The Life of Saint Melania, Ascetical Life at Jerusalem, A.D. 417-439

cover of the ebook version of 'The Life of Saint Melania', by Cardinal Mariano Rampolla del TindaroSummary – Alexandria. Melania settles in Jerusalem. Conferences with Paula and Saint Jerome. Visit to Egypt. The Cell on the Mount of Olives. Death of Albina and Pinianus. Melania and her community of Virgins. Visit to Constantinople. Conversion of Volusianus. The Empress Eudoxia at Jerusalem. Melania’s last days.

Let us now go back to our narrative in the year 417. The moment had at last come when Melania could leave the soil of Africa, and gratify her longing to go to Palestine, whither she was drawn by her ardent desire to visit the Holy Places. She embarked with Albina and Pinianus at Carthage, and two days later found herself at Alexandria. Melania, as ever, filled with the spirit of lowliness and humility, wished to remain unknown, and looked forward to spending a few days in the city in the obscurity of some poor lodging. But her pious wishes were not to be gratified. Her name had become so venerated amongst Christians that they everywhere esteemed themselves happy to offer her hospitality. Thus it was that a surprise awaited Melania in the prosperous capital of Lower Egypt. Saint Cyril was at that time Patriarch of that important see, and the greatest and most learned of the Eastern bishops. And now this luminary of the Church received Saint Melania with all possible honour, and insisted that during her stay in Alexandria she should be his guest. Although we cannot form any clear idea of what passed between these two great and most gifted souls, so filled with the spirit of God, it can hardly be doubted that this meeting drew them together in the closest bonds of friendship.

After a brief sojourn at Alexandria, the travellers proceeded direct to Jerusalem, their final destination. Scarcely had they reached their journey’s end when they hastened to prostrate themselves before the spots consecrated by the memories of our Redemption, eager to draw from thence a deeper love for the poverty and humility of the Crucified. Melania had only brought an insignificant sum of money with her to Jerusalem, but she did not hesitate to distribute this small remnant of her vast inheritance amongst the poor of the Holy City. In order to conceal her charity, and thus avoid the least breath of worldly applause, she secretly remitted the money to the deacons charged with the care of the poor. Further, she wished to have her own name and those of her companions inscribed on the list of those poor people of Jerusalem who were recipients of the Church’s charity. She abstained, however, from this course, probably from delicacy of conscience, not wishing to deprive others of their share of alms. In the end she abandoned herself wholly to the care of Divine Providence.

Melania, with her mother, took up her abode in a little cell of the common hospice for pilgrims, close to the Church of the Resurrection, while Pinianus, it seems, was separated from them, the men being lodged in a place apart from the women. Here, then, in the heart of Jerusalem, and flooded with the luminous rays from our Lord’s Cross and Sepulchre, Melania’s soul was consumed more and more with the fire of Divine Love. Buried in obscurity, and enjoying the most complete self-effacement, she found her delight in continual fasting, in unwearied prayer, in loving and assiduous study of the Holy Scriptures. Her brief rest was taken on the hard ground, covered only with little mats of rough hair-cloth. When the shadows of evening fell, and the custodians at the end of the vesper office closed the gates of Constantine’s Basilica, it was a beautiful and touching sight to behold Melania go forth alone from her little cell, and prostrate herself before the doors of the Sanctuary, there to pass the night in prayer and vigil until they were opened again at cock-crow in the morning. The severe and prolonged fasts, with other austerities, brought on an illness during which it was with great difficulty that the Saint was prevailed upon to accept a pillow upon which to rest her aching head.

In Palestine Melania had the happiness of meeting her dearly-loved cousin, Paula. Paula, who was the daughter of Albina’s sister, Laeta, lived in a monastery at Bethlehem, of which her aunt, Julia Eustochium, was the prioress, having succeeded her mother, Saint Paula, in that office. These two holy and illustrious women must, without doubt, have been constant and assiduous in their visits to their saintly relative. It was through them, as well as by means of her mother, that Melania had the happiness of cultivating such filial relations with Saint Jerome during the last three years of his life. We cannot suppose that the venerable old man at Bethlehem was a stranger to Melania, or that he hesitated to communicate his expositions of the hidden meanings of the Inspired Books to so sympathetic a listener. Our Saint’s biographer relates that notwithstanding the strict seclusion in which she lived, she occasionally received visits from the greatest and most distinguished amongst the bishops and Fathers of the Church. It is practically certain that amongst these Saint Jerome must have held the foremost place. Moreover, we can gather from a letter written in 418 by the holy Doctor, after the death of the virgin Eustochium, to Saint Augustine and Alypius, how intimate was his friendship with Saint Melania. In this letter he makes himself the mouthpiece of Melania’s affectionate greetings conjointly with those of Albina and Pinianus, all of whom the holy Doctor calls his children. One sentence of Melania’s biographer vividly describes her reverence for the illustrious Father of the Church, and shows with what profound humility she received his visits. “She advanced,” he says, “to meet him with her usual modest, respectful demeanour, and prostrating herself at his feet, humbly begged his blessing.”

The fame of sanctity which surrounded as with an aureole the monasteries of Egypt, and the marvellous stories told of these celebrated anchorets by those who had visited them, could not fail to make a profound impression on our Saint. There awoke within her an ardent desire to behold these marvels herself, and to learn fresh methods of advancing in the path of perfection. She would fain acquire more burning zeal from the luminous example of these holy anchorets and virgins, and at the same time obtain the benefit of their prayers. And, behold, a favourable opportunity presented itself, which at the same time brought into clearer relief her inexhaustible charity and entire detachment from everything earthly. The invasion of the barbarians had prevented her from selling some remaining estates in Spain, especially in the province of Taragona. The Suevi, the Huns, and the Vandals, having overrun Gaul, crossed the Pyrenees and invaded the Iberian peninsula, which they divided amongst themselves, and devastated in every possible way. Towards the close of the year 410, Ataulfus, with his Visigoths, tried to drive them out and to free the country from the scourge, but without avail. He was succeeded by Wallia,’ who began his career by restoring Placidia, Ataulfus’s widow, who had remained a prisoner in his people’s hands, to her brother Honorius, and in 418 he concluded a treaty of peace with the Emperor of the West. Order having been restored, Melania was thus enabled to send one of the most trusted of her freedmen into Spain that he might dispose of whatever property remained to her. On receipt of the money, Melania resolved to undertake, in company with Pinianus, the long-desired pilgrimage to Egypt, the chief end of which was to visit the monasteries, and with her own hand distribute her offerings amongst the holy inmates. And here we have in the Saint’s biography a striking contrast afforded to us. On the one hand we have the charity of Melania who, loving poverty, wished to give all and retain nothing; whilst on the other there is presented to us the Gospel spirit of those true followers of Christ who refuse to accept what is proffered beyond their immediate need. One of the most delightful incidents in the Saint’s biography, by reason of its exquisite simplicity, is her encounter with the anchoret Hephsestion. It is thus that Gerontius tells the story:

