How to Be
A Saint

Rudolph Bell's book Holy Anorexia (1985) concentrates on Italian saints, and is especially rewarding for connoisseurs of the spiritually lurid. St Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi lay naked on thorns. Saint Catherine of Siena drank pus from a cancerous sore. One confessor ordered Veronica Giuliani to kneel while a novice of the order kicked her in the mouth. Another ordered her to clean the walls and floor of her cell with her tongue; when she swallowed the spiders and their webs, even he thought it was going too far. Scourges, chains and hair shirts were the must-have accessories in these women's lives. Eustochia of Messina stretched her arms on a Do-It-Yourself rack she had constructed. St Margaret of Cortona bought herself a razor and was narrowly dissuaded from slicing through her nostrils and upper lip. St Angela of Foligno drank water contaminated by the putrefying flesh of a leper. And what St Francesca Romana did, I find I am not able to write down.
Whereas Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was brought up in an atmosphere of stifling religiosity, the Galgani family seem to have been only conventionally pious, and sometimes barely that; when the young Gemma Galgani entered one of her "ecstasies," her sister Angelina brought her schoolfriends home to laugh at her, and later, when she manifested wounds on her head, body, hands and feet, her aunt Elisa complained about having to scrub bloodstains from the floor of her room.

--- From "Some Girls Want Out"
Review by Hilary Mantel
The London Review of Books
4 March 2004
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