Sunday, 10 February 2019
Maria del Fiat Miola: The Female Monastery of St. Caesarius of Arles: His Hidden Collaborators in the Christianization of Arles and Beyond
St. Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, has often been recognized as a powerful evangelizer of Arles and the surrounding countryside, through his promotion of the monastic life and calling the faithful laity to an uncompromising moral standard and elevated piety. Yet few have understood the active role the cloistered women played in much of the pastoral work of the Arlesian bishop. The very founding of the female monastery and the writing of its Rule (Regula Virginum), often attributed to Caesarius alone, can rightly be considered as the joint project of Caesarius and the first two abbesses. In the sermons of Caesarius, this monastery served the rhetorical function of the “city set on a hill” which would illumine the whole city of Arles with its purity, reading of Sacred Scriptures, and prayer. Yet the inhabitants of the monastery, though strictly cloistered, were not distant exemplars or mere symbols: they lived right in the heart of the local church, in a building that enjoined the huge paleo-christian Cathedral. The people of Arles could hear their liturgical prayers through the walls, visit their relatives in the locutory, and consult the abbess for spiritual advice and prayers. In addition, evidence suggests that the sisters collaborated in a material way to the Christianization of the area: the sisters, through their scribal labor, probably provided the diocese with manuscripts of the Sacred Scriptures, and Caesarius with copies of his sermons which he gave to so many of his fellow clerics to read far beyond Arles.