Saint Maria Goretti is often remembered as a martyr who died in defense of her chastity. In the face of being violated and raped, she cried out to her attacker, “No! It is a sin!”
She even forgave her attacker and murder while she lay in the hospital dying. No doubt some, if not all, of these are true. However, there lies greater realizations from her situation to be considered. Here are five reasons why the story of Saint Maria Goretti is incredible.
1. Maria Goretti was a child
Maria was just shy of 12 years old when she was stabbed to death. She was well below the “age of adulthood” even in her times (the 1890s).
The saint had barely hit puberty, if at all, and had definitely not reached physical maturity. Pilgrims to her shrine in Nettuno, Italy often remark how small she was. Of course! She was but a child. Truly, the crime against her wasn’t one of fornication but of the sexual abuse of a child.
2. Her attacker was not attracted to her
Alessandro Serenelli, the man who abused her and killed Maria, was not attracted to her at all, nor did he find her beautiful.
Simply put, Alessandro, who was 20 years old, physically mature, more powerful than Maria, and an angry young man, wanted to exert his power over the young Maria. When she resisted his attempt to rape her, he killed her in cold blood. He used a sharpened farm tool that he had brought into the kitchen with him to force her into succumbing to him.
Maria passed out after he stabbed her nine times and, thinking she was dead, locked himself in his room. When Maria regained consciousness, she crawled her way to the door to cry for help. Hearing the door open, Alessandro came out of his room and stabbed Maria five more times.
In court, Alessandro told the judge that he was innocent as he was only trying to defend himself against Maria’s sexual advances on him! The judge knew it was false, as there was no way a girl as tiny and young as Maria could’ve presented Alessandro with any mortal danger and that she was also a pious girl.
3. The abuse was ongoing before Maria’s death
Alessandro often made advances against Maria and threatened to kill her if she told her mother. This is a common tactic abusers use to frighten their victims and isolate them from others, making the victims more vulnerable and easier to prey upon.
This certainly worked in Maria’s case, as both Maria and her mother were frightened of what Alessandro might do to them.
4. Maria’s mother knew and did nothing
Maria begged her mother never to leave her alone, but her mother shrugged Maria off. There is a story that one time, Maria and her mother were doing chores when Alessandro called for Maria to mend his shirt. Knowing his intentions, Maria begged her mother not to make her go, but her mother threw her slipper at her and told her to do as Alessandro was asking of her. Biographers have stated that Maria sought refuge with her Heavenly Mother Mary, and it can be seen that she did so because she knew it was hopeless to seek the help of her earthly mother.
No doubt, Maria’s mother was also scared. She was a widow with six children to provide for, just narrowly escaping complete poverty by sharing the home and workload with the Serenellis. She did not want anything to put the rest of them in danger! However, by doing this, Maria’s mother basically sacrificed Maria to the whims of angry and powerful Alessandro.
5. Maria forgave her killer
Maria Goretti did refuse sexual advances, she did uphold her chastity even in the face of physical death. She should certainly be known for this.
But she was a victim of abuse. She suffered sexual and physical at the hands of Alessandro Serenelli, and neglect and endangerment by her mother.
Maria’s first miracle was to appear to Alessandro while he was in jail and hand him 14 white lilies – fourteen for the number of times he stabbed her and lilies as a symbol of purity. He took it as a sign of forgiveness and then turned his life around, seeking forgiveness from her mother, the Church, and even in front of his whole parish congregation.
Maria’s chastity, then, was not just bodily purity, but an even greater virtue. She possessed the virtue of loving her enemies so much that she should wish them to be with her in heaven. She wanted Alessandro to become holy.
These virtues are what make this eleven-year-old girl remarkable.