On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Marcella of Rome.
What we know of her comes from the letters St. Jerome wrote to her from Bethlehem and the letter he wrote about her to her friend Principia after her death.
Marcella's palace on the Aventine Hill was a center where Roman matrons and widows met to discuss the bible. St. Jerome was their spiritual guide. When he moved to Bethlehem with St. Paula and St. Eustochium, they tried to convince Marcella to join them there, but she stayed in Rome.
Marcella died in 410, after having been brutalized by Visigoths. Two years later Jerome wrote:
Jerome went on to describe the differences between Marcella and other widows at a time and place when widows had more freedom than other women:
Jerome explained how, when men, including priests, consulted the wise and learned Marcella "concerning obscure and doubtful points", she avoided transgressing the rule against women teaching by telling them her own opinion was really Jerome's.
He described some of the horrors, including cannibalism, that came with the third siege of Rome. Marcella was scourged and beaten with cudgels when the house where she was living with Principia was invaded by Visigoths. They tortured her, demanding her riches, but more soldiers came, who had "some reverence for holy things. They escorted the two women to the church of St. Paul,--one of those which had been named by Alaric as a sanctuary for all who chose to take advantage of it. Here the venerable Marcella, exhausted with her fatigues and wounds, died the next day."
--A Dictionary of Saintly Women, Vol. 2, by Agnes B. C. Dunbar, London, 1905.
The site of St. Marcella's palace on the Aventine Hill is believed to have been near Santa Sabina. Click here for more about the church. "The columns are ancient, and may have been taken from one of the many buildings on the Aventine that were destroyed by the Goths in 410." (Maybe some came from Marcella's palace.)