“And seeing that it was always her special devotion to be solicitious for the relief of others, they came once upon a time, as she herself vouchsafed to tell us, to a certain most holy man named Hephsestion. And when they had entered his cell, our Saint, after they had prayed together, began to beg of him that he would vouchsafe to accept at their hands a few gold pieces for his own use. Whereupon he, starting to his feet, began to thrust away from him the proffered money, declaring that he had no need of gold for any purpose. When, therefore, no persuasions could induce him to take it, they asked, as the custom is, that he would offer a prayer for them before they set out on their journey again. He assented, and while he, falling prone upon his face, prayed for them to our Lord, our Saint peered about to see where she could secretly leave the money which he rejected. Nothing offered itself for such a purpose, because there was no property of any kind in the cell which the hermit could call his own, except the mat on which he slept, and in the corner a basket with a few little loaves and a vessel of salt. This the Blessed Melania managed at last to discover, and hid in it a few coins. Then, thanking him for his prayer, they hastily departed for fear the servant of God might find the money and give it back. They therefore, having hurried away as fast as they could go, the man of God on his side began to reflect on the importunity of his visitors in pressing him to accept the gift. Whereupon, conceiving a suspicion and making search, he straightway found what had been hidden; and so picking up the money he followed the holy couple at the top of his speed. Thus, just as they had crossed the river and had reached the further shore, he came to the bank, and shouting out, said: ‘Tell me, I pray, why have you left with me in the desert this money which I need not?’ And the holy woman replied: ‘Be pleased to give it to the poor; for the Lord has vouchsafed to grant my desire.’ And he in turn: ‘Where shall I go, or how am I to find poor people, seeing that I never quit the desert? Do you rather take it back and give it to others.’ And so when in no wise she could be persuaded to take back what had once been given, and he was unable to cross the river, he flung the money which he held in his hands into the stream, and there it went to the bottom. This indeed was a favourite practice of hers, to give secret alms in this way to those monks and nuns who would receive nothing. She was possessed with an eager longing that all whom she saw should receive gifts at her hands, for she knew that from such deeds of charity her soul reaped no little advantage.”

It must have been an edifying sight to behold Melania, in company with Pinianus, making the tour of Egypt, visiting the monasteries and the cells peopled with cenobites, anchorets, and virgins, and conversing with those most famous for sanctity in these places. It is worthy of remark that these aged men, consummate masters in sanctity, all recognized in Melania a true heroine of virtue, gifted with virile understanding. They invoked a thousand blessings upon her, and at her departure, accompanied her in troops for many miles of her way. They would seem to have regarded her as a true mother.

This visit to the monasteries of Egypt must have taken place in the autumn, for we find that the return journey was made in the midst of all the rigours of winter. The travellers suffered much discomfort owing to the severity of the season. Melania established herself again in Jerusalem, greatly fortified in soul by her visit to Egypt, and with increased thirst for mortification. Before leaving the Holy City she had begged her mother to have constructed for her a small rustic cell on the summit of Mount Olivet, where she could practice a more entire recollection in prayer. The sacred mount, so suited for contemplation, was already studded with cells and monasteries. The good Albina, in accordance with her daughter’s wishes, had prepared such a refuge as she had suggested. Thither Melania retired after the Feast of the Epiphany, taking with her one companion, and there she remained until Easter in the strictest seclusion, doing penance in sack-cloth and ashes, observing the most rigid fast, and absorbed in prayer. She saw no one except her mother and Pinianus, who came on certain days, and her cousin Paula, to whom she acted as guide in the practice of virtue.

For fourteen years after her return to Palestine, Melania continued to lead this more or less solitary life of prayer and penance, and then it pleased God to call to Himself the Saint’s beloved mother, Albina. Melania caused her to be laid to rest in the sacred soil of Mount Olivet, and constructed a small oratory, close to her grave and not far from the Grotto where our Divine Lord used to assemble His Apostles. She then took up her permanent abode in the same spot, intending never to return to the city. Shut up in this obscure retreat, Melania remained near the tomb of her beloved mother, in fasting, in prayer and in tears. But the zeal which burned within her breast knew no diminution, and it urged her once more to resume her apostolate for souls. We know not from what pious benefactors she received the money with which she built a monastery on Mount Olivet, with an adjoining oratory for the celebration of the Divine Mysteries. Here she gathered about ninety virgins, of whom she was the wise, enlightened, and tender instructress. It adds much to the value of the new biography of the Saint that in it we find preserved some few details of the admirable administration by means of which she infused her spirit into and maintained regular discipline amongst her subjects. Her rules were a model of wisdom, of discretion and of simplicity, embodying as they did the very essence of the ascetic doctrine of the Fathers which she had assimilated by constant study. It is, in truth, surprising to find with what unexampled moderation and benignity she, who was so harsh to herself, ruled over her community. Nothing was wanting to her subjects which was necessary or suitable. Contrary to the practice of the other monasteries of her time, she was careful that the religious over whom she ruled should have an abundant supply of fresh water. She even went so far as to provide a bath, to procure which she had recourse by letter to a rich Roman patrician living at Constantinople, formerly prefect of the palace under Arcadius and Honorius II. This nobleman granted her request, and generously defrayed all expenses. She was most indulgent with regard to fasting, not only moderating the ardour of the more mortified, but also watching carefully over those whose delicacy of constitution rendered them unfit for severe fasts. To all she permitted a certain amount of liberty in the matter according to their strength. When the night office was over she insisted on each one retiring again to rest, and if she perceived that anyone was very much fatigued she dispensed her altogether from the vigil. Melania’s modesty and humility would not allow her to assume the office of directress, and although elected by the unanimous vote of the community, she contrived that another should act as prioress. At the same time, she watched over all with maternal charity, making herself acquainted with each one’s wants, and contriving that she should find in her cell whatever was necessary to her. All this was done in such a manner as to conceal her own intervention. It is not surprising, therefore, that Melania was the object of universal love and veneration.

