Italian brides are finding wedding dresses at an unusual spot hidden in the Umbrian hills, where they are able to pick out their special gown – all for the cost of a donation.
Sister Maria Laura at the Augustinian monastery of St. Rita in Cascia, Italy began running the thrifty wedding dress service out of a surplus of donated wedding dresses.
“It gives me great joy to see a young woman who can fulfill her dream of love with a dress appropriate for the happiest day of her life,” said Sister Maria Laura, according to the DailyMail.
Since about 1950, brides have been making pilgrimages to St. Rita’s to ask for her special intercession in marriage, and would leave their wedding dresses at the monastery in gratitude. Over the years, the monastery has collected hundreds of dresses.
Sister Maria Laura entered monastic life at the age of 28, having previously been a seamstress and designer in Tuscany. She has been running the bridal dress collection at the monastery for the past few years with the help of other nuns, and uses her skills to alter the dresses to fit each and every bride that comes through.
The sewing sister only sees brides-to-be by appointment, who often bring family members and bridesmaids for their opinion. But, Sister Maria Laura noted her special intuition about each of the dresses.
“I know which one she will take; you can tell from their faces,” she said, according to the New York Times. “If you have a dream and we can make it come true, we’ll do our best.”
Currently, they have about three women a week visit to pick out wedding dresses, while up to 10 dresses a month are donated. All of the dresses are offered for free, but they do ask for a simple donation. According to the New York Times, one donation amounted to $1,200.
The Augustinian monastery is a special spot for brides, as St. Rita is the patron saint of difficult marriages. When Rita was 12, her parents forced her into a marriage with a husband who abused her for years.
After her husband died, Rita entered the monastery of St. Mary Magdalene in Cascia at the age of 36, which is now the same place where brides visit to pray for their own marriages, and try on wedding dresses.
As Italy continues in their recession, the monastery considers their service a charity for economical brides who are getting married but trying to keep costs down.
One bride explained that the second-hand gown service was her only option to buy a dress, saying that “if I can’t find it here, I simply can’t afford to buy one.” Another bride explained how she had “felt at home here from the very first minute.”