“Dear Santa Rosa, please bring me a new bike…
In all fairness, the letters bought for 1 sol (approx. $0.30), and thrown down the well in Santa Rosa’s garden most likely aren’t requests for a new bike, a Dior handbag or a brand new BMW. Looking at the anguished faces of the thousands of people lining up to pay their respects to Lima’s own saint, they probably aren’t asking for frivolous things. They’re praying for a miraculous cure for their dying husband, relief from agonizing pain, or perhaps that their straying wife and mother of their six children will come back home again. Kissing and caressing the hands of Santa Rosa’s statue, they do sincerely believe that she will fulfill their wishes. Because in the end, she is their last hope.
On the 30th of August every year, the Limeños celebrate the first South American Saint. From a very young age, Rosa spent her time praying and fasting, and helping the sick and poor in her community. When her parents wanted her to get married, she cut of all her hair, and disfigured her face with lye and pepper so that no man would want her. She chained a chastity belt around her waist and threw the key into the well, the same one where people now throw their letters with their wish-lists. Defeated, her father gave her a private room in his house where she could live in total seclusion. There, she slept on a stone pillow, nailing her hair to the floor so that she wouldn’t be able to sleep more than a couple of hours per day.
Still not feeling she was doing enough, Rosa built a cave in her family’s garden where she spent her nights praying and flogging herself. Finally, her dedication and martyrdom payed off. One night in sleepless deliriousness she saw a vision of baby Jesus. He offered her to drink his blood (like a vampire) and then asked her to marry him. Shortly after, her wishes came true when she died at the age of 31.
The Catholic Church of coursed loved her story, and fifty years after her death acknowledged her as a saint.
And because of this, tens of thousands Limeños make their way to her garden every year to pay their respects, throw coins into her praying cave (for money), buy cheap religious tchotchkes from the nuns and write letters on rose-covered stationary to the saint that has become famous for fulfilling your every wish. Just like Santa Claus.
I wonder if Santa Rosa would be devastated, if she knew…