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Cayetano's lifetime spanned the heart of the the Italian Renaissance, from 1480 to 1547.

Italy in 1480 was not as we know it today. The peninsula was a tumultuous mix of many different, and powerful, city-states. Florence, Genoa, Venice, each controlled by corporate and family interests. Politics were run by the wealthy and powerful, backed up by standing armies, prepared for war. Diplomats played the same games of chess they play today. Alliances between these city-states kept a tenuous peace and allowed commerce and the arts to flourish.

The first ideas of capitalism began to take shape around this time. The barter system was fast becoming a money system, instead of buying herbal medicine with ducks, people paid money. They earned their living differently now too. People were valued for their talent and ambition, not so much for their class or family. You could work for a merchant banker, or, if you had the entrepreneurship, you could create your own merchant bank. Academies of artisans flourished, each with it's own benefactor. The wealthy Medici family financed a bevy of artists and inventors. A new concept of modern man was evolving too: the universal man. One who was well educated, who lived in harmony with nature, who accomplished what he set his will to. This was the novel concept of a gentleman.

The story of his life differs somewhat from source to source. Everyone agrees that Cayetano, Cajetan, Gaetano, came from a wealthy and noble Venetian family. Cayetano was a scion, an heir, to the Counts of Thienna, Italy. Privileged, upper class. Cayetano was two years old when his father, Count Gaspar of Thienna, fighting for Venice, was killed in a battle against Ferdinand, King of Naples. Cayetano's mother, Maria di Porto, a devote catholic, raised him. At his birth she dedicated him to the Blessed Virgin. Her passion for her faith left an indelible impression upon Cayetano. He went on to study civil and canon law at the University of Padua.

After receiving his doctorate, Cayetano, Gaetano dei Conti di Tiene, Count of Thienna, became a senator in Vicenza. Later under orders from Pope Julius II, Cayetano worked as a clerk at the Vatican in Rome, a jurist at the Papal Court. Cayetano's diplomatic efforts and talent helped ally Pope Julius with Venice. Cayetano loved the arts and culture of the Renaissance. He saw it all as an expression of God's beauty. But he was not fond of the papacy (Julius II was less than a stellar pope) and the church was in need of reformation. After Julius II died, Cayetano resigned his post at the Vatican. He had a passion to be among the common multitudes of Romans, to live among them, and work among them. So in 1516, at the age of 36, Cayetano gave up a comfortable, and luxurious life, to be a humble priest, and live among the poor. It was also around this time that he had a powerful mystical experience in which Mary, mother of Jesus, entrusted her son into the care of Cayetano. From there on it was his mission to tend the sick and help the poor, in the most humble way possible. Cayetano joined the Confraternity of Divine Love, a group dedicated to charity, and the welfare of souls.

Even in the 1500's the priesthood lacked basic Christian values.

There was a lot of corruption and thuggery in the Italian city-states at that time, mafia-like mobs ruled. There was corruption in government and church as well. Most ordinary Italians were lax in their faith, and indifferent to the church, yet they were looking for inspiration and faith, a way out of their fear-based lives. The clergy was in no position to help. Like the popes, who set the example, the clergy were undisciplined, uninspired, and corrupt. The poor and sick of Rome, the most helpless, were the most in need, but there was little pastoral care, or medical care.

In 1518, Cayetano's mother became ill, and was dying, and he returned to be by her side in Vicenza. Cayetano must have grieved deeply at his mother's death. He decided to dedicate his family fortune to helping the poor and sick, and followed through on a long term goal, building small chapels for private devotion.

Before the church could help the needy, it needed to reform itself. In 1524, along with a bishop, Cayetano formed the Congregation of Clerks. Absolute Trust in Divine Love was the core belief of the Theatine Order. It had the mission, and blessing of the Pope, to re-inspire the spirit and attitude of the clergy. At the most there were twelve, and they lived as simply as the Apostles. They were quintessential priests, hoping to lead by example. They did pastoral work, especially working with the sick and dying. There was no task too small or menial for one of the Theatine Order.

