Maria Goretti is the youngest officially recognized Roman Catholic saint. She was just eleven years old in 1902 when her neighbor, Alessandro Serenelli, attacked her with intent to sexually abuse her. When she refused his advances, citing her love of God and devotion to the Ten Commandments, Serenelli tried to stab her to death. She was rushed to hospital where she died after praying for, and forgiving, her murderer/rapist.
While the message of forgiveness clearly rings through the story, it serves as a brutal reminder of the sexual violence that many young girls around the world are still subjected to today. Maria is the patron saint of crime victims and teenage girls.
Maria’s story is so unbelievably sad that this portrait by Brovelli-Soffredini belies the trauma of her martyrdom. The brutality of the crime against her is unapparent, as Maria appears her in the white symbolic of her purity, surrounded by a halo to denote her death and saintly afterlife.
In most depictions, Maria Goretti is presented as a wavy-haired peasant girl. In this statue, she holds lilies, a symbol of purity, and a knife, a symbol of the manner of her martyrdom.
Alessandro Serenelli was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for Maria’s murder. Initially he was unrepentant, but later Maria appeared to him in a dream holding lilies that burned in his hands. This vision caused him to seek forgiveness from Maria’s family and he reportedly prayed to the young saint everyday and even attended her canonization in 1950. The lilies in the image may also relate to Serenelli’s dream.