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ST. PELAGIA, PENITENT

THIS saint had been a comedian at Antioch, even while she was a catechumen; but afterwards renounced that profession, and became a true penitent. The manner of her conversion is thus related in the Greek Mena, published by the emperor Basil. The patriarch of Antioch having assembled a council of bishops in that city, St. Nonnus,* one of the number, was commissioned to announce the word of God to the people. Accordingly he preached before the church of St. Julian martyr, in the presence of the other bishops. During the sermon, Pelagia passed that way richly adorned with jewels; and her beauty, heightened with all the elegance of dress, drew on her the attention of the whole assembly, except the bishops, who turned away their eyes from so scandalous an object. But Nonnus, looking earnestly at Pelagia, cries out in the middle of his discourse, “The Almighty in his infinite goodness will show mercy even to this woman, the work of his hands.” At these words she stopped suddenly, and, joining the audience, was so touched with remorse for her criminal life, that she shed abundance of tears; and immediately after the sermon she addressed herself to Nonnus, imploring him to instruct her how to expiate her sins, and to prepare her for the grace of baptism. The holy penitent distributed all her goods among the poor, changed her name from Margaret to Pelagia, and resolved to spend the remainder of her life in the exercise of prayer, and the austerities of penance. After her baptism, which she received at the hands of Nonnus, she retired to Jerusalem, and having taken the religious veil,† shut herself up in a grotto on Mount Olivet, in the fifth age. Phocas, a monk of Crete, in the relation of his voyage from Palestine in 1185,1 describes Mount Olivet, and the grotto where the saint completed the martyrdom of her penance, and where her relics were preserved in an urn. St. Pelagia is mentioned on this day in the Roman Martyrology, and in the Greek and Muscovite Calendars; but in an ancient inscription on marble in Naples, on the 5th of October.‡ See her life written by James, deacon of Heliopolis in Syria, an eye-witness of her conversion and penance, ap. Rosweide, Vit. Patr. p. 374. The same is found in an ancient MS. in folio, on vellum well preserved, which formerly belonged to the abbey of St. Edmundsbury in England, and is at present in the author’s possession. This MS. contains a fine collection in Latin of the lives of the Fathers of the desert, which Rosweide published from MSS. found in different libraries of the Low-Countries. It were to be wished that the learned Jesuit had either suppressed, or distinguished by some mark, two or three spurious pieces, which are evidently the work of modern Greeks. See also Theophanes in his Chronology, under the year 432; Nicephorus Callixtus, &c.








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