Birth and Childhood.
Maria Valtorta was born on the 14th of March 1897 in Caserta where her parents, originally from the Lombard region, were in temporary residence. Her father, Joseph, born in Mantova in 1862, was a serving non-commissioned officer in the 19th Cavalry Regiment. Her mother, Iside Fioravanzi, born in Cremona in 1861, was a French teacher. After brushing with death during her birth, Maria remained an only child, having as wet-nurse a wretched "mercenary".
When she was hardly eighteen months old, the family moved to Faenza in Romagna, and a few years later, in 1901, transferred yet again to Milan where Maria was placed in the Ursuline Sisters' kindergarten located in Via Lanzone. Here, at the age of four and a half, Maria began to experience "the desire to console Jesus by becoming like Him in sorrow voluntarily borne out of love".
In October 1904, at seven years of age, she was enrolled in the Institute of the Marcellienne Sisters, located in Via Venti Settembre, where she initiated elementary studies, achieving from the start scholastic recognition as first in her class. On the 30th of May 1905, in the Via Quadronno center of the same Institute, she was confirmed by the holy Cardinal Andrea Ferrari whose touch "truly infused the Spirit of love into her".
Subject once again to professional transfer, in September 1907 her father took the family to Voghera where Maria frequented public schools. The French lessons, held every Thursday by a religious order exiled from France on account of the Combes law, served to place her soul "in communion with God" once again, and at Casteggio, on the first Sunday of October 1908, Maria received her First Holy Communion. But she was deeply grieved at the absence of her father whom she loved so much: her mother, an extremely severe woman, had judged his presence at the ceremony as "unnecessary".
In a Boarding-School at Monza.
Due to the habitual despotic attitude of her mother, to which her father responded with meek docility, Maria was painfully obliged to leave her home, in March 1909, at twelve years of age to go to a boarding-school. But since it was the beautiful Bianconi College of Monza, of the Sisters of Charity Mary, she ended up by finding herself at home. Her "generous, firm, strong and faithful" character brought her to be nicknamed "Valtortino". Her love for study, order and obedience gave her the reputation of being "exemplary". But her mother decided that she should follow a technical course of studies, and Maria, quite inapt in mathematics, could not avoid failing her examination badly She later made up for the time she had lost by means of intensive study and completed the classical course "in which she had always succeeded so well".
After "five terrible scholastic years and four solar years", it was again her mother who decreed that she should leave college in February 1913. She had to leave "that nest of peace", and her "poor heart, presaging the future awaiting her so tormentingly, trembled with fear and grief". From the last spiritual exercises in which she participated at the college, given by the bishop Msgr. Cazzani, Maria wanted "to obtain an enduring fruit for all her immediate life in the world and a program for what would be her future life". And the Lord, once again, did not fail to reveal Himself to her soul, bringing her to understand "what was to be her life in God, in relation to God, wanted by God".
In springtime of 1913, the Valtorta family moved to Florence, this time not to follow the Regiment, but because Joseph retired for health reasons. Maria often visited the city with her father, and on her own account continued to lead the life of a schoolgirl despite the "free lessons in religious indifference" which her mother did not fail to provide.
In Florence, Maria met Robert. "He was handsome, wealthy and cultured. He was also good, serious and calm". They loved each other, "a silent, patient and respectful love". But Maria's mother wanted to terminate the budding friendly affection. A similar circumstance was to take place nine years later in Maria's engagement to Mario, a winsome motherless youth, needful of care and affection in order to become "a good fellow, a valiant officer".
For Maria, "to love was an intransgressible condition to be able to live"; but she was to go to God "after seeing how tenuous are human affections".
In the spring of 1916, "during a tremendous period of desperation and desire", the Lord returned to attract her to Himself by means of a dream which was to remain "vivid" in Maria throughout her life. In an evangelical vision, which seemed to anticipate the waking visions of her literary work, Jesus aided Maria with words of admonishment and piety, as well as a gesture of absolution and blessing, which for Maria were "a cleansing which completely purified her". And she awoke "with her soul, enlightened by something which was not of this world".
