Fabiola is a 2018 addition to A Great Cloud of Witnesses

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Last updated: 28 October 2018




Fabiola, by Jean-Jacques HennerFabiola was a nurse (physician) and Roman matron of rank of the company of noble Roman women who gave up all earthly pleasures and devoted themselves to the practice of Christian asceticism and charitable work.

Fabiola had been married to a man who led so vicious a life that to live with him was impossible. She obtained a divorce from him according to Roman law and, contrary to the ordinances of the Church, she entered upon a second union before the death of her first husband.

Upon the death of her second consort, she decided to enter upon a life of renunciation and labour for others. On the day before Easter, following his death, she appeared before the gates of the Lateran basilica, dressed in penitential garb, and did public penance, which made a great impression upon the Christian population of Rome.

Fabiola now renounced all that the world had to offer her, and devoted her immense wealth to the needs of the poor and the sick. She erected a fine hospital at Rome, and waited on the inmates herself, and treated citizens rejected from society due to their "loathsome diseases". Besides this she gave large sums to the churches and religious communities at Rome and other places in Italy. All her interests were centered on the needs of the Church and the care of the poor and suffering.

In 395 she went to Bethlehem and applied herself, under the direction of St. Jerome, with the greatest zeal to the study and contemplation of the Scriptures and to ascetic exercises. An incursion of the Huns into the eastern provinces of the empire and the quarrel which broke out between Jerome and John II, Bishop of Jerusalem made residence in Bethlehem unpleasant for her and she returned to Rome.

She remained, however, in correspondence with St. Jerome, who at her request wrote a treatise on the priesthood of Aaron and the priestly dress. At Rome, Fabiola helped carry out a great charitable undertaking, erecting at Portus a large hospice for pilgrims coming to Rome. Fabiola also continued her usual personal labours in aid of the poor and sick until her death on 27 December of 399 or 400. Although Fabiola's practice of medicine was pragmatic in application, her legacy illustrates the involvement of early Christian women in the field of medicine.

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