LTRP Note: The following story if from John Shaw Anderson’s book, Heroes of the Faith in Modern Italy (first published in 1914*). Lighthouse Trails decided to add this book to our collection of resources as we saw the immense value of these true stories of courageous men and women in Italy in the late 1800s, when to leave the Roman Catholic Church after becoming born again in Jesus Christ meant sure persecution. We pray that such stories, when read, will increase the reader’s courage to seek out and stand for truth no matter the cost.
When God formed man’s companion out of his breast, He showed His lofty purpose which assigns to her the dominion of the kind affections.—Giusti.
MANY illustrious names in the history of the Gospel testimony would have remained unknown, buried in oblivion but for the grace which made them great. They had no natural qualities that raised them above their fellows, but they received light from Heaven, and they so let their light shine before men, that they saw their good works, and glorified their Father Who is in Heaven. Probably no one would ever have heard of this humble and holy couple had they not been willing to suffer for Christ’s sake, leaving a testimony which has encouraged the faith of many.
The history of the Gospel mission contains pages of brilliant active service for Christ: pioneering enterprise and preaching testimony, but it must not omit the less active, but not less effective service of Christian suffering. “If anyone suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name.”
It is now purposed to introduce to the reader some Italian Christian women whose lives form bright pages in the history of the Church in Italy. In doing so we are glad of the transition afforded by the pathetic story of this noble husband and wife. Rosa’s light will not shine less brightly by the side of Francesco’s. He was a Tuscan by birth, she a Roman. He became a courier, trusted and esteemed by all who employed his confidential service He accompanied several distinguished families to England, Germany and America. Rosa, a young Roman maiden, came to London as a domestic servant in a very high family. Her pleasing manner and exemplary conduct so endeared her to that Christian household, that her return to Italy caused it great sorrow.
When a youth Francesco had an experience which shook his confidence in the priests. He had been ill, and his doctor had ordered him meat every day. It was Lent, and he went to confess. Among other details he confessed that he had eaten meat during Lent, but by the doctor’s orders. His confessor dismissed him with a scathing look and the sentence: “You are doomed in soul and body.” With anger the door was shut in his face, and for nineteen years poor Francesco, to use his own words, “did not know to what religion he belonged.”
Rosa was a most devout Roman Catholic, and made it clear in the household in which she served that she would rather leave it, dear as it was to her, than hear in it a word against her religion.
While in America Francesco received a copy of the Bible in English, and began to read it. When he returned to Italy he continued to read a portion daily as it was the only source of true satisfaction he could find. Through one of the links in God’s golden chain of grace, Francesco and Rosa entered the same service in an upper class English household. In their spare time, instead of reading novels, Francesco asked Rosa to read to him a chapter of the English Bible, as she was freer than he was in English. They then conversed about it, and Rosa proved not only the better reader, but the clearer expounder of the Holy Scriptures. Their friendship grew into love; they were married and returned to Italy as happy husband and wife.
They were still nominally Roman Catholic, having made no public profession of the Gospel. Their conversion to God had in no measure depended upon human influence. But when the Lord opened their hearts ” to give heed unto the things ” which they read in His Word, they found that their new life required new environments, and that salvation involved separation, and they left the Romish communion with which they felt they had nothing in common.
Conversion was a great reality to them. As “new creatures,” they were “in Christ,” and they were married ” in the Lord.” Like many, when “born again “they had not much light, but they had life. Christ was now their life, and He had promised to be their light. “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Francesco had accepted Christ for himself and Rosa for herself: their faith was individual, personal: each had heard and obeyed the Word: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14).
