Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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Padre Filippo (Eleven Tales)



THERE was in Padre Filippo's time a cardinal who was Prefect of the provisions, [1] who let everything go wrong and attended to nothing, and the poor were all suffering because provisions got so dear.

               Padre Filippo went to the Pope--Papa Medici [2] it was--and told him how badly off the poor were; so the Pope called the Cardinal to account, and went on making him attend to it till Padre Filippo told him that things were on a better footing.

               But the Cardinal came to Padre Filippo and said:

               'Why do you vex me by going and making mischief to the Pope?'

               But Padre Filippo, instead of being frightened at his anger, rose up and said:

               'Come here and I will show you what is the fate of those who oppress and neglect the poor. Come here Eminentissimo, and look,' and he took him to the window and asked him what he saw.

               The Cardinal looked, and he saw a great fire of Hell, and the souls writhing in it. The Cardinal said no more and went away, but not long after he gave up being a cardinal and became a simple brother under Padre Filippo.

Who this cardinal may have been I do not know, but the story was told me another time in this form:--


THERE was a cardinal--Gastaldi was his name--who went a good deal into society to the neglect of more important duties. One evening, when he was at a conversazione, Padre Filippo came to the house where he was and had him called out to him in an empty room.

               'Your Eminence! come to this window, I have something to show you.'

               The Cardinal came to the window and looked out, and instead of the houses he saw Hell opened and all the souls [3] in the flames; a great serpent was wriggling in and out among them and biting them, and in the midst was a gilt cardinalitial chair.

               'Who is that seat for?' inquired the Cardinal.

               'It is placed there for your Eminence,' replied St. Philip.

               'What must I do to escape it?' exclaimed the Cardinal, horrified and self-convicted.

               Padre Filippo read him a lecture on penitence and amendment of life, and for the practical part of his advice warned him to devote to good works moneys he had been too fond of heaping up. The Cardinal after this became very devout, and the poor were great gainers by St. Philip's instructions to him, and the two churches you see at the end of the Corso and Babbuino in Piazza del Popolo were also built by him with the money Padre Filippo had warned him to spend aright, and you may see his arms up there any day for yourself. [4]


SOME of their stories of him are jocose. There was a young married lady who was a friend of the Order, and had done it much good. She was very much afraid of the idea of her confinement as the time approached and said she could never endure it. Padre Filippo knew how good she was and felt great compassion for her.

               'Never mind, my child,' said the 'good Philip'; 'I will take all your pain on myself.'

               Time passed away, and one night the community was very much surprised to hear 'good Philip' raving and shouting with pain; he who voluntarily submitted to every penance without a word, and whom they had often seen so patient in illness. That same night the lady's child was born and she felt no pain at all.

               Early next morning she sent to tell him that her child was born, and to ask how he was.

               'Tell her I am getting a little better now,' said 'good Philip,' 'but I never suffered anything like it before. Next time, mind, she must manage her affairs for herself. For never will I interfere [5] with anything of that sort again.'


ANOTHER who had no child was very anxious to have one, and came to Padre Filippo to ask him to pray for her that she might have one. Padre Filippo promised to pray for her; but instead of a child there was only a shapeless thing. She sent for Padre Filippo once more, therefore, and said:

               'There! that's all your prayers have brought!'

               'Oh never mind!' said Padre Filippo; and he took it and shaped it (the narrator twisted up a large towel and showed how he formed first one leg then the other, then the arms, then the head, as if she had seen him do it). Then he knelt down by the side and prayed while he told them to keep silence, and it opened its eyes and cried, and the mother was content.

His winning and practical ways of dealing with his penitents afford an endless theme of anecdote, but some have grown to most extravagant proportions. The following shows how, as in all legends, mysteries are made to wear a material form. The fact that on some occasions he satisfied some, whom no one else could satisfy, of the boundless mercy of God, is brought to proof in such a tangible way as to provoke the denial it was invented to silence.


THERE was a man who was dying, and would not have a priest near him. He said he had so many sins on him it was impossible God could forgive him, so it was no use bothering himself about confessing. His wife and his children begged and entreated him to let them send for a priest, but he would not listen to them.

               So they sent for Padre Filippo, and as he was a friend he said:

               'If he comes as a visitor he may come in, but not as a priest.'

               Good Philip sat down by his side and said:

               'A visitor may ask a question. Why won't you let me come as a priest?'

               The sick man gave the same answer as before.

               'Now you're quite mistaken,' said St. Philip, 'and I'll show you something.'

               Then he called for paper and pen and wrote a note.

               'Padre Eterne!' he wrote. 'Can a man's sins be forgiven?' and he folded it, and away it went of itself right up to heaven.

               An hour later, as they were all sitting there, another note came back all by itself, written in shining letters of gold, and it said:--

               'Padre Eterne forgives and receives everyone who is penitent.'

