Melania the Elder

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Heiress and ascetic; b. Rome, 342; d. Jerusalem, c. 409. Melania was born into the patrician family of Antonia, was related to paulinas of nola (Epistola 29.5: noster sanguis propinquat ), and at 16 married Valerius Maximus, prefect of Rome (361363). She was widowed at 22 and apparently lost two of her children at the same time. Deciding on a life of strict asceticism, she confided her son Publicola to a tutor, disposed of much of her wealth, and departed for Egypt (372) where she aided the monks suffering in the Arian persecution. She visited Palestine and, with rufinus of aquileia (378) founded a double monastery in Jerusalem.

In 378 Publicola married the noble Albina Ceionia and had a daughter, melania the younger. After taking the part of Bishop john of jerusalem and Rufinus in the Origenistic quarrels with jerome, Melania returned to Italy (400), visited Paulinus of Nola, and looked to the ascetical training of her granddaughter in Rome. She visited Sicily (404) and Hippo, where she met augustine; she received the news of the death of Publicola (c. 405) with forbearance (Paulinus, Epistolae. 45.23) and died shortly after her return to Jerusalem.

Her life was written by palladius (Hist. Laus. 46, 54, 55), and she was eulogized by Paulinus (Epistolae. 2829, 31, 45). Jerome's reference to Melania, cuius nomen nigredinis (melania) testatur perfidiae tenebras ("whose name means blackness and testifies to the darkness of her perfidy"; Epistolae 133.3), elicited caution among later hagiographers in admitting her sanctity; but Jerome was indulging his pique at her support for Rufinus in the Origenistic controversy (see origen and orige nism).

Feast: June 8.

See also: melania, the younger, st.

[f. x. murphy]