Francesco and Rosa had now furnished a number of rooms which they let to visitors and were leading a peaceful and happy Christian life. Their travels had made their manners polite and pleasing, and under these was a noble and generous character. Their Gospel testimony was not that of the flame but of the flower, which proves its existence by its beauty and fragrance. Yet this humble, holy, and happy couple became the object of Rome’s cruel inquisition and persecution! Francesco and Rosa Madiai were arrested and charged with “impiety,” i.e., propagating heresy! In endeavoring to imagine a reason for such an unreasonable charge, the only conclusion is that the Papacy in Italy considered its prey helpless, defenseless, and at the same time a salutary object lesson that might deter others wandering from her fold. The enemy found it very difficult to account for the “cause” of their conversion, for had they “changed their religion “with self-interest in view, they would not have resisted, as they did, all the influences with which they were surrounded in England and America.
Francesco and Rosa were arrested on the 17th of August, 1851 and imprisoned in separate, damp, and dismal cells for ten months before even being tried! Only once in those long, dark months were they allowed to see each other, and then only for a few minutes in the presence of their keepers. Francesco had learned Psa. 116 in English verse and found comfort in singing it in prison, “and the prisoners heard him,” although they could not understand the language as he raised his praise to God:
At first no advocate could be found to defend Francesco and Rosa. Had they been charged with even the vilest crimes which stain our race, specialists in penal law would have undertaken “the defense”; but “the shame of the cross ” proved too great an undertaking for the Italian forum. At last, one brave “penalist “ventured to defend the two pious prisoners charged with “impiety.” We have read his elaborate and noble defense, printed and published in a volume which ranks among the finest specimens of oratory delivered in the Italian law courts. It is a masterpiece on the question of liberty of conscience and an unanswerable indictment against the inquisition of Rome. That noble advocate of justice was “counseled” not to defend the two “unbelievers,” as he might risk his position by doing so. Why, then, did he undertake a task so fraught with peril for his own future. Was he a Protestant I No. Did he hope for gain? No. What then? He tells us in the closing words of his memorable defense: “I was counseled not to plead the cause of two unbelievers. I declare that such a counsel filled me with disgust. Even had I ran in the face of danger I would have defied it. The sacred office of my cause, the breastplate of conscience, the power of truth would have made me bold. So I replied to that counsel with a protest such as I felt I owed to the order of the bench. I have not come to implore your indulgence for murderers or thieves, who even have the right to be pleaded for. I have come to refute a vain and unjust accusation, an accusation which would violate the sacredness of conscience, man’s relationship to God and the solution of the most solemn problem which is reserved for us beyond this life. I have come to defend two individuals, as pious, upright and honest as ever lived, pious, upright and honest even according to the confession of those who have studiously sought to harm them.”
The “defense “of Francesco and Rosa proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were not guilty of the imputed “impiety” of any propaganda, but that their Christian testimony was simply and solely that of the true Christian life. But Rome was behind that trial, and its decree which had kept those innocent followers of Christ ten months in cruel imprisonment before their trial, condemned Francesco to four years and eight months, and Rosa to three years and ten months’ penal servitude!
The conduct of the two prisoners of Christ during their trial was most exemplary and caused the sympathy of even their enemies to show itself more than once. The following is a letter written by Rosa to her husband just after the trial and before the sentence was made known to her: “7th June, 1852.
“My dear husband, ” You know how I have always loved you, but now I ought to love you still more, for we have fought together the battle of the Great King, in which we have been smitten down yet not destroyed.’ I hope that through the merits of Christ, God our Father has accepted our testimony, and that He will give us grace to drink with thanksgiving to its last drop the bitter cup which He has prepared for us.
“My good husband, what is our life? A day, a day of sorrow? Yesterday we were young, today we are old; yet we can say with the aged Simeon: Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart O Lord, according to Thy Word, in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.’
“Be of good courage, my beloved, for we know by the Holy Spirit that Jesus Himself, Who was shamefully treated, downtrodden and despised, is our Savior, and that we by His divine light and power are called to defend the blessed cross on which He died for us, and have part now in His shame to share soon His glory. Fear not, even though our condemnation be severe: God who loosed the chains of Peter and opened the gates of his prison, will not forget us.
