Painting: Saint Maria Goretti

Side-Aisle Painting in Shrine Church

St Maria Goretti

The painting by Noah Buchanan made for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, WI addresses the appearance of St. Maria Goretti to Alessandro Serenelli in his jail cell. She appears above Alessandro, enclosed in the robes of the Madonna, for whom St. Maria Goretti had a special devotion. She is depicted in the act of picking lilies to offer to Alessandro. Each lily that St. Maria Goretti delivers to Alessandro is an act of forgiveness for each of the wounds he inflicted upon her which led to her death. The symbolism at work in “this painting is that the source from which Maria draws her forgiveness is abundant and without end (as shown in the Mandala). Similarly, the white lily is also a symbol for the Virgin. Just as Maria’s devotion stemmed from the Virgin, so does the source of the mandala of lilies which appears to emerge from the Madonna’s robes.

When Alessandro received each lily from Maria, they became lucent and burned his fingers as he received them. The painting depicts Alessandro receiving the 14 lilies, and as he opens his hand to receive the first one, it becomes light, as seen in the lowermost lily. A careful observer of the painting will note that, while there are hundreds of lilies shown in the painting, exactly 14 of them are depicted as glowing, one for each of St. Maria Goretti’s wounds.

Laying at the feet of the Saint, is the palm branch of Martyrdom. Maria is also depicted wearing her confirmation veil to convey her innocence, purity and chastity, as well as the sweetness of her young age; she was confirmed at the age of 6.


Born in 1890, St. Maria Goretti was a peasant girl who lived in Ferriere di Conca in Lazio, Italy.

She was known for her loving and kind spirit, complete devotion to God, and wisdom far beyond her years. Because of her maturity, She was affectionately known as the “Little Old Lady” by her community, and was often seen with rosary beads wrapped around her wrist (seen in the painting).

Alessandro Serrenelli, a fellow farm worker, attempted to sexually assault 12-year-old Maria. She courageously stood up to him saying, “Alessandro, this is a sin against God, and I refuse to let you do this to me.”  With his knife, Alessandro stabbed Maria 14 times during the attack.

The following day, as she lay on her deathbed with her family around her, she said, “I too forgive him, I too want him to be in paradise with me someday,” making reference to Jesus’ words on the cross.

She died on July 6 in 1902, with her eyes transfixed on an image of the Blessed Mother.

An unrepentant Alessandro suffered in prison for many years.

While imprisoned, a change of character fell upon Alessandro one night, when he had a dream of Maria gathering lilies in a garden. She handed the lilies to him one by one. Each lily symbolized the forgiveness of each stab wound he inflicted upon her. As he accepted the lilies they transformed into light. She handed him exactly 14 lilies, one for each wound.

Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950. Present at her canonization was her mother. Upon his release from prison, Alessandro begged Maria’s family for forgiveness, which they gave. He lived out his life as a gardener, cloistered from society in a monk’s abbey.

St. Maria Goretti is the patron saint of children, murder victims and rape victims. She champions the traits of virtue and chastity… but above all, she is the patron saint of Forgiveness.

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