Born in 1235 at Viterbo in the domains of the Papal States, Rose was gifted with a profound spirituality even as a young child. Endowed by God with the gift of miracles, at the age of three she raised her maternal aunt to life. Her great love for the poor compelled her to assist them in every possible way.From her earliest years she gave herself over to prayer and penance for the conversion of sinners and at seven she retired to a little cell within her parents’ home. Rose’s health succumbed under the severe penances she imposed upon herself and the following year she fell gravely ill.
During her illness Our Lady appeared to her in a dream and cured her. She was instructed by the Mother of God to be clothed in the habit of St. Francis as a tertiary, but to remain at home and be an example to her neighbors.
At this particular time, the city of Viterbo was occupied by the twice-excommunicated Emperor Frederick II. Frederick was at war with the Papacy and had sworn to conquer all of the Papal States. Inspired by Divine Providence, Rose would issue forth from her seclusion and preach in the streets and public squares of her city.
With a crucifix in her hand, the young missionary would describe for the growing crowds the sufferings of Our Lord during His Passion, thereby showing them the heinousness of sin. With deep concern she exhorted them to repent of their sins and to convert.
Urging them to be faithful to the authority of the Pope, Rose likewise admonished those who yielded to the Emperor. Before long, crowds began to gather in the vicinity of her home, hoping for a glimpse of her. When her father, frightened by all the attention his daughter attracted, forbade her to even leave the house to preach under pain of physical punishment, the local parish priest intervened and convinced him to withdraw his prohibition.
For two years the child Franciscan preached conversion to her fellow citizens. Her ardent words were often accompanied by prodigies that stunned the crowds. The stone on which she stood to speak, for example, was seen to rise up off the ground and sustain her in midair during her preaching.
While the general population was moved to conversion and penance by her words and example, the partisans of the Emperor were incensed against the young preacher and actively clamored for her death. The civil authorities, however, while they were alarmed by her public exhortations, they would not go so far as to condemn a mere child to death and instead exiled her and her parents from Viterbo.
In January, 1250 they took refuge first in Soriano, where, on December 5 of the same year Rose prophesied the imminent death of the emperor. Her prediction came to pass on December 13 and soon after, Pope Innocent IV regained control of the Papal States through a stipulation in the emperor’s own will which directed that all lands he had taken from the Church be returned.
Soon afterwards, Rose and her parents went to Vitorchiano. A sorceress there had greatly influenced the citizens of this hillside town and the young apostle set about her public preaching once more. Her exhortations moved the people but failed with the sorceress herself. Undaunted, Rose had an immense wooden pyre built in the public square and climbing to the top, she had it set on fire. For three hours she stood unscathed in the midst of the devouring flames singing the praises of God. Sincerely moved by the miracle, the repentant sorceress fell to her knees.
With the restoration of the papal authority in Viterbo in 1251, Rose and her parents returned to their native city. She sought admittance to the Poor Clares at the Monastery of St. Mary of the Roses but was turned away for lack of a dowry. Humbly submitting to this decision, she foretold her admission to the convent after her death. A mere fifteen years of age, her subsequent attempts to establish a religious community near the monastery with the help of her parish priest proved equally disappointing. She therefore retired once more to a cell in her family home where she died two years later on March 6, 1252. She was first buried in the Church of Santa Maria in Podio and later in the church of the Monastery where she had once requested admission.
Her last prophesy was fulfilled on September 4, 1258 but the many miracles attributed to her intercession continue to this day. Not least among the numerous favors granted to St. Rose of Viterbo by Almighty God is the ongoing incorrupt preservation of her body.
As recently as 2010, scientific research on her incorrupt body revealed that she had died of a rare heart condition known as Cantrell’s Syndrome and not of tuberculosis as had been previously thought.