As for the training she imparted to those who looked to her for guidance in the spiritual life, we cannot do better than quote at some length the account of her biographer. He says:

“Although I am quite unable to give any idea of the instructions filled with the Spirit of God which she continually imparted to her spiritual children, nevertheless I will try to say a few words about this matter. Her anxiety was always to instruct them concerning virtue and spiritual works, that they might present the virginity of their souls and bodies without stain to Christ, their Celestial Spouse. And before everything else, she impressed upon them how they should, at the night-office, unweariedly watch and warily guard against all bad thoughts, not allowing their minds to wander, but fixing their attention upon the Psalms. Then she would say: ‘Consider, sisters, how the subjects of earthly and mortal princes wait upon them with all fear and attention, and with what fear and trembling ought we to fulfill our Divine Office in the presence of the tremendous Heavenly King. For you should remember that neither the angels nor any intelligent and heavenly beings whatsoever can worthily praise the Lord, Who has no need of, and is above all praise. If, therefore, the angelic powers, which so far transcend our nature, cannot, as we have said, praise God worthily for all things, how much more should we, useless servants, sing to Him in all fear and trembling, lest in place of reward and spiritual profit, we merit condemnation for our negligence in praising the Lord. Instructed by the Holy Scriptures, and directing our gaze upon Christ our Lord, we should mutually observe sincere charity, for without spiritual charity all religious practice of virtue is vain, because all the good works which we think we do, the devil may, in truth, imitate, but he is completely overcome by charity and humility. For example, though we may fast, he never eats at all. Though we watch, he is absolutely sleepless. Let us, therefore, hate pride, for, by reason of it, he fell from Heaven, and by means of it he would drag us down below into the abyss with himself. So let us fly the vain glory of this world, which is as transitory as the grass of the field. Above all, let us maintain firmly the holy and orthodox faith, for this is the base and foundation of our whole life in the Lord; and let the sanctification of soul and body be dear to us, for without this no one shall see God.’ Then fearing that some of them taking pride in their excessive fasting might fall from grace, she told them that abstinence was the least of all the virtues. ‘But,’ she said, ‘just as a bride who is attired with every ornament cannot wear black shoes, but must adorn her feet together with the rest of her person, so the soul which is adorned with every virtue must possess that of abstinence also. Hence, it is plain that, if anyone while destitute of the other virtues should try to attain perfection in abstinence, she would be like a bride who left her person unadorned but lavished all her care upon her shoes.’ She also often exhorted them to obey God, speaking thus: ‘Without obedience, even public affairs in the world can have no stability, for worldly rulers themselves yield to one another, and govern by persuasion, and even if we speak of him who wears the crown, in affairs of great moment, he undertakes nothing until he has first asked the advice of the senate. Hence, in the houses of secular persons, if you took away the greatest good, obedience, you would take away all order, and there being no order, all that makes for peace would totter. We must, therefore, all practice obedience. Obedience consists in this, that you do that which displeases you in order to do the will of Him who commands, and that you do violence to yourself for His sake, who has said: The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and only the violent bear it away.’ (Matthew 11:12). And she related to them the anecdote of an old man, to show the necessity that those who live with others should bear everything which may happen to them. ‘A person,’ she said, ‘went to a holy old man to be instructed by him, and the latter said to him: “Canst thou obey me in all things, for love of the Lord?” And he answered the father, “Whatsoever thou shalt command me, that will I do with all care.” “Then,” replied the old man, “take a whip, and going to such a place, beat and belabour the statue there.” And he, having promptly executed what had been enjoined, returned, and the old man said to him, “Perhaps the statue which was beaten and struck, remonstrated and answered you back?” And the other replied, “No, not a word.” “Go, therefore, again,” said the old man, “beat the statue as before, and scold it well at the same time.” And having done this three times, according to the father’s orders, and the statue answering nothing (as indeed it could not do, being of stone), at last the old man said to him, “If thou canst become like that statue, which is ill-treated and bears no malice, is beaten and offers no resistance, thou wilt be able to save thy soul, and may remain with me.” Therefore, daughters, let us also follow such an example, and bear all things bravely injuries, insults, contempt that we may inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Meanwhile, with regard to continual fasting, she repeated the saying of the Apostle, ‘Endure not with sadness or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7), and she left what they should do to the discretion of each one. However, concerning charity, humility, gentleness, and all other virtues, she said: ‘It is not lawful for anyone to abuse either the stomach or other organ of the body, but every man is without excuse who does not follow the commandments of God. But I advise you to fight with longanimity and patience, for it is by the narrow gate that the Saints enter Heaven; the labour is, indeed, little, but great and eternal is the repose. Bear for a little while, that you may acquire the crown of justice. . . . It is not fitting that we should rise for the office of the night after we have satisfied ourselves with sleep, but we must force ourselves, that we may acquire the reward of our efforts in the life to come.’ And when the office was over, she took care that they should have a little sleep, that by it they might recover from the fatigue of the vigil, and prepare their youthful bodies for the tasks of the following day.”

That the Saint was essentially kind, especially to her own religious sisters, is sufficiently shown by a saying of hers recorded by her biographer. When it happened, every now and again, that one of them, having incurred her displeasure by some misconduct, afterwards came to ask her pardon, Melania would say, “The Lord knows that, unworthy as I am, I should not venture to compare myself with any good woman even of those living in the world; yet I think that the enemy himself will not dare to accuse me at the Day of Judgment of ever having gone to sleep with bitterness in my heart.” Yet the Saint could be stern on occasion, especially in any matter which touched the faith, as the following curious episode, which we translate literally from the Latin version of the Life, plainly shows:

“There was [says the biographer] a certain matron of noble family who was sojourning in the Holy Places (at Jerusalem), although they said that she was a heretic. Still, she communicated (i.e., assisted at our liturgy and received communion) with us, pretending to be a true believer. Now it happened that she came to die while remaining in these dispositions; but I, in offering the Holy Sacrifice, named her name amongst those who had slept. For it was my custom, during those dread and solemn moments, not only to recite the names of the holy martyrs, that they might pray for me to our Lord, but also of sinners that had found mercy, that they too might intercede for me. So it happened that I named the matron above mentioned. Whereupon our most blessed mistress said to me in a tone of some indignation, ‘As the Lord liveth, my Father, seeing you name such a one, I no longer communicate of your oblation.’ And then when I pledged her my word that I would never name this woman in future, ‘For all that,’ she said again, ‘since you have named her once, I do not communicate.'”

One point which undoubtedly contributes to inspire confidence in the narrative of the chaplain Gerontius, especially when we compare it with hagiographical documents of a somewhat later date, is the subordinate place allotted to the miraculous element. Melania is not brought before us as a great worker of miracles during her lifetime. None the less, her biographer undoubtedly claimed for his mistress the gift of miracles, as the following passage abundantly shows.

“And here,” he declares, “I propose to make mention of a few amongst many miracles which the Lord worked through her means, for, on account of the number, and on account of my incapacity, I cannot declare them all. However, one day a very malignant devil took possession of a certain young woman, and shut her lips so tightly that for several days she could neither speak nor take nourishment. Thus she seemed in imminent danger of starving, many doctors having administered much medicine to her without ever succeeding in enabling her to open her lips. When it had in this way been proved that the art of medicine was powerless to overcome the evil spirit, they finally carried her to the Saint, accompanied by her parents. But the Saint, refusing praise from men, said: ‘ In truth, being a sinner, I can do nothing; but let us take her to the holy martyrs, and the God of clemency will cure her through their certain intercession.’ When they had arrived at the shrine, the Saint having earnestly invoked the Lord of all things, took some of the oil which was sanctified by the relics of the holy martyrs, and touched the sick woman’s mouth three times, saying with a loud voice, ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, open thy mouth.’ And immediately, when God was thus invoked, the demon, confused and terrified, departed, and the woman opened her mouth. The Saint thereupon gave her food to eat, and all who saw it, breaking out into the praise of God, the woman who was cured went away with great joy. And another woman also who was seized with the same malady was healed by the Lord through the prayers of the Saint. Again, another woman was at the point of death in child-birth, and suffered terribly, not being able to give birth to the child. As soon as the servant of God heard this, she was greatly moved with compassion for the woman, and said to the virgins who were with her, ‘Let us go to her who is in danger, that if for no other reason than by considering the sorrows of those who live in the world, we may learn from how many excruciating afflictions God has rescued us.’ When they reached the house where the woman lay in danger, she prayed, and suddenly the sick woman said to the Saint, with difficulty, in a weak, faint voice: ‘Have pity on me.’ And she, standing up with much and earnest importunity, prayed to God for her, and taking off the leather girdle which she wore, she placed it upon her, saying. ‘I received this as an alms from a great servant of God, and I believe that his prayers will cure you at once.’ Even as she was speaking the woman was delivered of the dead child.” It was, so Melania insisted, the holiness of the ascetic to whom the girdle had previously belonged which wrought the miracle. For, as her biographer adds, “she always attributed her good works to the Saints.”

