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Santa Francesca Romana

A visionary woman at the turn of two councils. Francesca Bussa dei Ponziani, better known as Santa Francesca Romana, was a visionary woman born in 1384. The political and religious situation was quite troubled at that time.
In 1377 the papal court returned to Rome after almost one century of staying in Avignon. However, the year after, in 1378, the pope who moved back to Rome, Gregory XI, died. This provoked an internal conflict among the cardinals. The French wing wanted to return the papal court to Avignon again, while the Italian preferred to stay in Rome. This division led to the election of two different pontiffs, in charge at the same time, who respectively decided to establish their courts in Avignon and in Rome. This was the beginning of the Great Western Schism, which would find an end only with the Council of Constance, in 1417.

Therefore, the historical context in which Francesca Romana was born and lived her first half of her life was characterized by a profound crisis, both of the Church and more in general of the Christianity. Indeed, it was no longer clear which of the pontiffs was the legitimate one. The election of popes by the Avignon court and the Roman one kept continuing, until it was summoned an ecumenical council in Constance, in 1414. Among the personalities that joined this council, one in particular has a specific relevance in this discussion, that is, the French theologian Jean Gerson.

During the council, indeed, he used harsh words towards the category of the visionaries - mostly women. He considered them such a threat for the Church that he wrote down a treatise on discretio spirituum (the ability to distinguish true visionaries from false one), made for confessors to help them in their task. The discretio spirituum is, in short, a way to discern the differences between the vices and virtues, and ought to be a guide for the confessors to decide whether visions were divine or had their origin in the devil's temptations. In two occasions Gerson referred to visionary women in his treatise. The first one was connected to Birgitta of Sweden's canonization, in 1391. In this circumstance he not only questioned Birgitta's holiness, but also the veracity of her visions, assuming that they were not genuine. However, because of Birgitta's popularity, he had to be careful. It would have brought scandal to the Church and the whole Christianity to describe them as false. Gerson's second reference to the visionary women is related to their behavior. Supposed visionaries who are too frivolous or want to chit c

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