St. Monica is the patron saint of mothers, women in difficult marriages and alcoholics. She died in the fourth century in the coastal town of Ostia, Italy, about 13 miles west of Rome.
In the 1400s, her relics were moved from Ostia into the heart of Rome, near the famous Piazza Navona. Her tomb is now located in the Basilica of Sant’Agostino, named for her son, St. Augustine. The Church celebrates their feasts on consecutive days — St. Monica’s on Aug. 27 and St. Augustine on Aug. 28.
The Church of St. Augustine in the heart of Rome has many amazing works of art, including a fresco by Raphael, a painting by Caravaggio and an altarpiece by Bernini. Despite the art, and the fact that it is so centrally located, this church is often missed by most tourists to Rome.
But it’s the statue, Madonna del Parto, and the tomb of St. Monica that keep this church near the top of the list for pilgrims coming to Rome.
Madonna del Parto is Our Lady of Childbirth. Couples who are trying to conceive, and those experiencing difficult pregnancies, visit Our Lady of Childbirth to pray for a happy delivery. When their prayers are answered, they always return bearing gifts in the way of ex-votos, a votive offering, that are then placed on the walls of the church. Unique to this church is that most of the ex-votos are baby pillows with the newborn’s name sewn into the fabric.
On the opposite end of the church is the tomb of St. Monica. This is a place of so many fervent prayers. Mothers praying for their children to return to the Faith, wives who are living through difficult marriages and those who are struggling with addictions.
Other than taking people up the Scala Santa, the stairs Jesus climbed when he was condemned to death, nowhere else in Rome do I see a more emotional experience in pilgrims to Rome. As one who brings hundreds of people to Rome each year, it’s always an honor to be present in such a vulnerable moment.
Over the past decade, I’ve been blessed to not only witness such strong devotions to St. Monica, but also to bring people back to give thanks for her intercession. Sometimes it takes years, but I have had people return to Rome after praying for a miracle and having their prayers answered.
Many years ago, a man was traveling with me on pilgrimage. He had been praying for his sister to return to the Church and for her to be open to life. Recently, he traveled to Rome with me again, this time as a newly ordained priest, to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving over the tomb of St. Monica. His sister’s child was born nine months after that first visit to Rome. He said that this was his most emotional Mass on the entire pilgrimage. A chance to thank St. Monica and the Blessed Mother for that answered prayer.
I once had a woman on pilgrimage who asked to visit St. Monica. She was very open about some difficulties in her marriage. Years later, she returned, this time with her husband, and a request to have their marriage blessed at the tomb.
During the Holy Year of Mercy, I led a walking pilgrimage through Rome for 80 homeless men and women from the United Kingdom. By design, the trip to Rome was open to all faiths. One of the places we visited was Sant’Agostino. I told the story of St. Monica and watched as more than half of the group, many in tears, went up to her tomb to pray.
Powerful experiences like this make Rome so special — to be able to bring prayers directly to an intercessor and return with prayers of thanksgiving.
Mountain Butorac leads pilgrimages in Rome and throughout Europe. Visit his website at thecatholictraveler.com.