But our Saint’s burning thirst for the salvation of souls constantly urged her to still greater efforts. She laboured unceasingly to bring back all those who had strayed from the way of salvation. The power of her sweet persuasion induced many women who had sinned like Magdalen to imitate her in her sorrow for sin. Melania’s biographer, in speaking of her zeal for souls, says it would not be possible to tell how many pagans, Samaritans, and heretics were converted by her efforts. Pelagius was in Jerusalem when his condemnation was proclaimed, and we know for certain that Melania left nothing undone to induce him to return to the fold of Christ. She actually succeeded in getting him to make a declaration which would have fully satisfied all the exigencies of Catholic doctrine if the words which Pelagius used had not, in his mind, quite a different meaning from that which they seemed to convey.

Scarcely a year had passed since her mother’s death when Melania experienced a fresh and very sharp trial. Towards the end of the year 431, or the beginning of 432, Pinianus was taken ill and passed to eternal rest. In her great sorrow Melania experienced supreme consolation. Those two who were dearest to her on earth, who had for so many years followed in her footsteps along the path of perfection, had reached their goal. She had resigned them into the hands of God who rewards the good. They had outstripped her in the race, and now, crowned with glory they awaited her in Paradise, whither she was hurrying with flying feet. But, meanwhile, she would show of what affection her heart was capable. She buried her husband near her mother’s tomb on the Mount of Olives, and feeling that the bonds which united her to these beloved souls were now drawn closer than ever, she remained beside them for four years, redoubling her austerities, her fasts, and her prayers. Truly, a supreme proof of how divine love purifies and strengthens the tide of human affection.

At the period of which we are speaking there existed on the Mount of Olives two famous sanctuaries which were venerated by all Christendom, namely, the Church built by Saint Helen on the spot where Our Lord ascended into Heaven, and Constantine’s Basilica, erected over the grotto where, as we have already said, according to tradition, Our Divine Lord used to assemble His Apostles and where He discoursed to them concerning the end of the world. These two great memorial churches had no resident clergy attached to them, but were served by the secular clergy of Jerusalem, and owing probably to their remoteness from the city, did not receive the attention which was their due for the precious memories which they recalled. Divine worship was much neglected, and the diurnal and nocturnal offices had ceased altogether. Melania was deeply pained at such a state of things. She made repeated efforts to have it remedied, but always without avail. We know not if her failure was to be attributed to her extreme poverty, or to the want of faith amongst those to whom she appealed for aid. But at last God rewarded her. A wealthy and devout Christian sent her a large sum of money to dispose of as she pleased. Melania at once sent for her chaplain, Gerontius, the same who wrote her life, and, giving him the money, charged him to set about the immediate erection of a monastery for men close to these sanctuaries. It was her wish that the chief duty of these monks should be the nightly chanting of the Divine Office in each of the churches in turn. She also desired that they should pray for the souls of her dear departed whose mortal remains lay close beside them. Melania’s faith and zeal had their reward. Within the space of a year a large and much-admired monastery was erected, and she had the consolation of seeing it shortly afterwards inhabited by an edifying community of monks. Henceforth all the offices of the Church were reverently and assiduously carried out upon the Mount of Olives.

Melania, in her great joy at the realization of one of her most ardent desires, poured forth her soul in thanksgiving to God. But whilst thus rejoicing, an unexpected letter arrived which seems to have moved her deeply. The letter announced the arrival in Constantinople of her uncle, Volusianus, Albina’s brother, as ambassador from Valentinian III. to treat concerning his marriage with Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodorus II. We cannot doubt that Volusianus expressed a strong desire to see his niece after such long years of absence. This letter was written about November of the year 436. Two deep currents of feeling made themselves felt in Melania’s soul .at this intelligence. Volusianus was a near relative, and a man who by his splendid career passed in the highest offices of State and in the closest relations with the imperial family, had won universal esteem. Her natural affection for such a near kinsman urged her to gratify his desire. But the voice of charity appealed to her heart still more strongly than that of nature. She well remembered how unweariedly her saintly grandmother, the Christian wife of the pagan priest, Albinus, had laboured for the conversion of this illustrious man. She knew that Saint Augustine, too, had zealously worked for the same end. But Volusianus, in spite of all efforts, still adhered to Paganism. He was now far advanced in years, and there was but too much reason to fear that he would die as he had lived. It was this thought which urged Melania to set forth in the depth of winter, clad in the poorest of garments, on a journey to the capital of the Eastern Empire. She was urged onwards by a supernatural impulse to try to save the soul so dear to her. She recommended herself to the prayers of the pious in Jerusalem, and, in less than a week’s time, accompanied by her chaplain and others whose names are not recorded, she was on her way to Constantinople. By an exceptional privilege she was permitted to take advantage of the system of posts, organised by the imperial officials.

The story of the journey, of Melania’s sojourn in Constantinople, and of her return to Jerusalem, is graphically told by her companion, who was an eye-witness of all, and is one of the most interesting portions of Gerontius’s biography. In every line of the account we can plainly discern the veneration in which this heroine of charity was universally held. Throughout her long journey, everywhere as she passed, the extraordinary spectacle was presented of bishops, monks, and virgins, who, quitting for a few brief moments their solitary dwellings, crowded down the mountain sides to salute the holy woman, the rumour of whose passing had spread far and wide. They knew nothing of her beyond her noble name, and the renown of her resplendent virtues, but those who thus saw her and spoke with her for the first time were so attracted by the charm of her personality that they parted from her with strange reluctance, and with every mark of regret.

