WHO SHE IS
Maria Valtorta was born in Caserta to Lombard parents on March 14, 1897.
Her father, Giuseppe Valtorta, born in Mantova in 1862, served in the Nineteenth Regiment of the Light Cavalry Guides with the rank of chief armorer warrant officer. Good and submissive, he was to be the loving educator of his only daughter.
Her mother, Iside Fioravanzi, born in Cremona in 1861, had been a French teacher. Peevish and selfish, she oppressed her husband and daughter with irrational and sometimes cruel severity.
After coming close to dying at her birth, Maria was entrusted to a wet nurse with bad habits. At the age of eighteen months, when her family moved to Faenza to follow the transfer of the Regiment, the child shifted from the burning heat of the south (she attributed her passionate nature to this fact and to the milk of her wet nurse) to the temperate climate of the northern regions.
Later moves to Milan and Voghera marked the stages of her growth and her cultural and religious training, in which she displayed her strong character, outstanding capacities, and deep spiritual sensitivity. She crowned off her studies at the prestigious Bianconi School in Monza, which was her peaceful nest for four years, at the end of which she grasped what her inner life would be like in God’s plan.
In 1913 her father retired for health reasons, and the family established its residence in Florence, where it would remain for eleven-and-a-half years. Maria was content in that city, which suited her cultural sensitivity and, during the first world war, gave her the chance to exercise her love for her neighbor as a “Samaritan Nurse” at the military hospital. But in Florence she was also beset by very harsh trials through the actions of her fearsome mother and a subversive: the former twice crushed her legitimate dreams of love, and the latter struck a blow at her lower back on the street, paving the way for her infirmity.
It was then that Maria Valtorta got the providential opportunity to spend two years in Reggio Calabria, from 1920 to 1922, as the guest of relatives running a hotel who with their affection, joined to the natural beauty of the place, contributed to reinvigorating her in body and soul. During that vacation she felt new impulses towards a life rooted in Christ, but her return to Florence, where she would remain for two more years, submerged her again in bitter memories.
In 1924 her parents bought a house in Viareggio, where they settled and where an inexorable ascetic activity began for Maria expressing itself in firm intentions and culminating in heroic offerings of herself out of love for God and mankind. At the same time she devoted herself to the parish as the cultural delegate for the young women of Catholic Action and gave talks which began to be attended even by the nonobservant.
But it was harder and harder for her to move. On January 4, 1933 she left her house for the last time, with extreme exertion, and from April 1, 1934 on she no longer got out of bed.
On May 24, 1935 a young person who had been left orphaned and alone, Marta Diciotti, was taken into the house, and she became Maria’s helper and confidante for the rest of her life. A month later, on June 30, her beloved father died, and Maria nearly died of grief. Her mother, whom she always loved by virtue of a natural duty and a supernatural sentiment, died on October 4, 1943, never having ceased to oppress her daughter.
MYSTIC AND WRITER
Precisely at the beginning of 1943, when Maria, who had been infirm for nine years, was thinking she had consummated every sacrifice and was close to the end, Father Migliorini, a Servite religious who had been directing her for several months, asked her to write her memoirs. After hesitating, she agreed and, spontaneously, sitting in bed, filled seven notebooks with her own handwriting in less than two months, display-
ing great talent as a writer, but also opening up her soul in an intimacy without concealment.
She seemed to have freed herself from her past, consigned to those 760 handwritten pages entrusted to her confessor, and was preparing for death with greater trust when a voice already familiar to her spirit dictated to her a page of divine wisdom, which was the sign of an unimaginable turn of events. It was April 23, 1943, Good Friday.
From her room Maria called the faithful Marta and, displaying a sheet in her hands, brought her to understand that something extraordinary had happened. She had her call Father Migliorini, who was not long in coming. No one has ever known the content of the secret conversation which ensued, but it has always been said that the religious reassured the woman he was assisting concerning the
supernatural origin of the “dictation” and asked her to write down anything else she “received.” And he went on providing her with notebooks.
She wrote almost every day until 1947 and intermittently in the following years until 1951. The notebooks increased to 122 (in addition to the seven for the Autobiography), and the handwritten pages, to about 15,000.
Always sitting in bed, she would write with a fountain pen in the notebook resting on her knees and placed upon the writing board she had made herself. She did not prepare outlines, did not even know what she would write from one day to another, and did not reread to correct. She had no need to concentrate or to consult books, except for the Bible and the catechism of Pius X. She could be interrupted for any reason, even a trivial one, and resumed writing without losing the thread of the text. The acute phases of her suffering or the impelling need to rest did not cause her to halt, for at times she would have to write even at night. She partook with her whole self in the narrative flowing from her pen as a gifted writer, but if theological subjects were involved, she might not understand their deep meaning. She would often call Marta, taking her away from her household chores, and read to her what she had written.
She did not stop even when, with the fury of the second world war, she was forced to evacuate to Sant’Andrea di Compito (a hamlet in the town of Capannori in the province of Lucca), where she was transplanted with the furniture from her room as an infirm person and with the burden of new sufferings, from April to December 1944.