               The sick man resisted no longer after that; he made his confession and received the sacrament, and died consoled in 'good Philip's' arms.


PADRE Filippo was walking one day through the streets of Rome when he saw a great crowd very much excited. 'What's the matter?' asked 'good Philip.'

               'There's a man in that house up there beating his wife fit to kill her, and for nothing at all, for she's an angel of goodness. Nothing at all, but because she's so ugly.'

               Padre Filippo waited till the husband was tired of beating her and had gone out, and all the crowd had dispersed. Then he went up to the room where the poor woman lived, and knocked at the door. 'Who's there?' said the woman.

               'Padre Filippo!' answered 'good Philip,' and the woman opened quickly enough when she heard it was Padre Filippo who knocked.

               But good Philip himself started back with horror when he saw her, she was so ugly. However, he said nothing, but made the sign of the cross over her, and prayed, and immediately she became as beautiful as she had been ugly; but she knew nothing, of course, of the change.

               'Your husband won't beat you any more,' said good Philip, as he turned to go; 'only if he asks you who has been here send him to me.'

               When the husband came home and found his wife had become so beautiful, he kissed her, and was beside himself for joy; and she could not imagine what had made him so different towards her. 'Who has been here?' he asked.

               'Only Padre Filippo,' answered the wife; 'and he said that if you asked I was to tell you to go to him;' the husband ran off to him to thank him, and to say how sorry he was for having beaten her.

               But there lived opposite a woman who was also in everything the opposite of this one. She was very handsome, but as bad in conduct as the other was good. However, when she saw the ugly wife become so handsome, she said to herself, 'If good Philip would only make me a little handsomer than I am, it would be a good thing for me;' and she went to Padre Filippo and asked him to make her handsomer.

               Padre Filippo looked at her, and he knew what sort of woman she was, and he raised his hand and made the sign of the cross over her, and prayed, and she became ugly; uglier even than the other woman had been!

               'Why have you treated me differently from the other woman?' exclaimed the woman, for she had brought a glass with her to be able to contemplate the improvement she expected him to make in her appearance.

               'Because beauty was of use to her in her state of life,' answered Padre Filippo. 'But you have only used the beauty God gave you as an occasion of sin; therefore a stumbling-block have I now removed out of your way.'

               And he said well, didn't he?

               One Easter there came to him a young man of good family to confession, and Padre Filippo knew that every one had tried in vain to make him give up his mistress, and that to argue with him about it was quite useless. So he tried another tack. 'I know it is such a habit with you to go to see her you can't give it up, so I'm not going to ask you to. You shall go and see her as often as you like, only will you do something to please me?'

               The young man was very fond of good Philip, and there was nothing he would have not done for him except to give up his mistress; so as he knew that was not in question, he answered 'yes' very readily.

               'You promise me to do what I say, punctually?' asked the saint.

               'Oh, yes, father, punctually.'

               'Very well, then; all I ask is that though you go to her as often as you like, you just pass by this way and come up and pull my bell every time you go; nothing more than that.'

               The young man did not think it was a very hard injunction, but when it came to performing it he felt its effect. At first he used to go three times a day, but he was so ashamed of ringing the saint's bell so often, that very soon he went no more than once a day. That dropped to two or three times a week, then once a week, and long before next Easter he had given her up and had become all his parents could wish him to be.


'THERE was another such case; just such another, only this man had a wife too, but he was so infatuated with the other, he would have it she loved him the better of the two.'

               'Yes; and the other was a miniature-painter,' broke in corroboratively a kind of charwoman who had come in to tidy the place while we were talking.

               'Yes, she was a miniature-painter,' continued the narrator; 'but it's I who am telling the story.'

               'Padre Filippo said, "How much do you allow her?"'

               'Twenty pauls a day,' broke in the charwoman.

               'Forty scudi a month,' said the narrator positively.

               'There's not much difference,' interposed I, fearing I should lose the story between them. 'Twenty pauls a day is sixty scudi a month. It doesn't matter.'

               'Well, then, Padre Filippo said,' continued the narrator, '"Now just to try whether she cares so much about you, you give her thirty scudi a month."'

               'Fifteen pauls a day,' interposed the charwoman.

               'Thirty scudi a month!' reiterated the narrator.

               'Never mind,' said I. 'Whatever it was, it was to be reduced.'

               'Yes; that's it,' pursued the narrator; 'and he made him go on and on diminishing it. She took it very well at first, suspecting he was trying her, and thinking he would make it up to her afterwards.'

               'But when she found he didn't,' said the charwoman,

               'She turned him out,' said the narrator, putting her down with a frown. 'He was so infatuated, however, that even now he was not satisfied, and said that in stopping the money he had been unfair, and she was in the right. So good Philip, who was patience itself, said, "Go and pay her up, and we'll try her another way. You go and kill a dog, and put it in a bag, and go to her with your hands covered with blood, and let her think you have got into trouble for hurting some one, and ask her to hide you." So the man went and killed a dog.'