At Tripoli, Melania met with some rudeness from the officials whose duty it was to furnish mules for the continuance of the journey. Her biographer gives a quaintly interesting account of what took place. “I cannot,” he says, “pass over in silence the marvel which Our Lord worked by her means in Tripoli, because, whilst it is a good thing to keep hidden the secrets of the king, it is praiseworthy to reveal the works of God (Job 12:7). As soon, then, as we arrived, we halted at the church of the martyr, Saint Leontius, in which church many miracles are wrought. And as there were many of us travelling with the Saint, and we were not furnished with a warrant, we found that the administrator made great difficulties about the lending of the animals for the journey, his name being Messala. The Saint was much afflicted, and she remained in prayer and vigil near the remains of the holy martyr, Leontius, from evening until the animals arrived. Now we had not long started, and had travelled only some seven miles from the town, when the aforesaid administrator came hastening after us, very much troubled, and calling, he cried out, ‘Where is the priest?’ Whereupon I, being inexperienced in travelling, feared that perhaps he had followed to deprive us of the animals already given, and I got down, asking him why he had come in this breathless haste. Said he: ‘I beg to be permitted to speak with the illustrious lady.’ Then, as soon as he saw her, he threw himself on the ground at her feet, and with abundant tears, began, ‘Pardon me, servant of Christ, that I, in ignorance of thy great sanctity, delayed to let the animals go.’ But she replied, ‘God will bless thee, my son, for letting us have them at all, even though thou gavest them tardily.’ Then drawing forth the three pieces which I had given him as a gratuity, he besought me to take them back. As I showed myself unwilling to do this, he began to confess to the Saint: ‘The whole night, myself and thy servant, my wife, were much afflicted by the holy martyr Leontius, wherefore we both rose quickly and ran to the martyr’s church, where, not finding you, she turned back, not being able to run farther for want of breath, but I, having caught up with you, implore your Holiness to pray for us both, that the Lord of all things may deign to be merciful to us.’ When we heard this explanation we took the pieces, and prayed, and he went away in peace and gladness. And the whole company being filled with amazement at what had happened, the Saint said: ‘Take courage, for our journey is conformable to the will of God.’ And as we all implored her to tell us clearly the reason, the Saint answered: ‘I prayed all night to the holy martyr Leontius that he would send us a good augury for this journey, and behold, unworthy as I am, my request is granted. And then we continued our journey, filled with joy, and respectfully saluted by all.’

When Melania reached Constantinople she was met by Lausus, one of the noblest patricians, the patron of Palladius, and benefactor of her own monasteries. He received her with great honour and insisted that she should be his guest. Melania was a stranger in Constantinople, yet she had scarcely arrived when she was overwhelmed with visits from the noblest and most illustrious ladies, all anxious to make her acquaintance and to converse with her. The reception which she was accorded at court and the fascination which she exercised over all may be easily inferred from the fact that when the moment came for her departure both the Emperor and Empress tried by every means in their power to detain her, so much did they desire to enjoy her company for a longer time.

We have said that Melania’s primary object in journeying to Constantinople was her uncle’s conversion. She found Volusianus stricken with illness, which increased her anxiety and urged her to strain every nerve that he might die in the light and the faith of Christ and regenerated in the waters of baptism. At his first meeting with his angel-niece the aged ex-prefect of Rome was moved even to tears. Changed indeed she was since he had seen her last, and yet more beautiful than ever with the celestial beauty of her pure soul transfiguring her features. “When her uncle,” says the biographer, “beheld her mean and poor garments, he, who was himself surrounded with so much earthly luxury, shed tears and said to my insignificance: ‘Perhaps, sir priest, thou dost not know in what delicacy she was reared above all others of our house? And now she has given herself up to such austerity and poverty.’ But with that the Saint, beginning to speak, replied: ‘Having then learned from me, my Lord, how I have trampled on glory and riches and every comfort of this life in view of the future and eternal riches which the Creator and Designer of the universe lavishes on those who truly believe in Him, do thou draw near, therefore, I pray thee, to the Fountain of immortality, that thus when thou hast renounced perishable goods, thou mayst become partaker of those which are eternal. Shake thyself free from the demons sentenced to burn in everlasting fire, together with those who obey their suggestions.’ But as he perceived that she was bent upon bringing this matter before the Emperor and Empress, he was greatly troubled, and said: ‘I appeal to your own piety and good feeling. Do not try to rob me of the gift of my free will which God has bestowed upon us all from the beginning. I am ready and anxious to have the filth of my many errors washed away, but if I were to do this by the Emperor’s orders I should be as one who was forced to it, and I should lose the reward of my own free choice.'”

It seems clear that Melania had made a considerable impression on her uncle, but she would not leave the matter there. Though well pleased with her success, she now had recourse to the saintly Proclus, who at that time filled the see of Constantinople, praying him to visit Volusianus, and by following up the advantage which she had secured, to induce the old man at last to take the decisive step. She also begged various other illustrious personages in the city and at the court to call upon her uncle and thus help in the cause.

Fresh trials and sufferings, however, awaited Melania even in the hour of her joy at the prospect of Volusianus’ conversion. In the midst of her zealous labours to that end, as well as her ceaseless efforts, continued from morning to night, to reclaim many Constantinopolitan ladies tainted with Nestorianism, Melania was suddenly seized with terrible pains, which were so acute as to paralyse all her limbs and to render her incapable of the least movement. So great were her suffering that fears were entertained for her life. She had lain for seven days in a state of ever-increasing torture when a messenger arrived from the Empress Eudoxia, whose guest Volusianus was, to inform Melania that her uncle ardently desired to see her. It was imperative that she should comply with this request without a moment’s delay, otherwise Volusianus, who was in the last extremity, might die without baptism. Who can describe Melania’s anguish of mind? She entreated that she might be instantly carried to the palace, but those around her, fearing for her life and recognizing the impossibility of moving her, refused to comply with her wishes. But she only renewed her entreaties. At any cost she must see and speak to her uncle. At last they yielded, and placing her, more like a corpse than a living woman, upon a litter, they bore her to the palace.

Meanwhile, Volusianus had been told that Melania was ill and unable to go to him. The dying man perhaps, who can tell? beholding her in spirit beside his couch, recalled her loving exhortations. Touched by Divine Grace, he requested Baptism, which was administered by the bishop Proclus who had been summoned in all haste. Another messenger was at once despatched to Melania, who had already reached the Forum of Constantine on her way to the palace. Here the messenger met her and communicated to her the glad tidings. So great was Melania’s joy that she had scarcely heard the news when she found herself wonderfully better. She was able to ascend the staircase unaided, to take her seat beside the Empress, and to console the last hours of the dying man, at whose bedside she remained throughout the entire night.

At the dawn of the following day, which was the feast of the Epiphany, Volusianus, who had communicated the day before, again partook of the Blessed Eucharist, this being now the third time. Soon afterwards, Melania received his last sigh, as his rejoicing spirit passed to Heaven. Just before breathing his last, Volusianus turned to his niece, who was suggesting to him ejaculations of gratitude for the wondrous favour he had received, and said to her: “This gift of God is the reward of your efforts.” Nor can we doubt it when we remember that Melania succeeded where the wisdom, the eloquence, and the sanctity of Augustine had failed. Those around that death-bed, filled with wonder, glorified the loving designs of Divine Providence. It was plain that the embassy of Volusianus to Constantinople, and Melania’s journey from Jerusalem had all been brought about to the end that the soul so earnestly pleaded for might be gained to God.

