Melania the Elder
Alternate Name:
Death Date:
Location of Work:
Diocaesaraea and Jerusalem (Palestine); Alexandria and Nitra (Egypt)
Marcellinus, a man of consular rank (The Lausiac history of Palladius, ch. 46).
Name unknown.
Valerius Maxiumus, who served as praetorian prefect in the early 360s. Melania was widowed at 22 (Commentary, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 83-4).

Melania had three sons, two of which died in childbirth. The son who lived, Valerius Publicola, was abandoned by his mother when she left Rome and went on a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine. Melania did not return until Publicola was grown and had a daughter. (Commentary, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 84).

The Lausiac History records that the young man achieved a high standard of education and made a distinguinguished marriage. He received worldly honors and had two children, including NULL. At the end of her life, Melania sailed from Caesaraea to Rome so that her granddaughter Melania the Younger might not succumb to heresy or evil living (The Lausiac history of Palladius, ch. 54).

The Lausaic History also says that Melania encouraged Valerius Publicola and his wife Albina to sell all their possessions and retreat into religious life. She gave religious instruction to Publicola and took him to Sicily. Many senators objected to Melania’s actions. (The Lausiac history of Palladius, ch. 54). Melania’s relatives were likely included among these, since they did not wish to see her fortune pass out of the hands of her family (Handmaids of the Lord : contemporary descriptions of feminine asceticism in the first six Christian centuries, p. 307).

Other Family:

Melania came from the gens Antonia on the paternal side. Her grandfather was Antonius Marcellinus, a consul in 341.

Ecclesiastical Relationships:

During the reign of the Emperor Valens, an Arian, Melania appointed a guardian for her son and went to Alexandria, accompanied by her servants. She then went to the mountain of Nitria, where she came into contact with holy men such as Pambo, Arsisius, Sarapion the Great, Paphnutius of Scete, Isidore the bishop of Hermopolis, and Dioscorus. She stayed there for six months. Many of these men, including Isidore, Pisinius, Adelphius Paphnutius, and Pambo were exiled to the area around Diocaesaraea in Palestine. Melania followed them there and financially supported them. In the evenings she would cover herself in a slaves cloak and bring them goods. When the governor of Palestine discovered this, he attempted to blackmail her and he threw her into prison. When the judge realized her social status, he let her go. Palladius attributes this release to her Christian works as well (The Lausiac history of Palladius, ch. 46).

When these men were freed from exile, Melania traveled to Jerusalem. There, she met Tyrrannius Rufinus. Together Rufinus and Melania welcomed traveling monks, bishops, and deacons to Jerusalem and supported these guests at their own expense. They settled the schism of Paulinus and they won over heretics who according to Palladius denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. (The Lausiac history of Palladius, ch. 46). Rufinus was an enemy of Jerome because of his support for Origen. Palladius writes favorably about Rufinus in the Lausiac History and expresses dislike for Jerome (Handmaids of the Lord : contemporary descriptions of feminine asceticism in the first six Christian centuries, p. 307).

Palladius met Melania on his journey from Jerusalem to Egypt. He describes her as a very learned lady who loved the world. She was an avid reader, preferring works by Origen, Gregory, Stephen, Pierios, and Basil (The Lausiac history of Palladius, ch. 55). It was Melania’s association with Origen that made her controversial in later years.

Benefactor of:
The Lausiac History records that Melania used her own money to help churches, monasteries, refugees, and prisoners in the East, West, North, and South parts of them Empire, as well as Persia (The Lausiac history of Palladius, ch. 54).
Founder of:
After Melania’s time in Diocaesarea, she went to Jerusalem and founded a monastery in Jerusalem. She lived there for 27 years with 50 other virgins (, ch. 46). See Mount of Olives Monasticon entry.
Dina Boero