31 January: St. Marcella

This is the feast of St. Marcella, one of the friends of St. Jerome (+420).  She died in 410 during invasion of Alaric the Visigoth.  We know about her mainly from the letters of her friend St. Jerome.  Jerome wrote about her in epp. 23-29.32, 34.37-44. 46.97 and in a eulogy in ep. 127 two years after her death which he described as tristitia incredibilis.
Marcella came from a wealthy family.  As usual, Marcella was married off, but her husband died shortly after, leaving her very wealthy.  From that point she lived as a widow and was restrained in her dress and customs.  She rejected suitors urged on her by her mother Albina, including a a Consul.  She put her wealth to use helping the poor.  When young she met the great exiled Bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius (+373), who gave her a his biography of Anthony the Abbot (+356), the desert hermit and ascetic who was so instrumental in the development of monasticism.   Athanasius taught her about Pachomius (+348) and the life of virgins and widows who lived only for Christ.  She was greatly influenced also by the example of the great Peter of Alexandria (+311).  She determined to live austerely in her palace on the Aventine with her mother and other Roman noble women Asella, Principia, Marcellina, Lea and Sophronia.  When St. Jerome was in Rome he was their teacher and spiritual father.  Marcella excelled and became somewhat of a Scripture expert in Jerome’s absence.  She even helped with the controversy over Origen.  Eventually she left her Aventine palace and lived on the outskirts of Rome with Principia.
Then in 410 the Goths came.  She was a target.  Finding only simple possession in her home, they tortured her, knowing that she was wealthy.  They dragged them back to the Aventine looking for booty.  She begged them to leave her student Principia unmolested.  Eventually, at her pleading, the took her to St. Paul’s tomb on the road to Ostia, where she died a few days later.  Marcella died praising God.   Her body is interred at St. Paul’s Basilica outside the walls.
Jerome wrote to Principia comparing Marcella the biblical Anna had who lived in the temple waiting for the Messiah, saying that whereas Anna had been with her husband seven years.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mjh says:

    what happened to don bosco?

  2. Dan Hunter says:

    I thought today was the feast of St.Don Bosco.
    God bless you.

  3. It is also the feast of St. John Bosco. He is not the only saint on the calendar today. Also, I imagine all sorts of other bloggers have done something on him. Why should I use my precious time to repeat what they are doing? In addition, we are NAPALM members, are we not?

  4. Ben of the Bayou says:

    Father Z,
    What is NAPALM?

  5. Andrew says:

    Thank you for mentioning this, Fr. Z.
    If I may add something: St. Jerome explains to Principia why he writes to women and explains the Scriptures to them in a gem of an introduction to his letter where he at some length explains the Psalms to her. Anyone thinking that Jerome hated women (an accusation sometimes heard) should read that letter and marvel how skillfully Jerome talks about women of the Bible and of their importance compared to men.

    Also, I don’t know who taught these ladies to write, (the ones associated with Jerome) but there is a letter of Paula and Eustochium to Marcella that is such a little treasure of style and learning and spiritual insight and also of geography of the Holy Land that one is amazed at the erudition and sensitivity of these holy women. Rome indeed produced some amazing yield of the best of both worlds: classical antiquity and its refinement and Christianity at its best.

  6. elma lindsay says:

    I need saint marcella prayer. Do you have it??? could u please send it to me???


  7. Ann in Australia says:

    Father, There are some comments of interest re the English
    translations here: http://www.cathnews.com/news/702/4

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