Saint Gregory the Great had three aunts, who were sisters to his father Gordian, the senator, and having by vow consecrated their virginity to God, they practised the exercises of an ascetic or religious life in their father’s house. Their names were Thrasilla, who was the eldest, Emiliana, and Gordiana. Thrasilla and Emiliana, renouncing the vanities of the world on the same day, started together in the glorious course to perfection, and were still more united by the fervour of their hearts and the bands of holy charity, than by blood. They lived in their father’s house as retired as in a monastery, far removed from the conversation of men; and, exciting one another to virtue by discourse and example, soon made a considerable progress in a spiritual life. They were so disengaged from the world, so careful in mortifying their senses, and maintaining a strict union of their souls with God, that they seemed to have forgotten their bodies, and arose above all considerations of earthly things. Gordiana joined them in their vow and holy exercises, but flagged by the way, and, loving to converse with the world, by degrees admitted it into her heart, so as to exclude the Almighty. Thrasilla and Emiliana could not see her unhappy change without the deepest concern, and, tempering remonstrances with all the sweetness that the most tender affection and charity could inspire, gained so far upon her, that, full of confusion, she promised amendment. This, however, she executed only by halves, appeared often impatient of silence and retirement, and showed too little relish for spiritual exercises and conversation, and too much for the world. By this lukewarmness, the good impressions which the zeal of her sisters made in her mind, were always worn out again, and after their death she fell from the duties of the state which she had voluntarily taken upon herself. A dreadful example! but such as the world is daily full of. Yet others neglect to take warning, and so fall into the same snare. The best hearts are capable of corruption; and those who set out with honest meanings, when they once open their hearts to vanity and the world, are betrayed to tread the steps of vice sooner than they are aware. Nothing blinds the understanding and intoxicates the soul more effectually that vanity. A person who begins to entertain it, perceives no harm in the first steps; but loses reservedness, is led on almost imperceptibly, and is at last surprised to feel the chains which she is held by. The two happy sisters, who persevered in the paths of eternal life, enjoyed the sweetness of divine peace and love, and the comfort and joy of fervour and devotion; and were called to receive the recompence of their fidelity before the fall of Gordiana. Saint Gregory tells us that Thrasilla was favoured one night with a vision of her uncle Saint Felix, pope, who showed her a seat prepared for her in heaven, saying, “Come; I will receive you into this habitation of light.” She fell sick of a fever the next day. When in her agony, with her eyes fixed on heaven, she cried out to those who were present: “Depart! make room! Jesus is coming!” Soon after these words she breathed out her pious soul into the hands of God on the 24th of December. The skin of her knees was found to be hardened, like the hide of a camel, by her continual prayer. A few days after, she appeared to her sister Emiliana, and invited her to celebrate with her the epiphany in eternal bliss. Emiliana fell sick, and died on the 8th of January. Both are named on the respective days of their death in the Roman Martyrology.
Precious in the sight of God is the death of his saints. This is the great triumph of a soul over hell; a spectacle most glorious in the eyes of the whole court of heaven, giving joy to the angels. To us, banished pilgrims on earth, nothing certainly can bring sweeter comfort amidst our tears, or be a more powerful motive to withdraw our affections from the toys of this world, or to raise our hearts above its frowns, than to have before our eyes the happiness of dying the death of the saints. No one can read without being strongly affected with these sentiments the account which Janus Erythræus, (that is, the elegant and ingenious John Victor Rossi,) who was then at Rome, gives of the passage of brother John Baptist, a holy capuchin, out of this world. 2 This humble friar, who was called in the world Alphonsus III., when duke of Modena, renounced his sovereignty, divested himself of all his worldly goods, and, embracing the most austere life of a Capuchin Franciscan, in 1629, distinguished himself from his brethren only by a greater fervour in his penitential severities and heavenly contemplation. He died at Rome in 1644; closing his eyes to the world with so much interior joy, such strong desires to go to God, such humility, resignation, holy peace, and sweet breathings of divine love, as to make many in the world envy the choice he had made, and grudge that he had purchased so great a happiness at so cheap a rate. We all pray with Balaam that our death may be like that of the saints. But for this we must make the preparation for death the great business of our lives, learn perfectly to die to the world and ourselves, and ground and daily improve ourselves in the spirit of the saints, which is that of sincere humility, patience, resignation, and the most ardent charity.
- Father Alban Butler. “Saints Thrasilla and Emiliana, Virgins”. , 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 18 December 2013. Web. 29 May 2016. <>