“Be happy, therefore, and courageous. Let us put ourselves entirely in the hands of God. May I see you rejoicing, as by the grace of God I hope you will see me. “I embrace you with all my heart, “Your affectionate wife, “ROSA MADIAL”
After ten months “preliminary ” imprisonment without a trial, Francesco was taken to Volterra and Rosa to Lucca to suffer the imprisonment imposed upon them by the sentence decided before the trial!
The news of this unjust and cruel imprisonment spread to England, Holland, France, Switzerland, and Germany, and the deepest sympathy was manifested for the two Gospel prisoners in Italy; and public indignation grew so high that even a special deputation with an autograph was sent to the Tuscan Government by the Sing of Prussia. But all proved vain! The civil power was afraid of Rome.
But friends in England were not content to allow Francesco and Rosa to suffer in prison merely to gratify the papacy, and so great was the pressure brought by the British Government to bear upon the authorities in Tuscany that the prisoners of Christ were liberated from prison in March, 1853, but exiled.
Their moral and physical sufferings had meanwhile told upon their health. They had been taken from the comforts of a peaceful home to the trials of imprisonment; from the fellowship of kindred souls to the enmity of prejudiced officials; from the elevating voices of Christian communion to the debasing exclamations of the vilest inmates of the surrounding dungeons.
The sorrows of their imprisonment, however, were partially relieved by visits paid to Francesco and Rosa by kind English friends, whose influence permitted them to penetrate into those dismal dungeons. Francesco and Rosa were granted the liberty of writing to each other and to some of their friends, and their letters have been preserved and published. She wrote to her husband from the prison in Lucca, 16th August, 1852:
“My dear husband,
“At last I have received this morning the ratification of our sentence. My dear, let us ever remember the holy words of Christ: Everyone, therefore, who shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father Who is in Heaven. . . He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.’
“These two things have been fulfilled by the strength of God Who is the support of the weak. Now there is the third: He that Both not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.’
” My dear husband, let us with adoration and thanksgiving take the cross, which the Lord in His divine wisdom is pleased to put upon us; and when we feel weak let us lay hold of the hem of His garment, for all who touched it were healed; and so we shall be strengthened by faith in Him. Let us remember His holy words to His disciples: ‘ In the world ye have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.’ My dear, what words of comfort for the Savior’s afflicted ones! We know that having conquered He will give strength to us to conquer in Him and with Him. The body certainly will suffer, but how many agonies our Innocent Savior suffered! He, the Innocent One for us miserable sinners! Let us remember that it is through many tribulations we enter into the Kingdom of God. Paul says: I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.’
“What we have to do, my dear, is to pray for our enemies, who are more to be pitied than we are. They are happy, but what a miserable happiness! to do harm to their fellows. The time will come when all things will be made manifest before the Supreme Judge, and then it will be seen who is right and who is wrong. The witness of a good conscience is a grand thing.
“My dear, write me soon, and let me know how you are, and tell me plainly whether you are well or ill. Try to write me every week, as this will be such a comfort to me. If your hand is shaky it does not matter: you see that I cannot write. All I want is to be able to understand your letters. In a few days I shall write to my sister. I know that it will be a terrible blow to them, but I shall say as little as possible. My dear, I am fairly well, considering the many shocks I have received: but why should I say so? How many more than I did my Savior’s sacred hand receive from the nails!
“My dear, I am afraid you will require the wisdom of Solomon to understand this letter! Let us put ourselves under the protection of God, in the sacred merits of Jesus, our only Savior. “I embrace you with my heart, “Your affectionate wife, “ROSA MADIAI.”
Four days after, Francesco replied to his wife:
“Volterra, cell 43.
“My dear Rosa,
“You cannot imagine what pleasure I have had in seeing your few lines with your handwriting, and so it will be with you in seeing mine. You say that I am to tell you truly how I am, but Satan hinders. There are those who know truly all this, and the day is coming when all the knots will reach the comb.’ As you know I was ill for two months; but the weather now seems to be changing, and so I hope to get better; if not, God’s will be done! All I say is that if Satan has conquered my flesh, of this I am sure that my spirit belongs to Jesus.
