Strict Ascetic and Mystic from an Early Age
Blessed Benvenuta Bojani was born in Cividale del Friuli, Italy, in 1256. There's a great story about her name -- let's hope it is true. The family had six daughters and no sons; being a thirteenth century Italian man, Papa Bojani was naturally hoping to snap his streak. When the midwife announced yet one more daughter, Dad said "She too shall be welcome!" Benvenuta, of course, means welcome.
Hagiographers extoll her natural (preternatural?) the childhood games and feminine vanities to which her sisters introduced her. Some even fault her sisters, suggesting some sort of corrupt temptations. I have little patience for this stripe of Puritanism. Even Saint Paul wrote (Corinthians 13:11) "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things." It does not stretch the verse too far to say that Paul does not disapprove of letting kids be kids. Lauding Benvenuta for her pint-sized hair shirt and half-length rope belt (more on that below) is fine, but calling her sisters out for sharing their ribbons and eyelash curlers is too far. Let the children play!
Benvenuta was wearing a hair shirt and rope belt by the time she was twelve. As she grew, the rope belt became embedded in her flesh. By the time her folks insisted that she remove it, surgery seemed required. Benvenuta, however, prayed -- and the belt dropped to her feet.
Although she never moved into a convent, remaining a Dominican tertiary her whole life, she stuck to the most strict monastic austerities imaginable. That's probably why she only lasted thirty-eight years, five of which were spent confined to bed. One of her sisters used to hoist her on her back to carry her to Mass. One the Eve of the Feast of Saint Dominic, the Saint appeared in a vision to her. Then the Holy Mother and Infant also appeared. By morning, she was miraculously healed.
She often had visions at home. Angels and demons appeared to her; she strove long with the demons, but could banish them with the help of the Holy Mother. And yet with all her suffering and austerity, she had the reputation for unceasing cheerfulness, which is encouraging. It's fine that she had no interest in dolls and girly things, but happy saints are always preferable to grumpy, morose saints.