               'It was a cat he killed, because he couldn't find a dog handy,' said the irrepressible charwoman.

               'Nonsense; of course it was a dog,' asseverated the narrator. 'But when he went to her house and pretended to be in a bad way, and asked her to have pity on him, she only answered: "Not I, indeed! I'm not going to get myself into a scrape [6] with the law, for him!" and drove him away. And he came and told Padre Filippo.

               '"Now," said good Philip, "go to your wife whom you have abandoned so long. Go to her with the same story, and see what she does for you."

               'The man took the dead dog in the bag, and ran to the lodging where his wife was, and knocked stealthily at her door. "It is I," he whispered.

               '"Come in, husband," exclaimed the wife, throwing open the door.

               '"Stop! hush! take care! don't touch me!" said the husband. "There's blood upon me. Save me! hide me! put me somewhere!"

               '"It's so long since you've been here, no one will think of coming after you here, so you will be quite safe. Sit down and be composed," said the wife soothingly; and she poured him out wine to drink.

               'But the police were nearer than he fancied. He had thought to finish up the affair in five minutes by explaining all to her. But "the other," not satisfied with refusing him shelter, had gone and set the police on his track; and here they were after him.

               'The wife's quick ears heard them on the stairs. "Get into this cupboard quick, and leave me to manage them," she said.

               'The husband safely stowed away, she opened the door without hesitation, as if she had nothing to hide. "How can you think he is here?" she said when they asked for him. "Ask any of the neighbours how long it is since he has been here."

               '"Oh, three years," "four years," "five," said various voices of people who had come round at hearing the police arrive.

               '"You see you must have come to the wrong place," she said. And the husband smiled as he heard her standing out for him so bravely.

               'Her determined manner had satisfied the police; and they were just turning to go when one of them saw tell-tale spots of blood on the floor that had dropped from the dead dog. The track was followed to the cupboard, and the man dragged to prison. It was in vain that he assured them he had killed nothing but a dog.

               '"Ha! that will be the faithful dog of the murdered man," said the police. "We shan't be long before we find the body of the man himself!"

               'The wife was distracted at finding her husband, who had but so lately come back to her, was to be taken away again; and he could discern how real was her distress.

               '"Go to Padre Filippo, and he will set all right," said the husband as they carried him away. The woman went to Padre Filippo, and he explained all, amid the laughter of the Court. But the husband went back to his wife, and never left her any more after that.'

The story was told me another time with this variation, that the penitent was a peasant [7] who came up to Rome with his ass, and tied it to a pillar set up for the purpose outside the church, while he went in to confess. The first time he went, St. Philip told him he must have nothing more to do with the occasion of sin, who in this case was a spinner instead of a miniature-painter. The peasant was so angry with the advice that he stayed away from confession a whole year. At the end of the year he came back. St. Philip received him with open arms, saying he had been praying ever since for his return to a better mind. The sum that formed the sliding-scale that was to open his eyes to the mercenary nature of the affection he had so much prized, was calculated at a lower rate than the other; but the rest of the story was the same.


'AH, THERE'S plenty to be said about Padre Filippo,' said the charwoman; and I should have liked to put her under examination, but that it would have been a breach of hospitality, as the other evidently did not like the interruption; so I was obliged to be satisfied with the testimony she had already afforded of the popularity of the saint. 'Ha, good Padre Filippo, he was content to eat "black bread" like us'; and she took a hunch out of her pocket to show me; (it was only like our 'brown bread.')

               'There was no lack where he was. Once I know, with half a rubbio [8] of corn, he made enough to last all the community ten years,' she, however, ran on to say before she could be dismissed.


ONE day Padre Filippo was going over Ponte S. Angelo, when he met two little boys who seemed to attract his notice. 'Forty-two years hence you will be made a cardinal,' he said to one, as he gave him a friendly tap with his walking-stick. 'And that other one,' he added, turning to his companion, 'will be dead in two years.'

               And so it came true exactly.


THERE was another peasant who, when he came into Rome on a Sunday morning, always went to the church where St. Philip was. [9] 'You quite weary [10] one with your continual preaching about the Blessed Sacrament. I'm so tired of hearing about it, that I declare to you I don't care so much about it as my mule does about a sack of corn.' Padre Filippo preferred convincing people in some practical way to going into angry discussions with them; so he did not say very much in answer to the countryman's remarks, but asked him the name of his village. Not long after he went down to this village to preach; and had a pretty little altar erected on a hill-side, and set up the Blessed Sacrament in Exposition. Then he went and found out the same countryman, and said, 'Now bring a sack of corn near where the altar is, and let's see what the mule does.' The countryman placed a sack of corn near the altar, and drove the mule by to see what it would do.

