The Incorruptible St. Zita

Zita is one of the “Incorruptibles” — bodies of Catholic saints that were found to miraculously not deteriorate.

She began her life as a peasant girl who went to work as a servant in Lucca at age of 12, and was known for her sunny demeanor, work ethic, and for giving leftover bread to the poor. After many years of working as a domestic, she was promoted to head housekeeper, and a series of miracles began to reward her hard work and piety. The story most often related concerns her distribution of bread to the poor. One day, as she was smuggling bread from the home of the family she worked for, a fellow servant ratted her out. When the head of the family pulled open her apron, instead of bread, only flowers fell to the ground. According to legend, when she died at age 60, the church bells spontaneously began to toll.

In 1580, her body was exhumed and found to be incorruptible, and her body was put on display in a silver casket, as is tradition, in the church where she had prayed while alive. She was finally canonized in 1696. Although her body is “incorruptible,” it is browned and wizened, most likely the result of a form of natural mummification. Only her hands and face are uncovered for viewing.

In 1988, her body was examined by Gino Fornaciari of the University of Pisa. His studies concluded that she had died of lung problems, probably associated with inhaling coal dust and smoke.

Every year on April 27, citizens of Lucca bake bread and bring flowers (often daffodils) to San Frediano in celebration of her feast day, and the saint is brought out to be touched by the pious. Her body is on display in a chapel on the inside right hand side of the church.