Letters of Maria Celeste:
22 November 1629
Most Beloved Lord Father
Now that the tempest of our many torments has subsided somewhat, I want to make you fully aware of the events, Sire, without leaving anything out, for in so doing I hope to ease my mind, and at the same time to be excused by you, for dashing off my last two letters so randomly, instead of writing in the proper manner. For truly I was half beside myself, shaken by the terror aroused in me and in all of us by our novice mistress, who, overpowered by those moods or frenzies of hers, tried twice in recent days to kill herself. The first time she struck her head and face against the ground with such force that she became monstrously deformed; the second time she stabbed herself thirteen times, leaving two wounds in her throat, two in her stomach, and the others in her abdomen. I leave you to imagine, Sire, the horror that gripped us when we found her body all bloody and battered. But we were even more stupefied at how, as seriously injured as she was, she made the noise that drew us to enter her cell, asked for the confessor, and then in confession handed over to the priest the instrument she had used, so as to prevent any of us from seeing it (although, as far as we can conjecture, it was a pocket knife); thus it appears that she was crazy and cunning at the same time, and the only possible conclusion is that these are mysterious judgments of the Lord, Who still keeps her alive, when for every natural cause she should surely have died, as the wounds were all perilous ones, according to the surgeon; in the wake of these events we have guarded her continuously day and night. Now that the rest of us are recovered, by the grace of blessed God, and she is tied in her bed, albeit with the same deliriums, we continue to live in fear of some new outburst. Beyond this travail of ours, I want to apprise you of another anxiety that has been weighing heavily on my heart. The very moment you were so kind as to send me the 20 scudi I had requested (I did not dare to speak freely of this in person, when you asked me recently if I had obtained the cell yet) I went with the money in my hand to find the nun who was selling it, expecting that she, being in extreme necessity, would willingly accept that money, but she simply could not resign herself to relinquishing the cell she loved so much, and since we did not reach an agreement between ourselves, nothing came of it, and I lost the chance to purchase that little room. Having assured you, Sire, that I could indeed obtain it, and then not succeeding, I became greatly troubled, not just on account of being deprived of my own space, but also because I suspected you would get upset, Sire, believing me to have said one thing and done another, though such deceit was never my intention; nor did I even want to have this money, which was causing me such grief. As it happened, the Mother Abbess was confronted at that point with certain contingencies, which I gladly helped her through, and now she, out of gratitude and kindness, has promised me the room of that nun who is sick, the one whose story I told you, Sire, whose room is large and beautiful, and while it is worth 120 scudi the Mother Abbess will give it to me for 80, thus doing me a particular favor, just as she has on other occasions always favored me. And because she knows full well that I cannot pay a bill of 80 scudi, she offers to reduce the price by the 30 scudi that you gave the convent some time ago, Sire, so that with your consent, which I see no reason to doubt, as this seems to me an opportunity not to be missed, I will have all that I could ever want in the way of comfort and satisfaction, which I already know to be of great importance to you. Therefore I entreat your consideration, so that I can give some response to our Mother Abbess, who will be relinquishing her office in a few days, and is currently settling her accounts.
I also want to know how you feel, Sire, now that the air is slightly more serene, and, not having anything better to send you, I offer a little poor man's candied quince, by which I mean that I prepared it with honey instead of sugar, so if it is not right for you, perhaps it will satisfy the others; I would not know what to give my Sister-in-law now, in her condition [pregnant Sestilia was near term]. Surely if she had a taste for anything made by nuns, Sire, you would tell us, because we want so much to please her. Nor have I forgotten my obligation to La Porzia [Galileo's housekeeper], but circumstances have prevented me from making anything as yet. Meanwhile if you have gathered the additional clippings you promised me, Sire, I will be very happy to receive them, as I am holding off work on those I already have until the others arrive.
I must add that, as I write, the sick nun I mentioned earlier has taken such a turn that we think she is on the verge of death; in which event I will be obliged to give the remainder of the money to Madonna right away, so that she can make the necessary purchases for the funeral. In my hands I hold the agate rosary you gave me, Sire, which is excessive and vain for me, while it seems perhaps right for my Sister-in-law. Let me therefore return it to you, so you can learn if she would like to have it, and in exchange send me a few scudi for my present need, so that, if it please God, I believe I really will have the full sum; and in consequence I will no longer be forced to burden you, Sire, for that is what concerns me most. But in fact I do not have, nor do I want to have, others to whom I can turn, except for you and my most faithful Suor Luisa, who wearies herself doing everything she can for me; but in the end we depend upon each other because alone we lack the strength that circumstances so often demand of us. Blessed be the Lord Who never fails to help us; by Whose love I pray you, Sire, to forgive me if I vex you too much, hoping that God Himself will reward you for all the good things you have done for us and continue to do, for which I thank you with all my heart, and I entreat you to excuse me if you find any errors here, because I do not have time to reread this long litany.
From San Matteo, the 22nd day of November 1629.
Your most affectionate daughter,
©1995 Al Van Helden