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Saint Rita

saint ritaAn Italian monastery that was sanctuary 600 years ago to an abused bride is now a shopping destination for brides-to-be, reports Gaia Pianigiani in The New York Times (2/12/14). The St. Rita monastery in Cascia, Italy, "has long been a pilgrimage site for Italian women, who come to pray to the saint to protect their marriages." Over the years, some women left "their wedding dresses as an offering of thanks." At first the gowns were simply given away to brides in need but now the monastery "has become a trendy choice for … brides who want to keep their wedding costs down."

What the brides pay is up to them; some pay nothing at all while others "have left up to $1,200." The monastery’s popularity has grown as Italy’s economy has weakened. It’s not always about saving money, as some brides say that a "lavish wedding" is simply inappropriate during hard times. While "traditional marriage ceremonies are on the decline" in Italy, "with the number of weddings dropping by 16 percent from 2005 to 2012 … loans for weddings went up by 41 percent in the past two years." Meanwhile, "expectations — both financial and emotional – about weddings remain high."

"If you have a dream and we can make it come true, we’ll do our best," says Sister Maria Laura, who runs the "wedding-dress depot." The Sister is "a cloistered Augustinian nun" and a former "designer and seamstress," so she knows exactly what will and will not work. The Sister says she nearly always finds a good fit, and loves "the rush of emotion that comes with the right match." For some, like 25-year-old Irene Berardi, it’s "not merely an economic transaction." "I’ve felt at home here from the very first minute," she says. "After all, nuns have a calling. Love is a calling too."