widow, Augustinian nun, patron of desperate cases. Born at Roccaporena in Umbria, she wished in childhood to become a nun but married in deference to her parents' wishes a husband who subsequently became notoriously violent and unfaithful. They had two sons; Rita endured her husband's insults and infidelities for eighteen years; then one day he was brought home dead, murdered in a vendetta and covered with wounds. His sons wished to avenge him, but both died before this could be accomplished. Rita then became a nun (c.1407) at S. Maria Maddalena at Cascia. By constant prayer and mortification, accompanied by meditation on the Passion of Christ so intense that a wound appeared in her forehead, as though pierced by a crown of thorns, she became a mystic. The wound continued for fifteen years and could not be healed. Meanwhile she devoted herself especially to the care of sick nuns and to counselling sinners.
She died of tuberculosis and her reputation for holiness and miracles led to her incorrupt body being translated to an elaborate tomb which survives at the present time. Also contained in it is the local bishop's approbation of her cult in 1457. A verse Life with an early record of miracles survives too, as does an authentic portrait. She was beatified in 1626 and canonized in 1900. A new basilica with hospital, school, and orphanage was built in 1946.
Her cult flourishes today, especially in Italy, Spain, France, South America, the Philippines, the United States, and Eire. While the baroque iconography stresses the aspect of a pathetic wife and mother consoled but also wounded by ecstasy, the recent popularity of her cult in Italy seems to be caused by her reputation (like that of Jude) as patron of desperate cases. These, especially matrimonial difficulties (which have not been diminished by a lack of violent or unsatisfactory husbands) have made Rita a much-sought-after patron. Her cult at Cascia and Roccaporena has incorporated folkloric elements and reaches its apogee in the blessing of roses on her Feast: 22 May.
AA.SS. Maii V (1685), 224–34; G. Bruni, Vita de santa Rita de Cascia (1941); other Lives by R. Connolly (1903) and M. J. Corcoran (1919); N.C.E., xii. 541; Bibl. SS., xi. 212–27. H.S.S.C., vii. 213–21.