Saint Maria carries the palm of martyrdom and lilies, the symbol of purity in sacred art.
Born in Italy in 1890, Maria grew up in a family of poor sharecroppers. The family's search for work led them to the western coast of Italy, where shortly after her father died of malaria.
Her 19-year-old neighbor Allesandro became infatuated with the young girl and propositioned her several times, to no avail. On July 5, 1902 he could control himself no longer and made sexual advances to the young girl, who struggled as he strangled her and rebuffed him shouting "No! It is sin! God does not want it!" Allesandro's lust transformed to violent anger and he stabbed Maria fourteen times with a long knife.
Doctors struggled in vain to save her life. She underwent surgery without anesthesia, and halfway through the surgery woke up. She insisted it stay that way. The hospital pharmacist asked Maria "Think of me in Paradise." "Who knows which of us is going to be there first," she said, looking at the old man. "You, Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," she said. After twenty painful hours of suffering during which she forgave and prayed for her attacker, Maria passed to heavenly life fortified by the Last Sacraments, her last earthly gaze resting upon a picture of the Blessed Virgin.
One of the youngest canonized saints of the Catholic Church, Maria was pronounced a saint by Pope Pius XII fifty years later in 1950. Saint Maria's mother and her murderer attended the canonization ceremony together. Calling her a "Saint Agnes of the 20th century," the pope proposed her as a patroness of modern youth, and since then she has been venerated as icon of purity and the patron of young women and victims of rape. Half a million people attended the ceremony outside of Saint Peter's Basilica, When the pope asked them, "Young people, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of the grace of God?" the resounding answer was "YES!"
After thirty years of hard labor, Allesandro was released and visited Maria's mother, asking her pardon and accompanying her to Christmas Mass in the parish church where before the hushed congregation he acknowledged his sin and asked God's forgiveness and the pardon of the community. He became a laybrother at a Capuchin monastery, working as its receptionist and gardener until his death in 1970.