Melania’s apostolic zeal during her brief sojourn in Constantinople was not restricted solely to her uncle’s conversion. A far wider field had been opened to it there. We are all acquainted with the serious injury inflicted on the orthodox faith in that city by the heresy of Nestorius. The (Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, held five years previously, had deposed Nestorius, who, having in vain endeavoured to provoke a reaction in his favour, was condemned to exile. But he still had warm partisans in Constantinople, chiefly amongst the nobles, supporters both of his doctrine and of his own personal ambitions. Melania, urged by that ardent zeal for the purity of faith for which she was remarkable, and by her intimate friendship with Cyril of Alexandria, who was the great champion of the dogma of Mary’s Divine Maternity, which the heresiarch had impugned, defended the Church’s teaching with a force of conviction impossible to be described.

Numbers of patrician ladies and men of letters sought the Saint in order to converse with her upon this burning question of the hour. Melania, all day long, from morning until nightfall, reasoned unweariedly with them. She succeeded in winning back to the truth many who had been drawn into error, whilst she confirmed others in their faith. Her powerful words, so full of grace and inspired by God, were a source of help to all who came into contact with her.

While thus busily employed, Melania observed the fortieth day after her uncle’s death, according to custom, by assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which was duly offered for the repose of his soul. Desirous of spending Easter in Jerusalem, she then began to make preparations for her departure from Constantinople. Having at last overcome the reluctance of the imperial court to allow her to take her leave, she set out on her return journey towards the end of February. The winter of that year (437) was the severest on record. All day long she journeyed through snow falling so heavily as to obliterate every vestige of earth and sky. Nothing seemed visible but the rude caravanserais where the travellers rested at night. None the less, in spite of the great severity of the weather, many bishops, desirous of testifying their great veneration for Melania, went to meet her as she passed along, and tried to induce her to refrain from continuing her journey in such bitter cold. But this stout-hearted woman held her course undeterred by snow-drifts sometimes so deep that it was almost impossible for the conveyance to proceed, while she frequently traversed long stretches of the road on foot. All these manifold hardships of the way she bore with cheerfulness, comforting her fellow-travellers, and speaking to them of God, while at the same time she rigorously observed the Lenten fast. So great was her desire to behold once more her beloved Jerusalem and the monasteries so dear to her heart, that she seemed to be borne along on wings. She reached Jerusalem in Holy Week, after a most fatiguing journey of forty-four days.

When taking leave of the Emperor Theodosius, in Constantinople, Melania had earnestly entreated him to allow the Empress to visit the Holy Places. In the following year (438), Eudoxia, with her husband’s consent, visited Palestine for the first time.

The Byzantine historians make brief and confusing allusions to this visit. We learn from the Empress herself that whilst her anxiety to venerate the principal monuments of the Christian religion had chiefly led her to undertake such a journey, yet, at the same time, her ardent desire of again beholding the holy woman whom she had previously seen in Constantinople powerfully influenced her in this resolution. Eudoxia’s acts proved the sincerity of her words. During her sojourn at Jerusalem she spent each day in the company of Melania, from whom she found it impossible to tear herself. Now if we bear in mind that Eudoxia, the celebrated Athenian, was the most cultured woman of those days, we can easily understand that her great esteem and affection for Melania did not spring from any superficial feminine impressionability, but arose from solid appreciation of the sublime virtue and the extraordinary gifts with which the Saint was endowed.

When Melania heard of the arrival of the Empress she decided, after some hesitation, to go to meet her as an act of courtesy to a sovereign whom she regarded as earnestly devoted to God’s service. The meeting took place at Sidonia. The Empress received Melania with the greatest cordiality and every mark of respect. She then made her solemn entry into the Holy City, accompanied by the Saint whom she so much revered. Melania was naturally much gladdened and consoled by this visit, but, at the same time, it was the cause of great anxiety to her. On her return, the preceding year, from Constantinople, she had been pleased to find that the monks of the newly-founded monastery on the summit of the Mount of Olives were discharging all the sacred offices entrusted to them with the utmost fervour and regularity. It was then that her ardent piety suggested to her the erection of a small church in honour of the martyrs near the scene of the Ascension and adjoining the monastery. The care of this church was to be entrusted to the monks, and Melania desired that after her death the Holy Sacrifice should be offered there for her own soul and that of her beloved Pinianus. The building was in the course of construction when the Empress visited Jerusalem, and she expressed an earnest desire that it should be finished as soon as possible in order that she might be present at its consecration. The sovereign’s wishes were carried out, and Eudoxia was present at the sacred ceremony. After the relics of the martyrs had been deposited under the altar, the Empress was passing into the monastery when she slipped and fell, spraining her ankle severely. She suffered great pain and it was found necessary to carry her to her residence in Jerusalem. Melania’s grief and anxiety can scarcely be described. She hastened to the little church, but just consecrated, and there before the relics of the martyrs, with one of her sisters in religion, remained prostrate in prayer until word was brought to her that the Empress was free from all pain. Eudoxia regarded her speedy recovery as due as much to the prayers of the servant of God as to the intercession of the martyrs.

At last the hour for the departure of the Empress arrived. Melania accompanied her as far as Csesarea, where the last farewells were said. The Empress was deeply moved, shedding tears when she took leave of her saintly companion.

The hour was now rapidly approaching when Melania was to receive the reward of all her labours. After a life which had been a resplendent model of evangelical perfection, a life of the most complete self-renunciation and detachment from all things earthly, a life ever glowing with the flames of divine charity, filled with good works and heroic conflicts, she was now about to receive a crown of immortal glory. The Saint had entered upon her fifty-seventh year when she perceived the first heralds of the dawn of ever-lasting day, and henceforth in thought and spirit she dwelt in the heavenly city to which she was hastening. Her biographer, who was present at her last illness and death, has narrated the scene so vividly that we seem rather to be spectators than mere listeners to another’s account. These pages in which the Saint’s death is narrated are undoubtedly the most beautiful and touching in the whole biography. As we propose to quote this account at length, we will only touch here upon one or two points which seem likely to be helpful for its fuller comprehension.

It was Christmas Eve of the year 439. Melania wished to keep vigil, for the last time, as she said, in the Grotto of the Nativity. Accompanied only by her much-loved cousin, the virgin Paula, she repaired to Bethlehem, and as she desired, passed the entire night divinely happy in the sacred cave. At dawn she assisted at the most holy sacrifice of the Mass. At the conclusion of the divine mysteries she turned to her cousin, and to the latter’s great consternation announced that her death was near at hand.

