Saint Grania – the patron saint of children

Saint Grania is venerated as the patron saint of children. Her relics are kept in the church of Saint Stephen in Capraia Fiorentina (Capraia e Limite) in Tuscany. Saint Grania is a virgin and martyr of Jesus Christ. The relics of her holy body suggest that she died as a child of no more than six or seven years. The fact that the body was found in the catacombs of Saint Agnes in Rome, means that she died in one of the last persecutions, probably under the empire of Diocletian.

Gravestone of Saint Grania with her name, kept behind the altar of the Chapel of Villa Bibbiani (Capraia e Limite)

The remains of the Saint were extracted from the catacombs on September 12th 1646 by order of Pope Innocent X. They were donated to the Florentine prelate Monsignor Baccio Aldobrandini, who requested the relic for his friend, nobleman and priest Don Giovan Battista Gufoni from Capraia. Don Gufoni, as one of his manuscripts says, “desired to give it as a precious present to his hometown of Capraia after his death”. It further confirms that the body of Saint  Grania was already  in  Capraia in 1652 and a fervent devotion to the Saint began shortly after.

The people of Capraia always felt a connection with Saint Grania due to many graces obtained as a result of her intercession. The people’s devotion to Saint Grania has been expressed, above all, in their constant trust in her. Many miracles have been attributed to her and all of them were very similar. The Saint, in fact, always intervened to protect children who were in danger of their life and who reported to have been rescued by “a little girl dressed in red”. For everybody, it was indisputably Saint Grania. In memory of these events several ‘ex votos’ were received by the parish in the past. 

The protection of the Saint could be invoked in various ways. The pillow of Saint Grania, was placed under the head of the dying and the seriously ill to ask for their healing. The flowers blessed on the day of festival and preserved in the houses were scattered to the wind during stormy days to placate the darkest thunderstorms. The women of Capraia also confided their husbands and relatives who were at the front during WWII to her, by putting their photographs near the urn of the Saint. 

The urn where the Sacred Body is currently resting (church of Saint Stephen in Capraia Fiorentina)

People who passed their lives according to the rhythms of nature and faith always felt very close to her. They used to make great sacrifices in order to adorn the relic of their Saint. She was not only asked for intercession, but also supported, as someone who was part of the family. After the theft of a rich dress that covered the Sacred Body, they prepared an even more beautiful gown, but this time they requested the Saint to guard it: “Oh Santa Granina (Little Grania), don’t let them steal it again, because we will have to use a simpler fabric next time”, they said.

There are two documents written by priests about the body of Saint Grania. Father Ubaldo Castellani described it this way: “Under the pillow on which the head of the Saint rests, two red ribbons hang on the sides and come out of a square, red, silk handbag. At the feet of the Saint, there is an oval stone on which rests a glass jar sprinkled with many drops of blood and which features a small sign surrounded by a ribbon with the following inscription: Sacred Body of Holy Grania, Virgin and Martyr, with her blood extracted at the cemetery of Saint Agnes in via Nomentana by the order of Supreme Pontiff Innocent X”. The other description of the Sacred Body by Don Bianconi says: “The skeleton of Saint Grania, even after so many centuries and despite the unfortunate situation in which it was kept during the first hundred years of its stay in Capraia is well preserved and so fresh that it seems to have just lost the flesh. It is covered – continues the old parish priest – from neck to toe in a rich red velvet dress beautifully embroidered with gold. A wide silk cloak hangs from the shoulders. On the chest they lie a lily and a silver palm. A metal halo shines on her head.” 

The urn where the Sacred Body is currently resting was rebuilt after the war, since the previous one had been destroyed during the collapse of the church during the bombing of 1944. Before that, the urns containing the relics were changed and modified several times. Almost always these objects, which were often of valuable workmanship, were made at the expense of the people. In order to decorate the relic of their Saint, the people living in Capraia were willing to face considerable expenses. 

In  the past,  the day of the Festival of Saint Grania was a very important holiday for inhabitants of Capraia. Everyone abstained from work on that day to honor Saint Grania and participated in the solemn holy mass. Originally it was celebrated on 1st May, but since it coincided with the Labour Day, it was considered appropriate to move the it to the following day—2nd May—which remains the day of the holiday until today.

Wooden statue that is venerated in the Chapel of Saint Grania

On this day, there traditionally was a procession from the village to the castle that followed a child dressed as an angel and riding a donkey. Every 50 years the Jubilee festival has been celebrated with the participation of the bishop. During the eve on 1st May, the people of Capraia lit bonfires around the village. Some say that this custom started after, in a period difficult to determine, the body of the Saint disappeared and the whole village searched for it for many nights with fire torches. In the past the  custom of lighting the bonfires was so widespread that there were people selling wooden bundles specially prepared for this purpose.

Nowadays, the flowers are blessed in honour of Saint Grania during the evening celebration of Holy Mass on the eve of the celebrations and from about 9:00 p.m. everyone can admire bonfires. On the day of the festival, the blessing of children takes place in the Chapel of the Body of Saint Grania in the afternoon, followed by the celebration of Holy Mass. In the evening at 9:00 p.m. there is a procession in honour of the Saint, carrying the relic of the Saint from the church of Saint Stephen through the streets of the village.

Prayer to Saint Grania

Oh Saint Grania, the Lily of Virtuousness, the Rose of Love, through whose devoted life and intercession, grant sweet solace to souls that seek you. Look upon me, the poor sinner, with your merciful glance, hear my prayer and comfort me.

Through Jesus Christ, who denies you nothing, grant me the grace of conversion, so I can begin a new life full of love, so I can always be ready like you, for the greatest sacrifices, and not break my Christian faith or any commandments.

Surround me and my house with your holy coat of protection and help us to deserve, after faithful and sacred life, the eternal presence of the choir of all the blessed, that which triumphs together with you in heaven. Amen.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

We grant fifty days of indulgence to the faithful who piously recite this prayer

Pistoia, 27 January 1915

† Andrea, Bishop of Pistoia and Prato