Especially in Viareggio, her occupation as a full-time writer did not isolate her from the world, and she followed events by way of the press and the radio. Nor did she evade her duties as a citizen, to the point that in the political elections of 1948 she had herself taken in an ambulance to the polling station. She received only friends and later on had some important visitors, but she did not neglect correspondence, which was particularly abundant with a cloistered nun, a Carmelite, whom she regarded as a spiritual mother.
She prayed and suffered, but tried not to let this be seen. Her prayers were preferably secret, and her ecstasies, detectable on the basis of her personal writings, were witnessed by no one. Protected by a healthy appearance, she did not let her harsh and continual sufferings—embraced with spiritual joy out of a longing to redeem—leak out. She requested and obtained the grace of not bearing the manifest signs of her sharing in Christ’s passion impressed upon her body.
She looked like a normal person, though infirm. She offered herself for the womanly or domestic tasks which may be performed while remaining in bed, like embroidering, preparing vegetables, or cleaning the bird cage. She even took care of personal hygiene on her own: it was enough for them to give her the necessary elements. She sometimes sang, and she had a lovely voice.
The main work among Maria Valtorta’s writings has been published in ten volumes and is entitled The Gospel as revealed to me.
It narrates the birth and childhood of Mary and her Son Jesus (largely written during the evacuation), the three years of Jesus’ public life (which constitute the bulk of the work), his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, the beginnings of the Church, and the assumption of Mary.
On a lofty literary plane, the work describes landscapes, environments, people, and events with the vivacity of a depiction; it delineates characters and situations with introspective skill; it sets forth joys and dramas with the sentiment of someone really taking part in them; it provides information on the characteristics of surroundings, customs, rites, and cultures with unexceptionable details. Through the charming account of the Redeemer’s earthly life, with a wealth of discourse and dialogue, she illustrates the whole doctrine of Christianity in keeping with Catholic orthodoxy.
“Natural and mystical gifts harmoniously joined together,” the biblicist Fr. Gabriele M. Allegra—a Franciscan missionary —wrote in 1968, “account for this masterpiece of Italian religious literature and, perhaps I should say, of Christian literature on a worldwide scale.”
Maria Valtorta wrote this work between 1944 and 1947. Some of the final episodes correspond to 1951.
She did not always proceed according to narrative order. Sometimes, in view of contingent spiritual exigencies, she had to write one or more episodes outside the plot, and Jesus would afterwards show her where they should be introduced. In spite of the sporadic discontinuity of the drafting and, above all, the lack of written or mental preparatory outlines, the work presents a perfectly organic structure from beginning to end.
In addition, Maria Valtorta interpolated pages on varied topics which she began to write in 1943 (as soon as the Autobiography was finished) and continued in later years until 1950. These have come to form the minor works, published in five volumes: three miscellaneous works entitled The Notebooks (corresponding, respectively, to 1943, 1944, and 1945-1950), which group together texts on ascetical, biblical, doctrinal, and autobiographical subjects, in addition to descriptions of Gospel scenes and the martyrdom of the early Christians; the work entitled The Book of Azariah contains commentaries on texts found in the Missal for feast days (except the Gospels); and Lessons on Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
A FINAL WORD
When she had almost finished the major work—the one published in ten volumes and entitled The Gospel as revealed to me—Maria Valtorta was seized by a yearning for her Lord, thinking she would no longer see Him. But He came to console her with a promise: “I will always come. And for you alone. And it will be even sweeter because I shall be entirely for you…. I will take you higher up, into the pure spheres of pure
contemplation…. From now on you shall only contemplate…. I will have you forget the world in my love.” It was March 14, 1947, the day of her fiftieth birthday.
Several years before, on September 12, 1944, Jesus had already predicted an ecstatic death for her: “How happy you will be when you realize you are in my world forever and have come there from this poor world, without even realizing, passing from a vision to reality, like a child who is dreaming of his mother and awakens with his mother, who is clasping him to her heart. That is what I will do with you.”
The fact is that in the summer of 1956, when, after years of waiting, she received from the publisher the first large printed volume of the work—the first of the four big volumes planned on for that laborious edition, which was entitled The Poem of Jesus and did not bear the name of the writer, who did not want to be known in her lifetime—Maria Valtorta examined it with indifference and placed it on her bed as if it did not concern her. It was the first sign of a detachment which would become accentuated in the course of time, to the point of turning into incommunicability, gentle apathy, and total abandonment, but which never dimmed the liveliness of her gaze or altered the serenity of the expression on her face.
In her last years she no longer did anything. She ate only if she was fed and spoke only to repeat the final words of the sentence addressed to her. On her own she exclaimed, “What sunlight there is here!” from time to time, and nothing else. (And she should have cried out in pain, according to a doctor who attended to her.) On a few special occasions, it was as if she regained consciousness and offered her lucid, precise, and prophetic replies—for just an instant, and then she would again forget the world.
She passed away on the radiant morning of Thursday, October 12, 1961, as if obeying the words of the priest who recited the prayer for those in agony: “Depart, Christian soul, from this world.” She was sixty-four years old and had been bedridden for twenty-seven-and-a-half years.
Twelve years later, on July 2, 1973, the mortal remains of Maria Valtorta, transferred from Mercy Cemetery in Viareggio, were entombed in Florence, in a chapel in the main Cloister of the Basilica of the Annunciation.