On the Feast of Saint Stephen she expressed a wish to visit once more the Basilica where the Martyr’s venerated remains reposed. Accompanied by her chaplain and taking with her, according to custom, the bread and wine for the Divine Oblation this is a detail which we owe entirely to the Latin version of the Life she proceeded to the Basilica, where she assisted at Mass. She then returned to the monastery, which was distant about a mile, and took part in the recital of the Divine Office. At its conclusion the Sisters greeted her affectionately, wishing her many years of prolonged life. In response to these greetings, she declared that the hour of her death was at hand, an announcement which filled all present with profound distress. She then repaired to the recently-built church adjoining the monastery she had founded for men. There, kneeling before the altar, she bade farewell to the monks and to the earth in a very beautiful prayer, each word of which came straight from that heart so filled with humility and so wholly enamoured of God. She had scarcely finished when she was seized with fits of shivering. Pleurisy declared itself, and before another week had passed all was over. Melania spent those few remaining days of life in prayer and in exhortations to those around her, then, as ever, edifying all by her sublime virtue. The mournful news of her serious illness spread rapidly, causing general consternation and sorrow. The dying Saint, although suffering torments of pain, received all who came to her with marvellous sweetness and serenity, and had an affectionate and consoling word for everyone. Juvenal, the Bishop of Jerusalem, visited her with all his clergy, and gave her Holy Communion with his own hands. And here again we learn an interesting liturgical detail recorded only in the Latin text of her Life, that Melania, in receiving Holy Communion, answered “Amen” to the words spoken in giving the Sacred Host, and kissed the Bishop’s right hand. Melania earnestly recommended to his care the monasteries she had founded. On Sunday, the last day of the year 439, the supreme moment came. It was the hour of sunset. In the west the sun was sinking and bathing all the world in floods of golden light, as from the east there rose towards Heaven another sun radiant with a splendour that never wanes. The Latin text seems to speak of a vision of angels seen by the dying Saint just before the end came; but, on the other hand, it tells us nothing of a second visit of the bishop which was paid to her late in the afternoon. Melania’s last words were those of holy Job: Sicut Domino placuit, itafactum est, and then calmly closing her eyes on earth, the Saint passed to the eternal enjoyment of the Beatific Vision.

But, as already mentioned above, the account of Saint Melania’s last week on earth has been given in some detail by her biographer, and nothing can quite take the place of the impression which is derived from reading his own actual words. It is easy to see that Gerontius wrote with a deep sense of the great privilege and honour conferred upon “his insignificance” it is by this or some similar indirect Oriental phrase that he nearly always refers to himself by his close personal participation in the events described. The translation which follows is made from the Greek text, as this is somewhat fuller than the Latin and is also superior to the latter in point of literary form:

“After some time, like an excellent runner who, having completed the course, is now eager for the prize, Melania ardently desired to depart from the world and to be with Christ. For she sighed also, longing, as the Apostle says, ‘to be clothed upon with our habitation that is from Heaven.’ (II Corinthians 5:2) The holy festival time of the birth of the Saviour having arrived, she said to her cousin, the lady Paula, ‘Let us go to holy Bethlehem, for I know not if I shall see this feast again in the flesh. Therefore they repaired thither, and, having celebrated the entire vigil, they participated at daybreak in the Divine Mysteries. And then the Saint, as if she had received warning from God, spoke these words to her cousin: ‘Pray for me. Henceforth, thou shalt celebrate the birthday of Our Lord alone, because the end of my mortal life is near at hand.’ And on hearing these words, she (Paula) was greatly troubled. But when they had returned from Bethlehem to the monastery, the Saint, wholly disregarding the fatigue of the vigil and the journey, went immediately to the Grotto and prayed for a long time.

“The next day we repaired to the basilica of the holy proto-martyr Stephen for the commemoration of his death, and having celebrated the liturgy there, we returned to the monastery. And in the evening, I read aloud first, then three Sisters read, last of all she read from the Acts the account of the death of Saint Stephen. As soon as she had finished the lesson, all the Sisters said to the Saint: ‘Good health to thee, mayst thou for many years yet celebrate many feasts of the Saints.’ Whereupon, as if she had received an assurance from on high, she answered, ‘Good health to you, also, but you will never again hear me recite the lessons.’ And they were all filled with anguish to hear such words, because they knew that she had spoken in a spirit of prophecy. And, like one who was about to pass from this world to the Lord, she left them her spiritual testament in these words, ‘Take great care, I pray you, after I have departed, to celebrate the Divine Office with all fear and vigilance, because it is written: “Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord negligently.” Therefore, although in a short time I shall be parted from you in body, and shall be no more with you, God, nevertheless, who is eternal, and who fills all things, is with you Himself, and also knows the depths of each one’s heart. Therefore, having this continually before your eyes, keep your souls in charity and chastity until the end, knowing that you shall appear before His tremendous judgment seat, and that each of you shall bear away either the reward of your labours or the punishment of your faults.’ And whilst all experienced lively grief because they were about to lose so excellent a mistress, and one inspired by God, she, in leaving them, said to my meanness (i.e., to my insignificant self) ‘Let us go to the monks’ oratory to pray, for there also rest the relics of Saint Stephen.’ Accordingly, being thus invited by the Saint, I followed her in great grief, and when we were within the church, as if she were already the companion of the holy martyrs, she prayed aloud thus, with tears in her eyes: ‘O Lord, the God of the holy martyrs, who didst know all things before the beginning, Thou knowest also that from the beginning I chose to love Thee with my whole heart, and that my bones have cleaved to my flesh from fear of Thee, for Thou hast formed me in my mother’s womb, and I have consecrated my body and soul to Thee, and Thou, holding me by Thy right hand, hast led me with Thy counsel, but as I, being clothed in humanity, have many times sinned both in word and deed against Thee, who alone art pure and without sin, accept, therefore, my prayer which with tears I offer Thee through Thy holy ones, the victors in the arena, and purify me, who am Thy handmaiden, that departing to Thee, the passage of my soul may be hastened, and that I may not be detained by malignant demons of the air; that so indeed I may pass to Thee without stain, escorted by Thy holy angels, and may be made worthy of Thy heavenly marriage feast, after hearing that blessed greeting of Thine which those in whom Thou art well-pleased shall receive from Thee: ” Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For ineffable are Thy mercies and the fullness of Thy compassion, and Thou savest all those that trust in Thee.’ Then, again addressing her prayer to the holy martyrs, she prayed: ‘Athletes of the Lord, who, in confessing Him, did shed your blood, have compassion on your humble servant, who has already venerated your holy remains, and as you have always listened to me, so now do you that are all-powerful with the God of clemency, intercede for me that He may receive my soul in peace, and may keep the monasteries in His fear.’ And even before her prayer was ended, the shivering of fever seized upon her poor weak body. And returning to the monastery of the virgins, we found that the Sisters were still engaged upon the Divine Office. And whilst I, not being able to bear up any longer, by reason of the anguish which overwhelmed me, withdrew to take a little rest, she went to take part in the Office. And the Sisters, perceiving that she was falling grievously ill, besought her to rest a little, because she had not the strength to stand upright. But she would not consent, adding: ‘ Not until we have finished the psalms of the morning Office.’ And having completed the whole service she went to lie down, and there being seized with a pain in her side, she fell into a mortal sickness. Whereupon she called for my wretched self and all the Sisters, and said to me. ‘Behold, I am going to the Lord; pray, therefore, for me.’ And when I heard these words my heart was wrung with sorrow.