But her withdrawal from the world was still remote. In 1917 Maria entered the ranks of the Samaritan Nurses and for eighteen months offered her service at the military hospital in Florence, having requested assignment with soldiers and not with officers "to serve those who suffered and not to flirt or find a husband". In exercising this charity, she felt as if she were "sweetly obliged to draw ever closer to God".
Struck in the Back.
It was an act of thoughtless violence which marked the beginning of her gradual immolation. It happened on the 17th of March 1920. She was walking along a street accompanied by her mother when she "was struck in the back by a young delinquent. With an iron bar stripped from a bed, he came from behind and struck her with all his might". She remained confined to bed for three months, just a sample of what was to be her future complete infirmity.
At Reggio Calabria.
In October of the same year, she went with her parents to Reggio Calabria as a guest of her cousins Belfanti, who were hotel proprietors. The splendour of nature in this region revived her spirit" and the "most beautiful collection of books" belonging to her cousin Clotilde gave respite to her wholesome desire for learning. And this time the Lord made use of a book to give her yet another vigourous push". The Saint by Antonio Fogazzaro engraved an indelible sign in her heart; and it was a good sign".
At Reggio Calabria, Maria experienced certain psychic perceptions in a more conscious way, whereas in the preceding years she had considered them as "premonitions" and other "strange things". At Reggio, her rapture for Saint Francis reflourished as well, and it was to remain an immutable characteristic of her spirituality. At Reggio, alas, she saw her mother's scheming arts destroy her engagement to Mario. She returned to Florence on the 2nd of August 1922 and remained there for two years, crushed by "bitter memories".
In September 1924, the Valtorta family moved definitively to Viareggio where they settled down in the newly purchased "little house" on October 23rd.
Here, Maria continued to lead a life of solitude, except for "some short excursions to the seaside and pine-forest" and the "daily shopping" which allowed her to "visit Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament, without attracting her mother's thunderbolts". But for her "a new and different period in her life" had begun "in which she progressively matured in God".
Offering to Love.
Attracted by the example of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, whose Autobiography she had read at one sitting, Maria offered herself as victim to the merciful Love (28th January 1925), renewing thereafter "every day" this act of offering. From that moment she grew to extraordinary heights in her love of Jesus, even to feeling His presence in her own words and actions.
Longing for Apostolate.
Urged by a longing to serve the Lord, she wished to enter the Company of Saint Paul, but she had to satisfy herself with carrying out "a humble, hidden apostolate, known only to God, nurtured more through suffering than action". Beginning in December 1929, however, when she was admitted to Catholic Action as youth cultural delegate, she was quick to take on enthusiastic activity, organizing conferences which attracted large audiences, progressively more numerous "even among nonpractising Catholics".
Offering to Justice and Complete Infirmity.
In the meantime, the decision was maturing in her to offer herself also as victim to divine Justice; for which she was preparing "with a life ever more pure and sacrificial". For some time now she had already pronounced the vows of virginity, poverty and obedience, renewing her offering on the 1st of July 1931, while her suffering, both physical and spiritual, was spared her less and less.
The 4th of January 1933 was the last day on which Maria, walking with extraordinary fatigue, was able to leave her house. And from the 1st of April 1934, she was no longer able to leave her bed, which was the beginning - in an "intense rapture of love" - of her long and active infirmity. She became "the instrument in the hands of God". Her mission was "to suffer, to expiate, to love".
The Death of her Father.
Martha Diciotti entered the Valtorta household on the 24th of May 1935. She was to become Maria's faithful companion, the "listener" of her writings, the one who would lovingly assist and care for her up to her death.
Just one month later, however, after having received the consolation of the constant presence of a friend, Maria was to suffer the painful blow of her father's death on the 30th of June. "He had always fulfilled his duty with patience, sweetness and love, forgiving all offenses, returning good for evil, overcoming the sorrows caused by those who continuously misjudged and hurt him". The pain of not being able to assist him in his last moments, and of not even seeing his body after his death, brought Maria to feel "between death and life". Her mother, after the "stupid scenes of tardy love", became even more callous and despotic. "Finding herself absolute mistress had touched her mind".
And in her sick-bed Maria continued to suffer and to love, becoming ever more disposed to the will of God, consoling the afflicted, correcting those in spiritual darkness, receiving painful' premonitions about the gravity of the times, always revealing the virile strength of her character and the clear intelligence of a mind fixed on God.
