Friday, September 04, 2009

Pilgrimage and more

Giuseppe Bottani (Italian, Cremonese, (1717–1785)
The Departure of Saints Paula and Eustochium for the Holy Land
Oil on canvas
38 3/4 x 22 1/2 in. (98.4 x 57.2 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Friedman, in loving memory of Milton Friedman, 1991
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The painting is a modello for an altarpiece for the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, Milan, dated 1745, and painted in Rome. The altarpiece is now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

A widow at 31, Paula consecrated her household to an ascetic way of life, together with similar groups of noble Roman women. St. Jerome was their spiritual director. With her eldest daughter Eustochium, she followed Jerome to the Orient in 385, she visited Palestine and the monks of Nitria under his guidance, and in 386 settled in Bethlehem, where she used her wealth to construct a convent for nuns, a monastery for monks, and a guesthouse for pilgrims.

Jerome, Paula and Eustochium lived in the adjacent caves, which one can still see today, reached by a passage from that of the Nativity, beneath the sanctuary in what was the Empress Helena's Bethlehem basilica

Paula died on Jan 26, 404.

Eustochium died in 419 as a nun in the monastery of Bethlehem, that had been founded by her mother Paula. Eustochium was buried near the tomb of her mother,

In a grotto, north of the Basilica of the Nativity, is the common tomb of SS. Paula and her daughter Eustochium, and facing it that of St. Jerome.(died 419-420)

Pilgrimage was a theme of the Jubilee in 2000. Here is an extract from a Curial Document The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee which explains the concept of pilgrimage in the time of Paula and Eustochium

"13.- In the IV and V centuries, later on, various experiences of monastic life in the Church began. “Ascetic migration” and “spiritual exodus” represent two of its fundamental and inspiring forms. In this regard, some biblical figures assume a paradigmatic role in monastic and patristic literature. The reference to Abraham is linked with the theme of xeniteia (the experience of the stranger: the awareness of one who is a guest, migrant), which, among other things, constitutes the third step of the spiritual Ladder of St. John Climacus. ...

The concept of Christian life as a pilgrimage, the search for divine intimacy, also by means of a detachment from the tumult of things and events, the veneration of holy places persuaded St. Jerome and the disciples Paula and Eustochium to leave Rome and settle in the land of Christ. Thus, in the grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a monastery was founded. This formed part of a series of numerous hermitages, lauras, cenobia in the Holy Land, but which were also spread in other regions, especially in the Egyptian Tebaide, in Syria, in Cappadocia.

Following this line, pilgrimages in the desert or towards a holy place became the symbol of another pilgrimage, the interior one, as St. Augustine called to mind: “Go back into yourself: the truth lives in the person’s heart.” Yet, do not remain within yourself, but “go beyond your very self”[76], because you are not God: he is deeper and greater than you. The pilgrimage of the soul which has already been evoked by Platonic tradition, now acquires a new dimension.

In its yearning for the infinity of God, the Father of the Church himself defines and represents it as follows: “One searches God to find him with more sweetness, one finds him to search him with greater ardor”[77].

The concept that “the holy place is the pure soul”[78] also becomes a constant call for the practice of pilgrimages to holy places to be a sign of progress in personal holiness. The Fathers of the Church thus render “physical” pilgrimages relative, in an effort to overcome every exaggeration and misunderstanding. Gregory of Nyssa, in particular, furnishes the fundamental principle of a correct evaluation of pilgrimages. Although he had devoutly visited the Holy Land, he affirms that the true journey to be experienced is the one that leads the faithful from the physical reality to the spiritual one, from corporeal life to life in the Lord, and not the trip from Cappadocia to Palestine.[79]

Even St. Jerome confirms the same principle. In Lettera 58, he observes that Anthony and the monks did not visit Jerusalem, and yet the gates of Heaven were wide open for them just the same. And he affirms that for Christians, the motive for praise is not the fact that they have been to the Holy Land, but rather because they have lived holy lives[80] .

In this interior itinerary from light to light[81], along the trail of Christ’s call to be “perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect”[82], a profile of pilgrimages is formed, one which is particularly dear to the spiritual Byzantine tradition: it is the “ecstatic” aspect that will later on develop based on the mystical doctrine of Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor and John Damascene.

The divinization of the human person is the great aim of the long journey of the spirit that places the believer in the very heart of God, thus fulfilling the words of the Apostle: “I have been crucified with Christ and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me”[83], therefore “life... is Christ”[84]. "


[77]S. AUGUSTINE, De Trinitate 15, 2, 2: CCL 50, 461; PL 42, 1058.

[78]ORIGEN, In Leviticum XIII,5: SCh 287, 220; PG 12, 551.

[79]Cfr. ST. GREGORY OF NYSSA, Lettera 2, 18: SCh 363, 122; PG 46, 1013.

[80]Cfr. ST. JEROME. Lettera 58, 2-3: CSEL 54, 529-532; PL 22, 580-581 .

[81]Cfr. Ps 36, 9.

[82] Mt 5, 48.

[83]Ga 2, 20.

[84]Ph 1, 21.