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.
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Grant unto thy Church, we beseech Thee, O merciful God, that She, being gathered together by the Holy Ghost, may be in no wise troubled by attack from her foes. O God, who by sin art offended and by penance pacified, mercifully regard the prayers of Thy people making supplication unto Thee,and turn away the scourges of Thine anger which we deserve for our sins. Almighty and Everlasting God, in whose Hand are the power and the government of every realm: look down upon and help the Christian people that the heathen nations who trust in the fierceness of their own might may be crushed by the power of thine Arm. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. R. Amen.
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