Saint of the Day – 31 December – Saint Melania the Younger (c 383-439) Foundress, Desert Hermit, Married and Mother of 2 children who died very young, Widow. Born c 383 and died in late December 439 at Jerusalem of natural causes. St Melania the younger was the daughter of Publicola, only son of St Melania the Elder. She was foundress of communities of Desert Hermits. Patronages – against the death of children, exiles.
Melania was born to Valerius Publicola – the son of Valerius Maximus Basilius and Melania the Elder – and his wife Albina. She married her paternal cousin, Valerius Pinianus, at the age of fourteen. After the early deaths of their two children, she and her husband embraced Christian asceticism and maintained a celibate life thereafter. Upon inheriting her parents’ wealth, she donated it to ecclesiastical institutions and to the poor through anonymous intermediaries.
Melania and Pinianus left Rome in 408, living a monastic life near Messina (Sicily) for two years. In 410, they travelled to Africa, where they befriended St Augustine of Hippo and devoted themselves to a life of piety and charitable works. Together they founded a convent of which Melania became Mother Superior and cloister of which Pinianus took charge. Melania lived with the women, fasting and wearing sackcloth. She spent many hours transcribing manuscripts, a work at which she was highly skilled.
In 417, they went to Palestine by way of Alexandria, where they visited the principal places of monastic life and hermitages. In Jerusalem, they lived in a hospice for pilgrims and met St. Jerome, whose disciple and collaborato, Paula, was Melania’s cousin. She became a member of Jerome’s circle of helpers. She lived in Jerusalem for twelve years in a hermitage near the Mount of Olives. Her mother died in 431 and after this Melania opened a convent for women on the Mount of Olives, which she inspired and maintained but refused to become its superior. After her husband’s death she built a cloister for men, then a Chapel and later, a larger Church. She attracted many men and women to a solitary way of life, one of whom was her spiritual director and Biographer, Gerontius.
Melania’s Uncle Volusianus, a diplomat at the court of theEemperor Valentinian, wrote inviting her to Constantinople. She did go there and helped in his conversion to Christianity and assisted him as he died on 6 January 437. She also mounted a campaign there against Nestorianism.
Melania spent the Christmas of 439 in Bethlehem and died a week later.