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Saint Paula

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Saint Paula
Francisco de Zurbarán 043.jpg
Saint Jerome, Saint Paula, and Saint Eustochium, by Francisco de Zurbarán.
Born 347 AD
Died 404 AD
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Feast June 1; January 26
Attributes Depicted as a Hieronymite abbess with a book; depicted as a pilgrim, often with Jerome and Eustochium; depicted prostrate before the cave at Bethlehem; depicted embarking in a ship, while a child calls from the shore; weeping over her children; with the instruments of the Passion; holding a scroll with Saint Jerome's epistle Cogite me Paula; with a book and a black veil fringed with gold; or with a sponge in her hand.[1]
Patronage widows

Saint Paula (347–404) was an ancient Roman saint. A member of one of the richest "senatorial" families which frivolously claimed descent from Agamemnon,[2] Paula was the daughter of Blesilla, from the great clan of the Furii Camilli.[3] At the age of 15, Paula was married to the nobleman Toxotius, with whom she had four daughters, Blaesilla, Paulina, Eustochium, and Rufina. She also had a boy, also named Toxotius. We learn of Paula's early life through the writings of Saint Jerome. In his Letter 108, he states that she had led a luxurious life and held a great status. She dressed in silks, and had been carried about her city by her eunuch slaves.

Entering the religious life

At the age of 32, Paula was widowed. She continued to dedicate herself to her family, but became more interested in religion as time went on.

Through the influence of St. Marcella and her group, Paula became an enthusiastic member of this semi-monastic group of women. In 382, she met Saint Jerome, who had come to Rome with St. Epiphanius and Bishop Paulinus of Antioch. Born in Dalmatia, Jerome had studied in Rome as a youth and had traveled to Germany and Aquileia, and for some years had lived in the East as an ascetic and scholar.

Paula's family

Paula married her daughter, Paulina (d. 395), to the senator Saint Pammachius; Blesilla soon became a widow and died in 384. Of her two other daughters, Rufina died in 386, and Eustochium accompanied her mother to the Orient where she died in 419. Her son, Toxotius, at first not a Christian, but baptized in 385, married in 389 Laeta, daughter of the pagan priest Albinus. Of this marriage was born Paula the Younger, who in 404 rejoined Eustochium in the Holy Land and in 420 closed the eyes of St. Jerome. These are the names which recur frequently in the letters of St. Jerome, where they are inseparable from that of Paula. It has been argued that Saint Eustochius of Tours was the brother of Paula the Younger and the son of Toxotius.[3]

In the Holy Land

Claude Lorrain 006

Claude Lorrain, Landscape with the Embarkation of Saint Paula.

The death of Blesilla and that of Pope Damasus I in 384 completely changed the manner of life of Paula and Jerome. In September 385, Paula and Eustochium left Rome to follow the monastic life in the East. Jerome, who had preceded them thither by a month, joined them at Antioch. Paula first made in great detail the pilgrimage of all the famous places of the Holy Land, afterward going to Egypt to learn from the practices of the anchorites and cenobites, and finally took up her residence at Bethlehem, as did St. Jerome. Then began for Paula, Eustochium, and Jerome their definitive manner of life.

Two monasteries were founded, one for men, the other for women. Paula and Eustochium took a larger share in the exegetical labours of Jerome, and conformed themselves more and more to his direction. An example of their manner of thinking and writing may be seen in the letter they wrote from Bethlehem about 386 to Marcella to persuade her to leave Rome and join them; it is Letter XLVI of the correspondence of Jerome.

They were involved in the events of the day, first the controversy concerning Origenism which influenced their relations with Bishop John II of Jerusalem, and later Paula's need of money (she was extravagant in her gifts to charity and left Eustochium with debt). The chief and almost the only source of Paula's life is the correspondence of St. Jerome (P. L., XXII). The Life of St. Paula is in Letter CVIII. The other letters which specially concern St. Paula and her family are XXII, XXX, XXXI, XXXIII, XXXVIII, XXXIX, LXVI, CVII.

Paula died at the age of 56 and was buried beneath the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem.

Relationship with Jerome

Jerome's enemies found that his denunciations of clerical indulgence and advocacy of self-denial were odd when they considered his close relationship with Paula.[4] An amorous relationship between Jerome and Paula was suggested as having occurred.[5]

An anecdote told of Jerome, of twelfth century origin, tells that Roman clergy hostile to Jerome planned to have him expelled from the city by planting a woman's robe next to his bed. When Jerome awoke in the middle of the night to attend the service of matins, he absentmindedly put on the female robes. He was thus accused of having had a woman in his bed. This story acknowledges, while at the same time discrediting as a malicious slander, Jerome's relationship with women, such the kind he is presumed to have had with Paula.[6]

Chaucer played upon the relationship between Jerome and Paula when he writes the Wife of Bath's Prologue. Chaucer has the Wife visit the same pilgrimage sites as did Paula, and has her constantly cite, not classical authors, but Jerome.[2] Many of her comments are counter-arguments to those put forth by St. Jerome, mainly in his work Against Jovinianus.

Palladius, a contemporary of Jerome, believed that Paula was hindered by Jerome: "For though she was able to surpass all, having great abilities, he hindered her by his jealousy, having induced her to serve his own plan."[7]


  2. 2.0 2.1 Helena, Egeria, Paula, Birgitta and Margery: The Bible and Women Pilgrims
  3. 3.0 3.1 T. S. M. Mommaerts & D. H. Kelley, The Anicii of Gaul and Rome, in Fifth-century Gaul: a Crisis of Identity?, ed. by John Drinkwater and Hugh Elton, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge & New York, 1992) Pages 120-121.
  4. The Ecole Initiative: Jerome
  6. St. Jerome: Introduction
  7. Jerome and the holy women of Rome

External links

This article incorporates text from the entry St. Paula in Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public Paula

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