Cayetano also founded hospitals throughout Italy- Vicenza, Verona, Venice, and hospices for the incurably ill, and always more oratories, the small chapels for private devotion.

Rome is Sacked by the Spanish, The Theatines Flee to Venice

In 1527 a lot of good things came to an end. Emperor Charles V of Spain sacked the city state of Rome in that year. The Spaniards and mercenaries plundered Rome, the Pope Clemens II was ridiculed and driven out, and the Renaissance papacy officially came to an end. The Spanish army, and Emperor Charles, were certain that the Theatines, and Cayetano, were hiding great wealth. Cayetano, and many of his brothers, were brutally tortured by the Spanish. Eventually, many of the Theatines, including Cayetano, managed to escape to Venice. There they found much need for their services. Venice was in the midst of a plague epidemic, and famine was rampant.

Some say Cayetano spent his entire family fortune to help the poor. And the simple credit union he founded eventually became the Bank of Naples.

Rome, Venice, in the 1500's: It was the Renaissance, and because of all the prosperity there were loan sharks and thieves in abundance. They preyed upon the poor and the luckless. There was also disease and poverty in the slums. Environments like Venice were perfect breeding grounds for rats and mosquitoes. As a priest in the field, Cayetano was hands-on. He and his other brothers were exhibiting saint-like qualities, not unlike Mother Teresa.

With his own money, and help from others, Cayetano formed a consortium, a bank of sorts, and extended loans to his parishioners, offering an alternative to the usury and high interest loans of the cutthroat bankers. Cayetano opened pawnshops, where he extended low, or no interest rate, loans. Cayetano, always among his flock, became known as the Patron Saint of Gamblers. His parishioners would bet Cayetano a rosary or blessed candle, that he would not do some special favor for them. If they lost the bet, if Cayetano did do that something special for them, and he often did, they would have to pay up. The usual pay-up: they had say their rosaries. Tales of his humility were limitless. He had a special ability to care, and be compassionate.

But all the work and pressure began to takes it's toll on Cayetano's health. Between fighting for church reform in Naples, where he ran into opposition from the bishops, to fighting disease and poverty in Venice, an endless affair, Cayetano was always on the move, and always under pressure from his superiors at Rome. He was constantly among the sick, exposed to disease, and in fetid environments. His lifestyle was not good for his own health. Plus, his travels tired him. It was not easy then, like driving by car. Cayetano went by horse or carriage, and often on foot. Exposed to the elements and many hardships for so many years he finally collapsed in Naples. And never recovered. In 1547, at the age of 67, Cayetano died.

Earlier, during his lifetime, Cayetano had several mystical experiences where he suffered the pains of crucifixion. It was Cayetano's wish to die on a hard board, not a comfortable bed, to emulate the suffering of Christ on the cross. Still, Cayetano did not die a martyr, as many earlier Christian saints did.

Cayetano's saintliness comes from his immense compassion, and giving. Stories of his miracles multiplied during his lifetime, and on his way to saint-hood Cayetano began to mean different things to different people, as the faithful found need for his help and guidance.

Saint Cayetano is associated with wealth for the people of Mexico, they pray to him for money, and for luck in gambling. In Argentina he's always had a huge following. There, millions of people favor him as the Patron Saint of Work.

Historically, Cayetano was way ahead of his time. Especially when it came to church reform. Many of his ideas and principles were put into effect long after his death. Cayetano became known as one of the greatest Catholic reformers in history. Cayetano was canonized in 1671 by Pope Clement X.

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How to pronounce Cayetano?
We use the Spanish version:
KI-YEAH-TAH-NO.

Of Italian Origin: Gaetano dei Conti di Tiene, the Count of Thienna /
1480 - 1547


Did you know?

Some of Cayetano's contemporaries were da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Machiavelli.

Cayetano founded hospitals throughout Italy- Vicenza, Verona, Venice, and hospices for the incurably ill, and always more oratories, the small chapels for private devotion.

St. Cayetano Feast Day: August 7

 

 
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St Cayetano: Patron Saint of Gamblers