December 31 Saint of the Day – Melania the Younger

On this day in 1695, a window tax was imposed in England. Many shopkeepers bricked up their windows to avoid it. Fortunately, Parliament did not impose a brick tax.

Melania from the Menologion of Basil IIMelania the Younger (ca. 383 – 439) was a member of the famous Valeri family, one of the richest, or the richest, Roman patrician family, depending on whom you asked (somebody from the family or outside of it) and who was asking (a doting plebe or a tax collector). They had honors granted no other Roman family, and supplied no fewer than six emperors.

Melania was granddaughter to St. Melania the Elder, whose influence caused our Melania to desire a monastic life. Being the last of the Publicola (“The people’s soda”) line, however, she was forcibly married to her cousin, Pinianus. They were 13 and 17, respectively. Melania tried to convince Pinianus to lead a life of virginity, promising to give him her inheritance in exchange (which says something about women’s rights vis-à-vis inheritance), but he insisted on having two sons first. As it turned out, they had first a daughter, who died young, and a son, who died within days of birth. Melania went into post-partum depression and looked like a goner. “I don’t think I can take any more of this,” she said, and Pinianus, who loved her more than progeny itself, agreed to toss in the reproductive towel (so to speak). Melania recovered.

Pinianus then turned the reins over to Melania. My most conservative Orthodox source says (and I quote directly lest you think I’m making this up), “Blessed Melania, the Lord’s wise handmaiden, kept a careful watch over both herself and her husband, for she was his teacher and guide, always taking the initiative as she led him on the way of the Lord.” (Not unlike Macrina the Elder and her hubby.) Together they took care of the sick, the dying, the indigent, the poor, prisoners, and people raising teenagers.

Melania Stained Glass WindowAfter Melania’s father died, she and Pinianus began giving away their money in earnest. This proved difficult, as their joint land holdings rivaled many smaller modern European countries (and we’re not talking San Marino here). They endowed monasteries, churches, hospitals, orphanages, and internet cafés across the Empire. They had a particularly hard time selling the family’s house in Rome, as it was so expensive that nobody could afford it, even at fire sale prices (figuratively speaking). When the city was sacked by the barbarians and the home was burned, the literal fire sale price became affordable.

They fled down the length of Italy just ahead of the barbarians, and lived monastically for a time in Sicily while they sold off their holdings there. They then headed for North Africa, but their ship, being an Italian cruise liner, foundered in a storm. They found themselves on an island that had been captured by barbarians, who were preparing to sell the inhabitants as slaves (whether at fire sale prices or not, our sources do not say). Melania redeemed them all (at this point in the narrative Pinny’s name drops out until near the end), and there was much rejoicing. They sold off their holdings around Carthage, gave the proceeds to local churches and charities, met Augustine, increased their asceticism, and, after seven years, set sail for Jerusalem.

Melania IconIn the Holy Land, Melania commissioned her mother to found a monastery near Mount Olivet, then took a tour through the desert. She tried to give money to the desert fathers and mothers, but they refused it. As one said, not unreasonably, “We’re in the middle of a desert. Where are we going to spend it?” Melania returned to Jerusalem, gave the last of her coin away, and attempted to live as a hermit, seeing only her mother and her husband. But women (and men) flocked to her wisdom, so out of compassion she became a spiritual guide (and wonderworking healer) to many, although she refused to be abbessified.

After burying her beloved Pinianus, Melania whirlwindedly toured Constantinople, where she converted a pagan uncle to Christianity (from “Hellenic impiety”) just in time for him to die, and (somehow) fought Nestorianism. Back in Jerusalem she found her long-lost cousin Paula, met Jerome, and died. Her last words, which will also serve as the final words of this series, were: “May the Lord’s will be done.”

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History for 31st December
Great collection – Main source
Melania the Younger, Widow, and Pinian (St. Patrick DC)
Venerable Melania the Younger of Rome (OCA)
Melania the Younger (Wikipedia)
Melania the Elder (Wikipedia)
Valeria (gens) (Wikipedia)
Miniature of Melania from the Menologion of Basil II via Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule).
Stained glass window (provenance unknown) from onkel-hh.de (copyright unknown)
Icon of Melania (provenance unknown) also from onkel-hh.de (copyright also unknown)


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

2 comments on “December 31 Saint of the Day – Melania the Younger

  1. Thank you so much for all the work and humor you put into this series. I met some new saints and monkified has now entered my vocabulary.

  2. A fond farewell to the work of a person that made me laugh–not out loud, but really smile. Thanks

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