San Felice da Cantalice was born in 1515 and has the particular primacy of being the first saint of the Capuchin Order. But how did it occur and who are the Capuchins?
The Capuchin Order was born around 1520 and is one of the so-called ‘minor’ orders that followed in the spirit of St. Francis. Let’s jump ahead in time and look at the current situation.
The Renaissance had transformed society: the castles had become noble palaces and all of Italy was a construction site. There was a race between lords and states to those who built the most beautiful palace or church.
To do this, they needed a lot of money, especially if you wanted to build the new Basilica of St. Peter that was started around 1506. To do this, you had to figure out how to avoid tax effectively or to sell something that everyone wanted.
They tried everything. The works of the churches were not taxed and so all the materials were written: AUF – Ad Usum Fabricae which meant they were destined for one of the churches and for this reason they did not pay taxes. Thanks to a poem of the great Roman poet Gioacchino Belli, there is the present expression of ‘magiare a uffa ‘ which means ‘eating without paying’.
The other idea of the church was to start selling indulgences, meaning a person could pay for the forgiveness of sins and hope to go to heaven more quickly, with little purgatory.
This climate of abandonment of every spiritual aspect of the church was opposed by two great moves: Martin Luther with the Protestant reform and the schism of the church, and an internal force of new Minor Orders.
San Felice was born in Cantalice, near Rieti, and his way of expressing his faith led him to embrace the Capuchin Order. As a child, he felt attracted to a simple life and stories say that the first miracles occurred soon together with the self-inflicted flagellation. In the village, they all knew him for the miracle of the water when he created a new spring in a drought period. On that spot, there was then a sanctuary built with the name San Felice all’Aqua.
The other miracle that made him known was the one that had happened just before entering the order when he was in the countryside with Marco Tullio Pichi. A plow with oxen passed by ripping open his chest, but no blood came out and the wound healed immediately.
With the Capuchins he moved to Fiuggi and then to Rome where he practically lived all his life as a friar. His simple and special behaviour became known to everyone and San Felice knew popes, cardinals but above all the simple people. San Filippo Neri was his friend and San Carlo Borromeo took him into consideration.
He went barefoot begging bread, wine and oil for the poor and the convent. In exchange, he hummed and preached unabated and, occasionally, undertook some miraculous healing. He was considered the ‘divine physician’ and many of his healings have been listed in his sanctification process.
A very well-known episode was that of his ecstasy with the vision of the baby Jesus in his arms and Pope Sisto V decided to emulate the Capuchin friar. He faced a portrait of his tomb with a sculpture of the little Jesus in his arms.
San Felice da Cantalice is also the protector of silkworms breeders because in a special miracle the saint had rescued a colony whose worms were dying because of an infectious disease.
When he died in 1587, from the coffin where his body had been deposited, for three years a silver coloured liquid came out with which many people were healed. He was proclaimed holy in 1712 by Pope Clement XI and is celebrated every year on May 18.