an indigenous woman. At the time in Lima, unlike in Cuzco, mestizos as the mixed children were called were not allowed into religious orders and were suspect to an elite caught with the honor of blood and birth in Europe.

Her extreme asceticism including a denial or her body and an insistence on virginity, not unlike the kinds of rejections many indigenous people have made when forced into a colonial world and not unlike that of the Guarani in Brazil today who would rather die than be removed from their land,  while it may be based in Spanish mysticism and spirituality, led her to be known as devout.  After her death many miracles were attributed to her and Pope Clement the IX raised her to sainthood in 1667.

Saint Rose of Lima, the Holy flower of the Valley of the Speaker, the Rimac River,  became the holy patroness of Republican Peru, once it ha thrown off the Spanish, and of its national police force.  Her devotion has spread far and wide among the poor and downtrodden, as well as others.

Today, Peru celebrates her as the sacred support of their country in a national holiday.  From the north to the south, masses will be held in devotion and people will write her letters with petitions for her intervention in their lives.

In the rest of the world, Saint Rose of Lima is celebrated on the 23rd of August, but in Peru her holiday remains–despite earlier masses in some churches–the 30th of August.

A rose blooms today in Lima’s winter.  Yes, it is a Spanish rose in some ways, but the petals of the rose have been claimed by indigenous people from Mexico to Argentina as their own.  Peru honors that flower and the holy woman of mixed blood who was transfigured into it, with thorns and scented petals, as a symbol of its self.

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