“I left at last on Wednesday at 5 a.m. with a severe headache. I arrived at the railway station thinking to see you, but in vain! However, I saw a Frenchman with whom I had a long conversation, and told him of my afflictions and yours. Let me now ask you to be at ease, and when you write me be very prudent, and write every fortnight. So let us commit ourselves entirely to the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I pray morning and evening for you, and for our enemies, and for all. Good-bye dear. I embrace you with my heart. “Your affectionate husband, “FRANCESCO MADIAI.”
During their imprisonment Francesco and Rosa had several discussions with their would-be confessors and others. Some of those in which she took part have been preserved by her and published. Writing to a friend, 6th of January, 1853, she recounts a discussion she had with the confessor, which lasted two hours. We can quote only a brief portion of it:
Confessor: “Unless you hold the holiness and authority of the Papal see, you cannot be saved.”
Rosa: ” But Paul said: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved’ (Acts 16:31). And from whom does the Pope receive such authority?”
Confessor: “From Peter, for Peter is the foundation stone of the Church.”
Rosa: “How many stones are there, one or two?”
The Confessor did not reply, and Rosa added: ” Jesus Christ said to the Pharisees: Did ye never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner This stone is Christ.”
The subject of her imprisonment was mentioned, and Rosa asked: ” Has the Inquisition not been done away with in our days?”
Confessor: ” The Church recalls: if that is not sufficient, it is necessary to punish to recall.”
Rosa: “A fine way to recall, punishing severely to the point of burying alive poor creatures and making them die in anger! God has given to all freedom of thought, but man would take it away.”
Confessor: “The Church has never punished anyone for thinking, but only for proselytizing. In England there are Dukes, Lords, and many others who are coming over to us, and all England will yet come over to us.”
Rosa: “I shall then believe that truly the end is at hand, for it is written that then will men turn away from the faith. I attribute my salvation only to the blood of Jesus Christ.”
During her imprisonment in Lucca, Rosa was visited on several occasions by the Archbishop. The following discussion took place on the occasion of his second visit, which she recounts: ” On the 8th of March (1853) I had a second visit from the Archbishop of Lucca, who arrived with a large suite. Only Father Pietro and the Superior entered with him: the door was closed and the others remained outside. The Archbishop . . . entering, lifted up his hands in the act of blessing me, saying: God bless you, God bless you! ‘
I went forward having in my hand the Bible open at the 85th Psalm, which my husband had sent to me. I said: “Monsignor, you could not have wished me anything more acceptable than the blessing of God, for if God blesses me I shall truly be blessed.”
Archbishop: ” However, have you forgotten your mother, your good mother in which you were born?”
Rosa: “I have no mother, Monsignor.”
Archbishop: “I mean the Church.”
Rosa: “Monsignor, I have not left the Church.”
Archbishop: ” Do you believe that Christ said to Peter: Upon this rock I will build My Church’?”
Rosa: ” Christ said to his disciples: Who say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said unto him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father Who is in Heaven. And I also say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.’ But who was the rock?”
This question, which remained unanswered by the Archbishop, is still the great question of the soul: “Who is the Rock?!” Rosa Madiai did not ask nor answer it merely with the verbal profession of her lips, but with the moral confession of her life. The billows of hatred and persecution had dashed against her faith, but it stood, because it was resting on the Rock, Christ Jesus.
Liberated from imprisonment, but exiled from Tuscany, Francesco and Rosa found liberty in Nice, which was then under the government of Piedmont. In 1859, Tuscany was freed from the tyrannical power which had kept her separated from a united Italy, and the two exiles of Christ returned to their beloved province. They lived a quiet and peaceable life, showing kindness even to their past enemies.
The hardships of imprisonment, however, had undermined their health, especially Francesco’s, and he died in 1868, followed three years later by his dear wife, “of whom the world was not worthy.”
For this and other stories from Italy, read Heroes of the Faith in Modern Italy. Lighthouse Trails now carries a hardcover edition of this book for just $5.50 (this edition is published by Bible Truth Publishers).
(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)