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

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S. Giuseppe Labre (Three Tales)



'THERE was Giuseppe Labre too, and many wonderful things he did; he was a great saint, as all the people in the Monti [2] knew. I don't know if they've put all about him in books yet; if so, you may have read it; but I can't read.'

               'I know a Life of him has been published; but tell me what you have heard about him all the same.'

               Giuseppe Labre, you know, passed much of his time in meditation in the Coliseum; the arch behind the picture of the Second Station, [3] that's where he used to be all day, and where he slept most nights, too. There was a butcher in the Via de' Serpenti who knew him, and kept a little room for him, where he made him come and sleep when the nights were bad and cold, or stormy. These people were very good to him, and, though not well off themselves, were ready to give him a great deal more than he in his love for poverty would consent to accept.

               One great affliction this butcher had; his wife was bedridden with an incurable disorder. One night there was a terrible storm, it was a burning hot night in summer, and Giuseppe Labre came to sleep at the butcher's. He was lying on his bed in the little room, which was up a step or two higher than the butcher's own room, where his wife lay, just as it might be where that cupboard is there. Presently the butcher's wife heard him call her, saying,

               'Sora Angela, bring me a cup of water for the love of God!'

               'My friend, you know how gladly I would do anything to help you, but my husband is not come up, and I have no one to send, and you know I cannot move.'

               Nevertheless Giuseppe called again, 'Sora Angela, bring me a cup of water for the love of God!'

               'Don't call so, good friend,' replied she; 'it distresses me; you know how gladly I would come if I could only move.'

               Yet still the third time Giuseppe Labre said,

               'Sora Angela, hear me! Bring me a cup of water for the love of God!' And he spoke the words so authoritatively that the good woman felt as if she was bound to obey him, she made the effort to rise, and, can you believe it! she got up as if there was nothing the matter with her; and from that time forward she was cured.


THERE was a poor cobbler who always had a kind word for Giuseppe too. One day Giuseppe Labre came to him, and said he wanted him to lend him a pair of shoes as he was going a pilgrimage to Loreto. The cobbler knew what a way it was from Rome to Loreto, and that there would not be much left of a pair of shoes after they had done the way there and back. Had Labre asked him to give them, his regard for him would have prompted him to assent however ill he could afford it; but to talk of lending shoes to walk to Loreto and back seemed like making game of him, and he didn't like it. Nevertheless he couldn't find it in his heart to refuse, and he gave him a pretty tidy pair which he had patched up strong to sell, but without expecting ever to see them again.

               Giuseppe Labre took the shoes and went to Loreto, and when he came back his first call was at the cobbler's shed; and sure enough he brought the shoes none the worse for all the wear they had had. So perfectly uninjured were they that the cobbler would have thought they were another pair had it not been that he recognised the patches of his own clumsy work.


ANOTHER more matter-of-fact account of this story was that he did not wear the shoes on the journey, as he did that barefoot, i.e. with wooden sandals, and only borrowed the shoes to be decent and reverent in visiting the Sanctuary. In this case the story was told me to illustrate his conscientiousness both in punctually returning the shoes and in taking so much care of his trust.



[1] S. Joseph Labre was born at Boulogne, of parents of the lower middle class, in 1749, and died 1783. He came to Rome on a pilgrimage when young, and remained here the rest of his days, passing his time in prayer and contemplation in the various shrines of Rome. He every year made the pilgrimage to Loreto on foot. He was supported entirely by the alms of the people.

[2] In the Rione Monti are the streets chiefly inhabited by the poor and working classes of Rome. Joseph Labre passed his life in their midst, and they always speak of him with affection, as a hero of their own order. It only needs to go to the Church of the Madonna de' Monti on the day of his 'Patrocinio' to see how popular he is.

[3] The stations of the 'Way of the Cross' are arranged round the interior of the Coliseum; and until out-of-door devotions were forbidden by the new Government, the Via Crucis was constantly performed here, led by a Capuchin and by various confraternities, and always well attended.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: S. Giuseppe Labre (Three 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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