THE LIFE OF ST. PEREGRINE
St. Peregrine’s family, a wealthy political clan, named him Peregrine, meaning “pilgrim.” Caught in an anti-Papal struggle, and the young saint’s family sided with the Emperor. Clashes became so intense, the Pope sent St. Philip Benizi, a Florentine Prior, to calm the town’s fury. As he pled for peace, a group of young ruffians attacked him. Leading them was St. Peregrine, who struck St. Philip in the face. He merely turned the other cheek.
In that moment, St. Peregrine saw St. Philip’s look of compassion and mercy. He instantly asked St. Philip’s pardon. He was embraced and granted absolution for this, and all his sins. St. Peregrine lost interest in his old friends. He turned to prayer, which brought him solace.
St. Peregrine was drawn to the Church of the Holy Cross, where he knelt and prayed daily for wisdom before a statue of the Virgin Mary. After several years, she appeared to him in a vision, saying “My son, go to Siena. Seek out my Servants. Among them, you will be able to close yourself off from the rest of the world and do penance for your sins.”
St. Peregrine joined the Servites, an order dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which rejected material possessions, preferring a simple Christian life. They devoted themselves to charity and prayer, some living in caves near Florence to pray in solitude. When St. Peregrine arrived in Siena, he found the prior was none other than St. Philip.
St. Peregrine entered the order as a choir-brother at age twenty-five. By thirty, he had become a priest, and returned to his hometown of Forlí. Always available to anyone who sought his advice, he was known as the “Angel of Good Counsel.” He visited the sick and dying, prisoners, and the poor, performing manual labor at the monastery, and devoting the rest of his time to prayer. When a plague struck Forlí, he worked through the nights without sleeping.
As penance for his youthful sins, St. Peregrine stood for hours in prayer. As a result, he suffered from varicose veins, which developed into cancer, a growth appearing on his leg. St. Peregrine, who never thought of his own illness and suffering, was now, for once, the patient. He was sixty years old. The local doctor, fearing for St. Peregrine’s life, decided to amputate his leg.
The night before his surgery, St. Peregrine was afraid. In pain, he went to the monastery chapter room as the other brothers slept, and prayed in solitude before a fresco of Jesus Crucified. He surrendered himself entirely to God. Unable to stay awake any longer, he drifted off to sleep. In a dream, Jesus came down from the cross. His healing hand gently touched the sore. When St. Peregrine woke, he could stand and walk without pain. The doctor, amazed, found the wound had healed.
St. Peregrine lived to age eighty. After his miraculous cure, the sick came from great distances to ask him for healing. When he passed from this life, his body was laid in the chapel, where the faithful filed past for days. Those he had helped came to testify to his holy example, and the miracles he had performed in their lives. So many flooded to the city, that they left the city gates unlocked all night, despite fear of invading neighbors.
Three miraculous cures took place at his coffin: a blind man had his sight restored, a possessed woman was rid of her demons, and a man who had been badly injured in a fall was healed. A lovely fragrance of unknown, chimerical flowers, emanated from the saint’s coffin, wafted through the air, and filled the chapel, granting the mourners solace.
St. Peregrine’s body, still emanating its fine fragrance, was kept in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, by the Lady he had prayed to for sixty years. His coffin was engraved with scenes from his life by an artist from his hometown of Forlí.
Hundreds of miracles began to occur. Devotion to St. Peregrine grew in Spain, Hungary and Austria. St. Veronica Giuliani, another Italian saint, was healed from her illness by St. Peregrine’s intercession. Around the world, those suffering from cancer took St. Peregrine as their patron saint. In In the 17th century, after he was beatified, a chapel was made for him in the church at Forlí. His body was brought from the Cathedral to this church, where the Virgin Mary first appeared to him. His body resides there to this day, in a glass case behind the altar. The chapel walls are covered with hearts of thanksgiving.
He became a saint in the 18th century, and pilgrims began to flow to his little chapel, asking for miracles. They find the altar, choir lofts and paintings carefully preserved from St. Peregrine’s time. After so many centuries, his body is nearly a skeleton, but his leg, cured of cancer by Jesus’ healing touch, remains intact. And in Siena, also preserved with loving care, is the very fresco of the crucifixion before which St. Peregrine prayed, and was healed.