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Cecilia Ferrazzi (1609–1684)

Author of Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint

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Short biography
Cecilia Ferrazzi was born in the Republic of Venice, Italy, to the large family of Alvise Ferrazzi, a middle-class artisan, and his wife Maddalena Polis. Most of what is known about her comes from her autobiography. From childhood, she suffered from several chronic and intermittent physical disorders. Her parents intended for her to marry, but at age 15, she decided she preferred to become a nun. In 1630, her parents and brothers died in a plague that swept through the city. As an orphan without a dowry, Cecilia was considered an undesirable candidate for the convent, and spent 22 years living with various relatives and other guardians. She began to fashion a career for herself in 1652, when she was hired as a governess for the daughters of a Venetian aristocrat. Soon, with the financial support of other Venetian nobles who recognized the value of the social service that she was providing, she began to take in girls and young women at risk for abuse and exploitation. By 1658, she was housing more than 200 women in a donated palazzo. In 1664, two women denounced Cecilia to the Inquisition, claiming that she forced the girls in her care to worship her as if she were a saint. Cecilia was held in prison, and while there, dictated her autobiography to a court-appointed scribe. It contained not only a chronology of her life, but also her visions of saints and the Virgin Mary, battles with the devil, and examples of her claim to be able to foresee future events and cure the sick. In 1665, at the conclusion of a 15-month-long trial involving some 300 witnesses, she was convicted of heresy and sentenced to seven years in prison. Appeals on her behalf won her a transfer in 1667 from a Venetian prison to the home of Gregorio Barbarigo, Bishop of Padua, where she lived under house arrest for two more years, and then was released. Nothing is known about her life from this point until her death. Her autobiography was published for the first time in 1990 by historian Anne Jacobson Schutte under the title Autobiografia di una santa mancata (1609-1664). The English translation, Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint, appeared in 1996.
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