Thursday, 31 January 2008
January 31st - St. Marcella of Rome, Widow (RM)
Died August 410. Saint Marcella met Saint Athanasius when she was a child and
was enthralled by his stories of Egyptian ascetics. She married to please her
mother, but was widowed seven months later. Thereafter, the Roman patrician
refused the marriage proposal of Cerealis, the consul, uncle of Gallus Caesar.
Instead, she turned herself to works of charity and her palace on the Aventine
Hill into a center of Christian fellowship. Around her formed a group of noble
ladies desiring to live a life of austerity and asceticism. These included her
ward Principia; Marcellina, elder sister of Saint Ambrose and Saint Satyrus;
Fabiola; Asella; Lea; and Paula with her daughters, among others. Marcella
served as a fine example for her spiritual daughters: she abstained from wine
and flesh; spent her time in pious reading, prayer, and visiting the churches of
the apostles and martyrs; and never spoke with any man alone.
Marcella welcomed Saint Jerome upon his arrival in Rome, and he remained with
her for three years guiding this monastery/school for devout, aristocratic
ladies in the study of the scriptures, prayer, and almsgiving. Marcella was a
woman of intellectual ability, and not afraid to confront the masterful Jerome.
She was tortured by the Goths under Alaric who looted Rome in 410. They tried to
force her to reveal the location of her wealth, which she had long ago given to
the poor. Marcella withstood her own scourging but begged them to spare her
pupil (not her daughter) Principia from outrage. She was released but died
shortly thereafter in the arms of Principia from the effects of this treatment.
Saint Marcella corresponded often with her spiritual director, Saint Jerome, who
answered her questions about spiritual matters and referred to her as "the glory
of Roman ladies." Eleven of his letters to Marcella survive