The first ever Native American saint has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in a ceremony at the Vatican.
Kateri Tekakwitha – sometimes known as Lily of the Mohawks – died more than 300 years ago, but is thought by some to have performed a miracle as recently as 2006.
When Kateri was young, a peace deal was struck with the French, and part of the deal was that missionaries would be allowed to work within the communities. By this point, Kateri was living over the river in a small village called Caughnawaga, which is the only Mohawk village anywhere to have been substantially excavated.
Set on a hill for protection, so that the Mohawks could see their enemies coming, coloured poles today mark the plots where they lived in traditional longhouses, with bunks to the side, and fires inside to cook and keep warm in the bitter winters.Kateri Tekakwitha was baptised into the Catholic Church at the age of 20, on Easter Day 1676.Kateri appears to have been penalised for converting. Her uncle, the chief of the village, is said to have been unhappy with her decision, and her refusal to marry a Mohawk man he had selected for her.
Kateri ended up traveling 200 miles by foot and canoe to a Jesuit-run Native American missionary village near Montreal, called Kahnawake.
There she proved herself to be pious in the extreme. She took a lifetime vow of chastity, and subjected herself to a harsh regime of self-punishment, which included walking barefoot in the ice and snow, placing hot coals from the fire between her toes until they cooled, and lying on a bed of thorns. Jesuit missionary Pierre Cholenec, who lived in the Kahnawake community at the time, wrote: “She tortured her body in every way she could think of: by toil, by sleepless vigils, by fasting, by cold, by fire, by irons, by belts studded with sharp points, and by harsh disciplines with which she tore her shoulders open several times a week.”
Kateri Tekakwitha died when she was just 24 years old – and it was upon her death that reports of miracles began. Many recorded in diaries and logs at the scene said that the scars on her face vanished entirely, and soon after, a number of people reported seeing visions of her.