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22.12.07

Blessed Jacopone da Todi

Jacopone da Todi, fresco by Paolo Uccello, Cathedral of Prato, now in Museo di Pittura MuraleDecember 22 is the feast day of Blessed Jacopone da Todi (d. December 25, 1306), one of the Franciscan spirituals. In a post this summer I mentioned that an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia singled out Jacopone da Todi and Dante as "mouthpieces of an ultra-spiritual and impossible Catholicism." Pope Boniface VIII, Dante's bitter enemy, imprisoned Jacopone for his extreme views calling for the Franciscans to return to the poverty of life embraced by St. Francis. This point of view was supported by Celestine V, the disgraced predecessor of Boniface VIII.

Jacopone was born Jacopo Benedetti, son of a noble family in Todi whose life changed when his pious wife was killed. Like Dante, Jacopone's literary influence was heightened because he wrote in the vernacular, and his popular hymns (laude) helped spread his love of strict penance and absolute poverty. His most famous composition, if it can reliably be attributed to him, is the famous sequence Stabat mater dolorosa (selections below, with my translation).

Image: Jacopone da Todi, fresco by Paolo Uccello, Cathedral of Prato, now in the Museo di Pittura Murale

Stabat Mater dolorosa
iuxta crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.
The suffering mother stood
next to the cross, weeping,
while her son was hanging there.
Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.
The one whose moaning spirit,
saddened and in pain,
was pierced by a sword.
O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta
Mater Unigeniti!
O how sad and afflicted
was that blessed woman,
mother of the only begotten one!
Quis est homo, qui non fleret,
Christi Matrem si videret
in tanto supplicio?
What man would not weep,
if he saw the Mother of Christ
in such agony?
Quis non posset contristari,
piam Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?
Who would not be saddened
to contemplate the loving mother
suffering with her son?
Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.
Holy Mother, do this thing for me:
imprint the wounds of the crucified one
deeply into my heart.

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