SAINT MARCELLA OF ROME
by Meredith Oesch
Today we are going to be learning the story of Saint Marcella of Rome. Saint Marcella was a Roman noble woman. She was declared a saint and was canonized by the Vatican for her role in founding the Christian monastic system. Monasticism is practiced today as a system where religious devotees renounce their worldly possessions and declare their lives to God. They live together in monasteries under religious rules that vary according to the sect.
St. Marcella was born in Rome in 325. St. Marcella is the founder of the first religious community for women in the Catholic Church. She was born into a high ranking aristocracy of Rome. Her father died when she was very young, so he had little impact on her life, though I am sure his death impacted her in many ways. Marcella was also the daughter of Albina who was very supportive of her daughter and her decisions. Saint Marcella was married to a man following her father’s death. They were married for about seven months until he tragically passed away. After he sadly died Saint Marcella was pursued by an ex-consul named Cerealis. It is said he was interested more in a father daughter relationship with Marcella rather than the traditional marital relationship. He wanted a “daughter” to leave his estate too. Saint Marcella declined his offer of marriage. It’s said that she felt that marrying him would be a greedy action for her. She felt that religiously she was supposed to embrace widowhood and a life of Christian asceticism and abandon the material pleasures of the Roman elite to which she was born. With her mother and good friend Principia, Saint Marcella retired to her house on Aventine Hill in Rome. There the three came to live a rule adapted from the monastic foundation of the ear.
As Saint Marcella’s fame in Rome grew she attracted many women of the time to join her in a life of seclusion. This grew to become the first organized community of Christian Women living together according to religious rule. This community was led and financially supported by Marcella. The women of this organization were devoted to charitable works, prayer, and the study of Christian scripture.
Saint Marcella was not only the founder of her Christian women's community but she was also a great intellectual of her time. She took the opportunity in her position to pose many philological and exegetical questions about scripture which had confused her community.
Saint Marcella lived out her life in her well-established routine until 410. In 410 Rome was attacked by the Visigoths, whose king sought out Marcella as she possessed great hidden wealth. The king did not know though that Saint Marcella estate had been disbursed through the funding of her charitable works. The king upon hearing of this was not convinced that Saint Marcella was truly poor. Because of this he had her tortured to discover her hidden fortune that no longer exists. Saint Marcella admirably face the great physical abuse and even though her steadfast strength she ended up passing away from her wounds in either 410 or early 411.