Letters of Maria Celeste:
22 October 1633
Most Beloved Lord Father
Last Wednesday a brother of the Priory of San Firenze came to bring me a letter from you along with the little package of russet linen yarn, which, considering the rather thick quality of the thread, seems somewhat expensive; but indeed the color of the dye, being very beautiful, makes the price of six crazie per skein appear more tolerable.
Suor Luisa stays in bed with only the slightest improvement, and in addition to her, several of the others are also sick, so that if we now faced any suspicion of plague we would be lost. Among the sick is Suor Caterina Angela Anselmi who was formerly our Mother Abbess, a truly venerable and prudent nun, and, after Suor Luisa, the dearest and most intimate friend I have ever had: she is so gravely ill that yesterday morning she received the Extreme Unction, and it appears that she has only a few days to live; and the same must be said for Suor Maria Silvia Boscoli, a young woman of 22 years, and you may recall, Sire, how people once spoke of her as the most beautiful girl to grace the city of Florence for 300 years: this marks the sixth month she has been lying in bed with a continuous fever that the doctors now say has turned to consumption, and she is so wasted as to be unrecognizable; yet with all that she retains a vivacity and energy especially in her speech that astounds us, while from hour to hour we doubt whether that faint spirit (which seems entirely confined to her tongue) will fade away and abandon the already exhausted body: then, too, she is so listless that we can find no nourishment to suit her taste, or to say it better, that her stomach can accept, except a little soup made from broth in which we have boiled some dried wild asparagus, and these are extremely difficult to find at this time of year, wherefore I was thinking that perhaps she could take some soup made from gray partridge, which has no gamy taste. And since these birds abound where you are, Sire, as you say in your letters, you might be able to send me one of them for her and for Suor Luisa, and I doubt you would encounter any difficulty having them reach me in good condition, since our Suor Maria Maddalena Squadrini recently received several fresh, good thrushes that were sent by a brother of hers who is Prior at the Monastery of the Angels, in part of the diocese very close to Siena. If, without too much trouble, Sire, you could help me make such a gift, now that the idea has whetted my appetite, I would be ever so grateful.
This time it devolves upon me to play the raven who bears bad tidings, as I must tell you that on the feast day of San Francesco [October 4], Goro, who worked for the Sertini's, died, and left a family in great distress, according to his wife who was here yesterday morning to beseech me that I must convey this news to you, Sire, and furthermore remind you of the promise you made to Goro himself and to Antonia his daughter, to give her a black housedress when she got married: now they are in dire straits, and Sunday, which will be tomorrow, she will say her vows in Church; and because Goro's wife has spent what little money she had, first on medicaments and then for his funeral, she is hard pressed, and wants to know if you can do her this kindness: I promised that I would tell her your answer as soon as I heard from you, Sire.
I would not know how to make you realize the happiness I derive from learning that you continue conserving your health in spite of everything, except to say that I enjoy your good fortune more than my own, not only because I love you more than myself, but also because I can imagine that if I were oppressed by infirmity, or otherwise removed from the world it would matter little or nothing to anyone, since I am good for little or nothing, whereas in your case, Sire, the opposite holds true for a host of reasons, but especially (beyond the fact that you do so much good and are able to help so many others) because the great intellect and knowledge that the Lord God has given you enables you to serve Him and honor Him far more than I ever could, so that with this consideration I come round to cheer myself and take greater pleasure from your well-being than from mine.
Signor Rondinelli has allowed himself to be seen again now that his kegs have quieted down; he sends his greetings to you, Sire, and so does Doctor Ronconi.
I assure you that I am never vexed by boredom, Sire, but sooner by the hunger caused, I believe, if not by all the exercise I perform, then by the coldness of my stomach, which does not get the full complement of sleep it requires, since I have no time. I rely on the oximele and the papal pills to make up this deficit. I only tell you this to excuse myself for the haphazard appearance of my letter, as I was compelled to put down and then take up my pen again more than once before I could complete it, and on that note I commend you to God.
From San Matteo in Arcetri, the 22nd day of October 1633.
Your most affectionate daughter,
The enclosed conforms to the wish you expressed in your previous letter, Sire, that after having written to you I should write also to her ladyship the Ambassadress. I suspect that my numerous activities have sapped my energy leaving me little to give her; you will be able to look it over and make corrections, and do let me know if you send her the ivory crucifix. I still cling to the hope that this week you will have some resolution regarding your release, and I am burning with desire to share in that news.
©1995 Al Van Helden