Father Migliorini and the Initial Manuscripts.
It was in 1942 that she was visited by a pious missionary priest, Fr. Rornuald M. Migliorini of the Servants of Mary, who was her spiritual director for four years. At his request, in 1943, she agreed to write her Autobiography, on condition that she would be allowed to tell "all the good and all the bad", in an authentic display of her soul.
Industrious, intelligent and gifted, Maria was inclined to be interested in everything; not even her imposed illness impeded her from working and writing. To her multiple aptitudes, particularly feminine, she added the gift of being a born writer. And she was to put exactly this distinguished ability at the complete disposition of God, Whom she loved to the point of self-immolation.
Prodded by supernatural impulse, on Good Friday, the 23rd of April of the same year 1943, she began writing the "dictations" after having completed the Autobiography.
The Death of her Mother.
A few months later, on the 4th of October, unaware of her daughter's sublime undertaking, Maria's mother died. Maria had "loved her with a love that not even her harshness had been able to tire or diminish".
At home, now there were just Maria and Martha.
Her activity as writer reached intensity from 1943 to 1947, and continued, diminishing progressively, until 1953. Maria thus wrote above all in time of war and in very difficult conditions, including evacuation, whereby on the 24th of April 1944 she was obliged to move to St. Andrew of Compito (section of the borough of Capannori in the province of Lucca). She returned to her dear home at Viareggio on the 23rd of December that same year.
She used to write in an almost sitting position in bed, in ordinary school notebooks which she supported with a piece of cardboard held on her bent knees. She would write at any time, by day or by night, even when she was exhausted by fatigue or tormenting pains. She wrote effortlessly, naturally and without revision. If interrupted, she could leave off writing and then resume later On with ease. She did not consult books, except for the Bible and the catechism of Pope Pius X.
Her mission as writer did not isolate her from the world. She was concerned for the persons near her, assisting them in their lives and worries with enlightened counsel and, when necessary, with secret and heroic sacrifices which miraculously solved painful cases. Neither was she indifferent to the fate of her country which she loved so much, nor did she forego her civil duties, even to the point of having herself transported by ambulance to the polling station on the 18th of April 1948.
During her continuous work, her living and constant prayer, her suffering embraced with the joy of the redeemers, Maria begged, God not to concede her external signs of her intense participation in Christ, Who used her as faithful "spokesman" and "pen", manifesting Himself in the richness of the "visions" and in the depth of the "dictations".
The notebooks written by Maria Valtorta include almost fifteen thousand pages. Little less than two- thirds of this astounding literary production concerns the monumental work on the Life of Jesus (The Poem of the Man-God). The minor works include extensive commentaries on biblical texts, doctrinal lessons, histories of the first Christians and martyrs, and pious compositions.
"I can affirm" - one of Valtorta's declarations reads - "that I have had no human source to be able to know what I write, and what, even while writing, I often do not understand".
Besides the highly inspired productions, of which she did not consider herself the author, Maria Valtorta has left us interesting autobiographical writings and a rich correspondence which display her strong human personality, voluntarily offered in heroic and holy service to God for the good of all.
Offering of her Intelligence.
On the 18th of April 1949, Maria offered to God the sacrifice of not seeing the ecclesiastic approval of the Work, and she added also the precious gift of her own intelligence. The Lord must have taken her at her word because, after seeing the Work "blocked", Maria began a slow process of withdrawal into a kind of psychological isolation which started perhaps in 1956.
One of the first signs of this condition was the exaggerated use of capital letters in her personal correspondence. Thereafter, followed the mania of filling holy cards, and in general any piece of paper she happened to have at hand, with ejaculations such as "Jesus, I confide in You", which at times she computed in terms of indulgences obtained.
And Maria, who either writing, or working or praying had never idled in bed, ended up by being completely inactive. She began responding mistakenly in her conversations, and at times evidenced her congenial wit without considering its convenience. But she progressively spoke less, to the point of limiting herself to the mechanical repetition of a greeting, or of the final words of a phrase addressed to her, frustrating all attempts at dialogue. From time to time she would shout or exclaim: "How bright the sun is there!"
