Saint Rita (or Margarida) of Cascia

Santa Rita (o Margarita) de Cascia

Feast day: May 22

Patroness of impossible causes, childhood sickness, infertility, loneliness, abuse victims, widowhood, physical illness, wounds, sterility, marital complications and parenthood; considered to be a model for married women.

Essay by Carolyn Christensen

Santa Rita de Cascia, also known as Margherita Lotti in life, was born in 1381 to a humble family. She married at the young age of 12 and would remain so for eighteen years suffering abusive treatment from her husband until his assassination. Her two sons vowed to avenge the death of their father, but Rita prayed for their death before they commit a crime. Her sons fell ill and died before avenging the father’s murder. She joined the Augustinian Order of Santa Maria Maddalena in Cascia, Sicily, Italy. She is glorified for her moral principles of constant prayer and flesh mortification. She died on May 22, 1457 and was canonized on May 24, 1900 by Pope Leo XIII in the Vatican.

In the first retablo (fig. 1), Rita is wearing a black and gold habit, holding a cross in her right hand at a slight angle, and a skull rests on the wrist of her left hand. She is surrounded by an interior scene with floral drapery. In the middle left quadrant of the image is a stand with a book and vase of roses. There is a stigmata on her forehead.

The second retablo (fig. 2) features Rita clutching the crucifix in her right hand and raising it while a skull is in her left hand, held lower than the cross as a thin halo illuminates her head. Present in the background are trees indicative of a natural scene with clouds. The single stigmata is from one of the thorns from crown of Christ embedded on her forehead. The skull is a medieval symbol that represents death as a contemplative entity; a reminder to the viewer that life is transient. The third retablo (fig. 3) has similar themes with the saint holding the crucifix and skull; the only difference are the inclusion of red drapes and a covered stand which contains a book and vase of roses.

Figure 1: Saint Rita of Cascia / Santa Rita de Cascia

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1968.2.42.

Figure 2: Saint Rita of Cascia / Santa Rita de Cascia

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 13 x 9”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1969.4.53.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K. Neidich.

Figure 3: Saint Rita of Cascia / Santa Rita de Cascia

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1969.1.8.


Barrely, Christine. The Little Book of Saints. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2011.

Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1974.

Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil, and Charles M. Lovell. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.