Letters of Maria Celeste:
2 November 1630
Most Beloved Lord Father
I am sure you know better than I, Sire, that tribulations are the touchstone where we test the quality of God's love. Thus, to whatever extent we can patiently bear the trials He doles out, then in that same measure do we promise ourselves possession of the treasure of His love, which comprises our every good.
I beseech you not to grasp the knife of these current troubles and misfortunes by its sharp edge, lest you let it injure you that way; but rather, seizing it by the handle, use it to excise all the imperfections that you may recognize in yourself; so that you rise above the obstacles, and in this fashion, just as you penetrated the heavens with the vision of a Lyncean, so will you, by piercing also through baser realms, arrive at an awareness of the vanity and fallacy of all earthly things: seeing and touching with your own hands the truth that neither the love of your children, nor pleasures, honors or riches can confer true contentment, being in themselves ephemeral; but that only in blessed God, as in our final destination, can we find real peace. Oh what joy will then be ours, when, rending this fragile veil that impedes us, we revel in the glory of God face to face? By all means let us struggle hard through these few days of life that we have left, so as to be deserving of a blessing so vast and everlasting. Wherefore it appears to me, my dearest Lord Father, that you must keep to your own right path, availing yourself of opportunities as they present themselves, and especially those that allow you to perpetuate your beneficence toward those who repay you with ingratitude, for truly this action, being so rife with difficulty, is all the more perfect and virtuous: indeed I think such behavior, far above any other virtue, renders us in God's image, since, as we know from experience, while we go about offending His Divine Majesty all through the day, He responds by constantly showering us with blessings: and if He chastises us now and then, He does so for our greater well-being, in the manner of a good father who keeps his son in line with the whip. Something of the same seems to be happening now in our poor city, where, spurred on as we are by our dread of the danger hanging over us, at least we amend ourselves.
I do not know whether you have heard, Sire, of the death of Matteo Ninci, brother of our Suor Maria Teodora, who, according to what her brother Alessandro writes, had not been ill more than 3 or 4 days, and made his passage very much in God's grace, as far as it was possible to understand. The others in the household still have their health, I believe, but they are all sorely tried by their great loss. I suspect you must feel as shocked as we do, Sire, remembering what a well-mannered youth he was, and how very lovable.
But then, not wanting to give you only the bad news, I must tell you also that the letter I wrote, on Madonna's behalf, to Monsignor Archbishop, was very well received by him, and she had a courteous reply with an offer of all his protection and aid.
Similarly, two requests made last week to the Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess Mother have both produced a good outcome, as we received from Her Highness on the morning of All Saints' Day [November 1] a donation of 300 loaves of bread, and orders that we send someone to collect a moggio [eighteen bushels] of grain for us, which greatly alleviates Madonna's anxiety, for she did not have so much as a seed toxf sow.
Pardon me, Sire, if I annoy you excessively with my lengthy chatter, but, beyond your encouraging me through demonstrations of proof that you enjoy my letters, I consider you my Devoto (to speak in our parlance of patron saints) in whom I confide my every thought, and share all my joys and sorrows; and, finding you always ready and willing to assist me, I ask you, not to fill all my needs, because they are too numerous, but to please see to those that are most pressing at present: for, with the chill weather coming on, I will surely grow numb with cold, unless you help by sending me a warm quilt to protect me, since the one I have now is not mine, and its owner wants to use it herself, as is only right. The one that you sent, Sire, along with the woolen blanket, I leave with Suor Arcangela, who wants to sleep alone, and I respect her wishes. But I am left with only one cotton coverlet, and if I wait until I have earned enough to buy a quilt, I will neither get one, nor survive this winter: therefore I beg this benevolence of my beloved Devoto, who, as I know so well, will not be able to bear the thought of my suffering: and may it please the Lord (if it be for the best) to keep him with me for a long time to come, because, after he goes, I am left all alone in this world. But indeed it weighs heavily on me that I cannot offer him a proper exchange for his generous gifts! I will endeavor at least, or rather more than ever, to importune blessed God and the Most Holy Virgin that he be conducted into Paradise; and this will be the greatest reward that I can give him for all the good he has done and continues to do for me.
Here are two small jars of electuary for safeguarding against the plague. The one that has no written label is composed of dried figs, nuts, rue and salt, held together with as much honey as was needed. You may take it every morning, before eating, in a dose about the size of a walnut, followed immediately by drinking a little Greek or other good wine, and they say it provides a marvelous defense. I must admit that it has been overcooked, because we did not consider the tendency of the figs to harden. The other mixture is also to be taken by mouthful in the same manner as the first, but it has a harsher taste. If you decide to make regular use of either one, we will try to prepare them with greater skill. You say in your letter, Sire, that you mean to send me the telescope; I suppose that you have since forgotten, and therefore I remind you of it, as well as the basket in which I sent the quinces, because I am diligently working to find more of them for you. With that, to close, I send you greetings with all my heart together with our usual friends.
From San Matteo, All Souls' Day [November 2] 1630.
Your most affectionate daughter,
©1995 Al Van Helden