North of Rome, the small town of Cascia has two great claims to fame. It is home to Saint Rita of Cascia, one of Catholicism's most revered saints, often referred to as the "Saint of the Impossible".
Cascia is also the place where a Eucharistic Miracle is preserved. It is therefore high on the list for many Catholic pilgrims.
Saint Rita of Cascia
Firstly, it is the home of Saint Rita of Cascia, often called "the saint of the impossible". St. Rita's story is one of the power of prayer and of faith. She was born in 1381 near the city of Cascia and althought she wished to enter a convent she was married off under obedience to her parent's wishes at the age of 16. Through much of history it was thought that her husband was abusive to her during their 18 years of marriage. This impression came about due to a mis-interpretation of some of the writings on her coffin. She was never buried, and as her coffin was on public display, many faithful came to pray and light candles. The soot from these candles blackened some of the inscription on the coffin and blotted out some of the words which led to people a totally different conclusion as to her husband's behavior towards her. Her husband was murdered by political enemies not long after that and although her two sons vowed revenge, she prayed fervently and they later forgave his assassins. The two sons died before her and she joined the Augustinian Convent in Cascia (not after some difficulty).
She was blessed with the Stigmata of Our Lord on her forehead. Although this stigmata gave off a highly offensive odor she bore it with humility and upon her death in 1457 the fragrance of flowers emanated from her body. Her body has remained incorrupt and has even been reported to have sat up and risen!
Inside the Basilica of Saint Rita lies her body in a separate chapel as well as relic of hers including the Crucifix from which she received the Stigmata. You can also view her cell where she spent the rest of her life.
Eucharistic Miracle of Cascia
This miracle is not related to Saint Rita but is preserved in the Basilica of Saint Rita. The miraculous host dates from 1330 when a priest in Siena, off to visit a dying farmer, took a consecrated host and stuck it in his breviary rather than a pyx. When he arrrived at the bedside he opened the breviary and discovered the host was bleeding and that the pages inside were stained with blood.
The pages were preserved and numerous tests were performed confirming that it was indeed human blood. The Eucharistic miracle is kept in the lower chapel of the Basilica.
Cascia is about 60 miles north of Rome and can make a good stop if you are traveling from Rome to Assisi.
Some tour groups include this in their itineraries.
Driving time is about 2 hours if you are traveling on your own. There is no direct train service to Cascia, but you can take the train to Spoleto and then transfer to a bus that will take you directly in to Cascia. Your train ticket also serves as your bus ticket.
There is also bus service directly from Rome, taking about three hours.
Please note that the official website of the Shrine of Saint Rita is down at the moment but we will keep checking on the status. They can be reached by phone at +39-0743/76221. Not sure if anyone there speaks English though.
You can view a video (in English) at the shrine as well
as take guided tours (in Italian).