St. Fina is the heroine of the old northern Italian town of San Geminiano. Unlike other great women such as St. Clare or St. Teresa of Ávila, Fina is not remembered for anything she did. She is celebrated for having patiently—even joyfully—endured a lengthy, grievous illness without complaint. We don’t know much about Fina. John DiCoppo, the saint’s thirteenth-century biographer, tells more about miracles she worked after her death than he does about her life. Apparently Cambio and Imperiera, her father and mother, were from well-established families but poor. Imperiera instructed her daughter in the faith and in household crafts. Even as a child Fina seems to have been a recluse. Perhaps she was kept at home because she was already fragile and given to illness.
In her teen years Fina became a beautiful young woman.“It pleased God,” says DiCoppo, “that she had a lovely face, was tall of stature and well-proportioned.” But illness struck and ruined all her loveliness. DiCoppo described Fina’s unthinkable response to her horrible condition:
St. Paul teaches that suffering makes us strong in spirit. For this reason, when Fina was at her prettiest and most attractive, it pleased Jesus Christ, our master, to allow her to suffer a serious illness. She was paralyzed from her neck down through all of her body. She could not get up from her couch, or even move a hand or a foot.
As God permitted this affliction, she decided not to rest her body on anything soft or comfortable. Instead, she chose an oak plank for her bed. And because one side of her body was afflicted with the sickness and wearied her greatly, she slept on the other. Thus, for five years she lay on that side. She would not allow anyone to move her or to change her clothes. This holy virgin spent so many days lying only on one side, that her flesh rotted with sores. . . . Even though she was so grievously afflicted, she never complained or groaned. But she kept a joyful countenance and gave thanks to God.
Imperiera cared for Fina as best she could. But she had to leave her alone for long hours when she went out to work or beg. One day, however, Imperiera was assaulted on the street and died at her doorstep. From that time Fina had to depend upon the casual attention of neighbors, many of whom were repulsed by her sores. Thus, her condition rapidly worsened.
Fina was devoted to St. Gregory the Great, who persevered while severe gastritis enervated his body. She frequently asked him to intercede for her endurance. Just before she died, St. Gregory appeared in a vision to comfort her and told her that she would die eight days later on his feast. And so it happened that Fina’s torments ended on March 12, 1253, the anniversary of St. Gregory the Great.
Townspeople said that when she was lifted from her plank, it was found to be covered with white violets. Several friends who approached her bier were healed. These were the first of thousands of miracles that have occurred through her intercession. Thus, Fina, who was alone and neglected in her suffering, became a popular hero. May all Christians who are impatient in their smallest afflictions and infirmities be ashamed and follow the example of Saint Fina.