St. Melania: December 31 – The patrician girl who befriended St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and the Empress
Born at Rome, about 383; died in Jerusalem, 31 December, 439. She was a member of the famous family of Valerii. Her parents were Publicola and Albina, her paternal grandmother of the same name is known as Melania, Senior. Little is known of the saint’s childhood, but after the time of her marriage, which occurred in her thirteenth year, we have more definite information. Through obedience to her parents she married one of her relatives, Pinianus a patrician. During her married life of seven years she had two children who died young.
After their death Melania’s inclination toward a celibate life reasserting itself, she secured her husband’s consent and entered upon the path of evangelic perfection, parting little by little with all her wealth. Pinianus, who now assumed a brotherly position toward her, was her companion in all her efforts toward sanctity. Because of the Visigothic invasions of Italy, she left Rome in 408, and for two years lived near Messina in Sicily. Here, their life of a monastic character was shared by some former slaves. In 410 she went to Africa where she and Pinianus lived with her mother for seven years, during which time she grew well acquainted with St. Augustine and his friend Alypius. She devoted herself to works of charity and piety, especially in her zeal for souls, to the foundation of a nunnery of which she became superior, and of a cloister of which Pinianus took charge. In 417, Melania, her mother, and Pinianus went to Palestine by way of Alexandria. For a year they lived in a hospice for pilgrims in Jerusalem, where she met St. Jerome. She again made generous donations, upon the receipt of money from the sale of her estates in Spain. About this time she travelled in Egypt, where she visited the principal places of monastic and eremetical life, and upon her return to Jerusalem she lived for twelve years, in a hermitage near the Mount of Olives. Before the death of her mother (431), a new series of monastic foundations had begun. She started with a convent for women on the Mount of Olives, of which she assumed the maintenance while refusing to be made its superior. After her husband’s death she built a cloister for men, then a chapel, and later, a more pretentious church. During this last period (Nov., 436), she went to Constantinople where she aided in the conversion of her pagan uncle, Volusian, ambassador at the Court of Theodosius II, and in the conflict with Nestorianism. An interesting episode in her later life is the journey of the Empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius, to Jerusalem in 438. Soon after the empress’s return Melania died.
The Greek Church began to venerate her shortly after her death, but she was almost unknown in the Western Church for many years. She has received greater attention since the publication of her life by Cardinal Rampolla (Rome, 1905). In 1908, Pius X granted her office to the congregation of clergy at Somascha. This may be considered as the beginning of a zealous ecclesiastical cult, to which the saint’s life and works have entitled her. Melania’s life has been shrouded in obscurity nearly up to the present time; many people having wholly or partially confounded her with her grandmother Antonia Melania. The accurate knowledge of her life we owe to the discovery of two manuscripts; the first, in Latin, was found by Cardinal Rampolla in the Escorial in 1884, the second, a Greek biography, is in the Barberini library. Cardinal Rampolla published both these important discoveries at the Vatican printing-office.
CHARLES SCHLITZ (Catholic Encyclopedia)