               The mule kicked aside the sack of corn, and fell down on its knees before the altar; and the man, seeing the token, went to confession to St. Philip, and never said anything profane any more.


THERE were two other fellows [11] who were more profane still, and who said one to the other, 'They make such a fuss about Padre Filippo and his miracles, I warrant it's all nonsense. Let's watch till he passes, and one of us pretend to be dead and see if he finds it out.'

               So said so done. 'What is your companion lying on the ground for?' said St. Philip as he passed. 'He's dead! Father,' replied the other. 'Dead, is he?' said Padre Filippo; 'then you must go for a bier for him.' He had no sooner passed on than the man burst out laughing, expecting his companion to join his mirth. But his companion didn't move. 'Why don't you get up?' he said, and gave him a kick; but he made no sign. When he bent down to look at him he found he was really dead; and he had to go for the bier.


Prior to tale: St. Philip Neri is a giant indeed in the household memories of the Roman poor. His acts have become travestied and magnified among them in the most portentous way, and they always talk of him with the most patriotic enthusiasm. 'He was a Roman!--a Roman indeed!' they will say. And yet he was not a born Roman, but was made 'Protector of Rome' by the Church.

               'Padre Filippo' is their favourite way of naming him, and sometimes 'il buon Filippo' and 'Pippo buono.'

End of tale: Cancellieri has collected some curious incidents ('Morcato,' p. 210-12, Appendix N. xxii.) concerning an attempt which was made by Princess Anne Colonna to obtain from Urban VIII. the authority to remove a part of the Saint's body to her chapel at Naples. The Fathers of the Oratory and the people were greatly averse to dividing it, as it was very well preserved in its entirety. By a fatality, which the people readily believed to be providential, Monsig. Moraldo, who was charged to bring the matter under the Pope's notice, forgot it every time he was in attendance on the Pope, though it was the most important thing he had to say. At last he put the Bull concerning it out on his desk that he might be sure to remember it, though otherwise he would have kept it concealed, for it bore the endorsement, 'Per levare (to remove) parte del corpo di S. Filippo Neri.' While he was talking about it to one of the papal secretaries standing near the window, a priest, who had come about other matters, was shown in, and thus happened to pass by the side of the table when the endorsement of the Bull caught his eye. With all a Roman's desire to preserve the body to Rome intact, he immediately gave notice at the Oratory, and two courageous young fathers took upon themselves to hide the body. When the prelates, therefore, came shortly after to claim the fulfilment of the Bull, the Rector opened the shrine in good faith, but the body was not there, and the report ran among the vulgar that it had been miraculously removed. Subsequently the Rector gave them the heart, and drew a tooth of the Saint, which was a verbal compliance with the terms of the Bull, being certainly 'a part of the body.' Some years after, the body was restored to its shrine, and in 1743 Prince Chigi provided it with velvets and brocades to the value of 1,000 scudi.


[1] 'Grascia e annòna' are two old words meaning all kinds of meat and vegetable (including grain) food. It was the title of one department of the local administration. There was a great dearth in Rome in the year 1590-1, mentioned in the histories of the times. It is probable the people would ascribe to the head of the department the fault of the calamity.

[2] These people generally call the popes by their family names. This 'Papa Medici' would be Pius IV., who reigned from 1559 to 1566.

[3] 'Brutte anime,' 'ugly souls.'

[4] All legends have doubtless some foundation in fact; but unfortunately for the detail of this one, the arms up in the façade of the said Churches, 'Dei Miracoli' and 'di Monte Santo'--are the arms of a Cardinal Gastaldi or Castaldi, who rebuilt them about a hundred years later than St. Philip's time. Alexander VII. having rebuilt the Flaminian Gate, or Porta del Popolo, the insignificance of these two churches became more noticeable than before; but he did not survive to carry out his intention of rebuilding them. This was subsequently performed by Cardinal Gastaldi.--Maroni, xii. 147, xxviii. 185; Panciroli, 169; Melchiorri, 254 and 420.

[5] 'Impicciare,' 'entangle myself with,' 'interfere with'--a very favourite Romanism.

[6] 'Impicciare,' again here.

[7] 'Campagnola,' a peasant of the Campagna near Rome.

[8] A rubbio is between four and five acres.

[9] St. Philip lived and taught for thirty-three years at the Church of S. Girolamo della Carità, not very far from the vegetable market in Campo de' Fiori, all the streets about containing shops much frequented by the country people when they come up to Rome with their vegetables.

[10] 'Scocciare,' to persevere to weariness; to din.

[11] 'Vassalli,' in the older dictionaries 'vassallo' is only defined as a vassal; but in modern Roman parlance it means a scamp, a vagabond.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Padre Filippo (Eleven Tales)
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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