Letters of Maria Celeste:
4 December 1630
Most Beloved Lord Father
The arrival of your new housekeeper gave me indeed welcome consolation, Sire, since that good Dame Piera assured me of your health; and in recognizing her as the prudent and considerate woman she seems to be, I feel a peace of mind that I would not otherwise find, whilst I think of you in these dangerous times, Sire, deprived of all other more beloved companionship and assistance. For all that, my thoughts stay fixed on you day and night, and many times I rue the great remove that bars me from being able to hear daily news of you, as I would so desire.
Nonetheless I hope that blessed God, by His mercy, sees fit to deliver you from every grim misfortune, and so I pray Him with all my heart. And who can tell whether the presence of more plentiful society around you might not occasion greater peril? This much I know, whatever happens to us, everything proceeds from the particular providence of the Lord, and for our best: and with this thought I calm myself.
This evening we received a command from Monsignor Archbishop to set down the names of all our closest relatives, and to send them to him tomorrow, as His Most Illustrious Lordship wishes them all to take part in assisting our Convent, so that we can get through this long wintertime of want. I asked for and obtained permission from the Mother Abbess to be allowed to give you fair warning, Sire, so that you are not unduly surprised by such an act. I can say nothing else here except that I leave this affair to the Lord God, and for the rest I entrust myself to your wisdom. It would grieve me very much if you were to be overburdened by the decree; but on the other hand I know that I cannot in good conscience try to impede the succor and support of this poor, truly desolate house. The only possible rejoinder you could offer Monsignor Archbishop (on account of its being sufficiently widespread and well known) is the one I tell you here: namely that it would be a very useful and profitable matter to take out of the hands of many relatives of our nuns the two hundred scudi that they control of the sisters' dowries, and not only the two hundred scudi of capital for each one, but also the large sums of interest that have accrued to these individuals over the passing years. Among this company, as we gather, even Master Benedetto Landucci is a debtor to Suor Chiara his daughter, and I doubt that you, Sire, on account of serving as guarantor to him, no less to our Vincenzio, can be expected to pay their shares unless you are granted certain terms. With this assignment, I believe that you would set about helping the Convent comfortably, and do much more than any of the relatives ever could, since so few of them are in a position to make such a suggestion.
The intention of the Superiors is extremely good, and they help us as much as possible, but our need is too great. For my part I envy no one else in this world except the Cappuccin Fathers, who live far removed from the cares and anxieties that are part and parcel of our lives as nuns, obliging us not only to pay our duty to the Convent by giving donations every year of both grain and money, but also to see to our many personal needs with earnings too meager to provide more than the barest necessities. And to tell the truth, I believe that we lose more than we gain by staying awake seven hours of the night to work, for in doing so we jeopardize our health, and waste the oil that is so expensive.
Hearing today from Dame Piera that you wanted to know if we need anything, Sire, I lower myself to request a few farthings to pay several small debts of mine that weigh on my mind. For the rest, if we have enough to sustain us, that is surely sufficient; this much the grace of God provides. Of your coming here to see us, Sire, I hear you say nothing, and I do not importune you, because in any case it would bring us small satisfaction, not being able to speak freely for now. I was most eager to learn whether you liked the citron candy morsels; the ones made in the form of a quince came from a citron that I had procured with much entreaty, and at Suor Luisa's suggestion I preserved the flesh together with the rind of the same fruit, calling it total citron confection; the others I made from your citron, in the usual manner; but because I do not know which ones you may find more tasty, I shall prepare this other large citron the way I always do, unless I hear from you, wanting to spare no effort in making it exactly to your liking.
The list of items that I desire you to prepare for our apothecary, Sire, of boxes, glass vials, and such things, I explained to your servant and therefore I will not go over it again, except to add to it two white plates that you have of ours.
With that I bid you goodnight, as it is now the ninth hour [roughly 2 a.m.] of the fourth night of December 1630.
Your most affectionate daughter,
When you have been to see Monsignor Archbishop, I will be happy to hear a report.
©1995 Al Van Helden