Her eyes, however, remained clear, and her attitude tranquil. She never asked for anything, and she allowed herself to be fed like a child. When interrogated because of some serious circumstance regarding her writings, she responded briefly and exactly, as if temporarily shaken out of her state of incommunicability.
Death and Burial.
On the 16th of September 1961, due to her deteriorated health, Maria was taken by ambulance to Pisa and was admitted to the Clinic of the Servants of Maria Dolorosa, where she remained until the end of the month. Without any signs of recovery, she was taken back to her room at Viareggio where she died on the 12th of October 1961, at 10:35 a.m., the 65th year of her life and the 28th of her infirmity. The rector of the Third Order of the Servants of Mary, Fr. Innocenzo M. Rovetti, was called to assist her at her deathbed. She had belonged to this Third Order as well as to the Third Order Franciscans. At the very moment the priest recited the words: Proficiscere, anima christiana, de hoc mundo (Depart, o Christian soul, from this world), Maria breathed her last. It seemed to be her final act of obedience.
From a manuscript of 1944, we know that Jesus had said to her: "How happy you will be when you realise that you are in world forever, and that you have come there from the miserable world without even having been aware of it, passing from a vision to reality, just like a child dreaming of his mother awakens to find her embracing him. That is how I will behave with you".
Her body was laid in her own room on the very bed which had witnessed the sufferings, industrious activity, acts of offering and pious death of the infirm author, who several years earlier had selected her burial attire, the baptismal veil which was to cover her head, and the phrase to be printed in her memory: "I have finished suffering, but I will go on loving". The few, solemn visitors were able to admire the brightness of her right hand (the one which had been defined as "pen of the Lord") while her left hand was turning livid. And her knees, which had served as her desk, were visibly bent under her white dress, even now that she was laid down in the repose of death.
The funeral took place on the 14th of October in early morning and with great simplicity, just as Maria had requested some tine before. Following the celebration of the sacred rite in the parish of St. Paolino, a small procession of motor cars accompanied the deceased to the Mercy Cemetery where the burial took place.
Exhumation and Priviliged Sepulcher.,
Ten years later on the 12th of October 1971, her mortal remains were exhumed from the earth and placed in the family niche. On the 2nd of July 1973, however, with civil and ecclesiastic permissions, they were transferred from Viareggio to Florence to be entombed in the Capitular Chapel in the Grand Cloister of Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation, where the tomb of Met, Valtorta is still venerated.
Diffusion of the Manuscripts.,
The first editions of Maria Valtorta's writings began to be published without her name during the last years of her life. They quickly received an extensive welcome in the world, with diffusion in Italy as well as abroad, even to distant lands, and all without publicity, but with the sole impact of their message of truth and love which win over men's hearts, changing them for the better.
In the "dictation" of the 23rd of August 1943, we find the following words of Jesus addressed to the writer: "Good sense is needed to use My gift. Not an open and noisy diffusion, but a slow expansion progressively wider and without any name. When your hand is stilled in peace, in the expectation of the glorious resurrection, then and only then will your name be mentioned".
"The Poem of the Man-God".
The major work is a great Life of Jesus, the narration of which extends from the birth and childhood of the Virgin Mary to Her assumption into Heaven.
Defined in the Valtortian writings as "The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ as it was revealed to Little John", the work received the simpler title "The Poem of Jesus" which was preferred for the first edition. Later, the editor was requested to rectify this title because it had already been applied to a small volume of poetry published elsewhere, and the revised title read as "The Poem of the Man-God", as it remains to this day.
Nevertheless, it is a "gospel" which neither substitutes nor changes the Gospel, but rather narrates it, integrating and illuminating it, with the declared purpose of reviving in men's hearts the love for Christ and His Mother.
And it was "revealed" to Maria Valtorta, called "Little John". John, to place her close to the Evangelist who was the favourite disciple. Little, because of the dependence of her Work, although quite extensive, on those of the Evangelists who, in short manuscripts, enclosed what is essential.
(*) Translation of the preface written originally in Italian by Emilio Pisani with citations rendered in third person from the Autobiography and other of Maria Valtorta's manuscripts.