Mafalda, Princess of Mantua (Sr. Maria Rita)

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Mafalda Princess of Mantua
Royal House Montillet
Father Prince Juan María of Mantua
Mother Princess Marina del Viretta
Born 28 February 1897
Cavaletta Palace, Mantua
Died 7 January 1968 (Aged 71)
Villa Debarros, Mantua
Buried Abbey of San Leopoldo en la Piedra, Mantua

Princess Mafalda of Mantua, born Mafalda María Imelda Cristina Anna Rita; later known as Sister Maria Rita (1897 - 1968) was a member of the Princely House of Montillet who joined a religious order in 1922 as a cloistered nun. Whilst she ceased to use her royal titles and publicly distanced herself from her former role as a member of the Princely Family, she never lost her royal rank and gained succession rights in 1950 when the succession laws of Mantua changed. She entered the Abbey of San Leopoldo en la Piedra in 1922 and died in 1968 aged 71.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Princess Mafalda was born in 1897 at the Cavaletta Palace, the fourth child and eldest daughter of Prince Juan María of Mantua and Princess Marina del Viretta. She was the sister of Prince Amalio III and aunt to the current reigning Sovereign Princess of Mantua, Fabiola. Her siblings also included Carlos, Baron de San Pablo, Prince Nicolás, 1st Baron de Oureca and Princess Fabiola, Baroness Debarros. From a young age, she showed a deep religious conviction and would spend many honours in the private chapel of the Cavaletta Palace. According to her sister Fabiola, Mafalda first requested to be allowed to join a religious order at the age of 6. Mafalda's education was very limited and she showed little interest in any subject other than religious studies. On her 21st birthday, her father considered granting her a Baronial title of her own so that any children she may have after marriage would have some sort of title which he felt suitable for the grandchildren of the Sovereign Prince. When he asked Mafalda which title she might like, she said, "That of the Bride of Christ". Prince Juan María promised to allow his daughter to enter a convent if she still felt so inclined after her 25th birthday.

Princess Mafalda's Monogram, 1915 - 1922

In 1922, she joined the Leopoldine Sisters at the Abbey of San Leopoldo en la Piedra in Mantua as a novice. She made her final vows in 1925 and took the name Sister Maria Rita. She left the Abbey several times during her lifetime to attend family weddings, baptisms and funerals but did not attend investitures or jubilee celebrations. At her own request, she received no appanage or honours and was known to put a line through envelopes addressed to her as "HSH Princess Mafalda of Mantua" replying as "Sister Maria Rita" instead. In 1968, it was announced by the Mother Abbess of her order that Princess Mafalda had died. According to her wishes, the Princess was not buried with her family at the Prince's Crypt at the Basilica on the Rock but was laid to rest in the grounds of the Abbey where she had spent nearly 46 years as a nun. Her family were given permission to enter the private chapel of the Abbey and to attend the burial service in the Nun's Cemetery which is never usually opened to anyone outside of the Abbey walls.

Her brother Prince Nicolás said of her, "Mafalda was very devout and she was very committed to the decision she had made but she was a little cheeky too. Every year for her birthday, she requested a bottle of champagne as a gift from me which she shared with the other nuns. They can't have had more than a thimble full each but I remember her writing to thank me one year and saying that they'd all been very giggly at luncheon. That's how I like to remember her". Her brother Prince Amalio III recalled how as a young novice, Mafalda had noticed that an icon placed on the altar of the Abbey Chapel was covered in soot. She took it down to clean it and replaced it, very content with how well she had restored it. "She was then informed that that particular icon hadn't been moved from the altar for nearly 400 years as it was said to have been placed there by the founder of the Abbey, St Julia", the Prince explained, "She told me that she was never put on cleaning duty again after that and would often relay the story when she attended family events which delighted us all". Princess Fabiola (the Princess' niece) said of her aunt in an interview in 2008, "I met her only a handful of times but I always knew I could write to her with my problems and she would write back with very good advice. I knew that whatever I said to her would stay between us and I think that I learned from her example how important to a person's integrity it is to keep a confidence. It makes you trustworthy".

A small memorial to Mafalda was later installed in the Prince's Crypt in 1998 to mark the 30th anniversary of her death. Carved into the marble walls, it displays the pilgrim shell (a symbol of San Leopoldo) topped with a Princess' coronet. The inscription reads: In Memory of Her Serene Highness Mafalda, Princess of Mantua. Devoted Religious known to her Sisters as Maria Rita, 1897 - 1968.