“Then, turning to the virgins, she addressed them in these words: ‘I beg of you also to pray for me, for never have I wished evil to any of you. But if, indeed, I have sometimes spoken a harsh word to any one, I did it out of love for your souls. Regard yourselves, therefore, as the true servants of Christ; spend the years of life which remain to you in all discipline, so that having your lamps lighted, you may be ready in that day for the coming of the Heavenly Bridegroom. Behold, therefore, I commend you to God, who is all-powerful to preserve your souls and bodies. I also commend you to his reverence our priest here, and I implore you not to cause him distress in any way, but be you subject to him in all humility, knowing that he bears the burden of you all in God’s place, and that she who resists him and does not obey thereby displeases God.’ Having said these words, she manifested a desire to be carried to the oratory, saying: ‘ Carry me near the holy martyrs.’ Her illness increasing, she said to us: ‘ The day is closing in.’ And all shed bitter tears, but the virgins, above all, wept, for they were about to lose the mother who truly and tenderly loved them. Then the Saint, perceiving that my heart also was filled with sorrow, said to me on the fifth day of her illness it was, in fact, the day she died ‘ My son, all your prayers and tears are of no avail, for I have heard a voice which tells my heart that it is necessary that I, according to God’s holy dispensation, must break these earthly bonds and depart to the Lord.’ It was about daybreak on Sunday, and she said to me, ‘May it please you to offer the Holy Sacrifice for us.’ And whilst I offered, I could not speak loud on account of my great anguish. But she who was even then in her agony, when she did not hear the prayers, sent word to me as I stood at the altar, ‘Raise your voice that I may hear the words of the invocation.’

“After she had thus assisted at the Divine Mysteries, the bishop, most dear to God, arrived accompanied by his clergy, and after they had exchanged suitable words concerning the salvation of the soul, finally, the Saint said to him: ‘I have commended to you our priest and the monasteries, and I have provided for them all like a good shepherd for his faithful sheep, following the footsteps of the Master.’ And he, beholding how much goodness was about to depart from the earth, was greatly troubled. The Saint having asked for Communion from him also, took leave of him in peace. Then the pious monks of her monastery presented themselves, and she said to them; ‘ On the point of departing from this precarious life, I bid you farewell, and I pray you in all things to give comfort to our priest, knowing that thereby you please the Lord of all things, for, being free from all responsibility, he became your servant for love of our Lord, and while he is not obliged to do so, he yet bears the burden of you all.’

“Then the monks of the other monasteries, and very many from the city, came. And this truly noble woman, although afflicted with agonizing pain, showed herself mindful of everything, and with a brave heart and much patience spoke to all words of farewell such as were befitting. Then the lady Paula, her cousin, together with her own friends, came to her, and to all she spoke words of admonition, but, in particular, she consoled her cousin who was faint with sorrow at her departure, and, with many prayers and blessings, took leave of her. Last of all, she addressed these words to my miserable self: ‘ It is, indeed, superfluous to make appeal to the love of God in thy heart that thou mayst take thought for the monasteries. For, whilst I was yet in the flesh, thou didst bear the care and the burden of all, and didst help in everything. Therefore I now recommend to thee the monasteries, and implore thee that now, much more than ever, thou wilt undertake this charge, for which God will reward thee in the life to come.’ And when she had bidden all farewell in peace, she added: ‘Let us pray.’ And thus she dismissed everyone, saying: ‘Let me rest, now.’ About the ninth hour she began to grow weaker, and we, thinking that she was dead, tried to stretch her feet. But reviving somewhat, she said to my worthless self, in a faint voice: ‘The hour has not yet come.’ And although I had not strength to bear the sorrow with which I was overpowered, I answered: ‘When the hour comes wilt thou give us warning?’ And she answered: ‘Yes.’ This she said, as I conceive, to signify that it was not necessary to straighten her limbs after death. In the mean- time holy men remained there with me, for this was always her prayer, to render up her spirit in the midst of Saints. And then there came again the bishop, most dear to God, together with the anchorets from around Eleutheropolis, most holy men, and he said to the Saint: ‘Thou, who whilst on earth didst fight the good fight, dost indeed go gladly to the Lord, and all the angels rejoice thereat; but we can only sorrow at the separation from thy company, which was of great profit to all.’ And she replied with these last words: ‘As the Lord willed, so is it done.’ And then, tranquilly and placidly in gladness and rejoicing, she gave up her holy soul to God the same evening of Sunday, that thus might be manifested her great love for the Lord and for His holy Resurrection. There was no need to lay out her saintly body, for her feet were stretched and her hands clasped upon her breast, and her eyes naturally closed. Therefore, according as she had arranged, the holy Fathers gathered from various parts, and having all night, with great impressiveness, recited the Office and the lessons, they bore her to the grave. The garments in which she was buried were worthy of her sanctity, and I think it well to call attention thereto for the benefit of those who may light upon this narrative.

“She had the tunic of a certain Saint (i.e., ascetic) and the maphorion of another servant of God; from another, part of her apron; from another, her cincture, which last she also wore in life; while her hairy cowl also had belonged to another. Then in place of a pillow we used the cowl of skin once owned by another Saint, which we arranged under her venerable head. With reason was her body thus robed in the garments of those whose virtues she had acquired for herself in life. She had no linen garments except a sheet in which we enshrouded her already dressed as she was.

“The Saint’s prayer had been heard. She ascended to Heaven with rejoicing, having put on virtue as a garment. Wherefore the powers of darkness did not molest her, because they could find upon her. nothing of their own. But the holy angels joyfully received her, for in her corruptible body she imitated their immunity from earthly passions, and the holy prophets and apostles, whose actions and doctrines she carried out in her own life, made her one of their choir; and the holy martyrs, whose memory she glorified and whose conflicts she voluntarily took upon herself, met her in gladness. Thus she receives in Heaven the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, those things I mean which God hath prepared for those who love Him. To whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Such is the doxology with which Gerontius, according to Greek custom, concludes his account of the life of the holy virgin, who had been to him in turn friend, mother, and patron. Even whilst yet alive Melania had been in a sense canonized by two illustrious Fathers of the Church. Saint Paulinus, who had known her from infancy, called her “the blessed child,” and “the joy of Heaven.” Saint Augustine, who knew her in her maturer years, regarded her, and her husband also, as “true lights of the Church,” by reason of their virtue and their example in the midst of a most corrupt society.

Soon after her death the Church of the East, with supreme veneration, placed her on her altars amongst those who were most illustrious for sanctity in those early ages of faith. Every year her feast was celebrated with great rejoicings and with the singing of canticles composed in her honour. Her name was also inscribed, though later, upon the Church’s roll-call of Saints in the West. It is only in her native land that her memory is in oblivion.