Konstantin Klein (Otto Friedrich Universität Bamberg)
In the last months of 385, the Roman noblewoman Paula boarded a ship at Ostia and sailed first to Cyprus and then to Antioch, from where she continued her journey on to the Holy Land. She would not see her home city of Rome ever again. Her daughter Julia Eustochium was on board with her. Her other children, Paulina, Rufina, and Julius Toxotius stayed behind at the quay. Neither Rufina’s tears nor Toxotius’ little hand reaching out for his mother could move Paula to reconsider her departure : Her love towards God, as her spiritual advisor Jerome wrote, was greater than that towards her children (pietatem in filios pietate in Deum superans)1. It seems that the cooling of Paula’s motherly affections, as described by Jerome, was nothing untypical for aristocratic female ascetics in Late Antiquity : The negligence of parental duties as well as the separation from or the resolving of family bonds appear as recurring themes in the lives of those Roman noblewomen of the fourth and fifth century who left their ancestral homes in order to start a new life in the Holy Land. Paula of Rome, who together with Jerome founded monasteries and hospitals in Bethlehem is just one example. Her contemporary, Melania the Elder had demonstrated a similar self-controlled attitude when breaking off her family bonds in Rome for a higher, religious aim in Jerusalem. Her relative, Paulinus of Nola tried to justify Melania abandoning her son in the early 370s by styling this act as a blessing: “She gave her child love by abandoning him and kept him with her by sending him away2.”
Jerome’s description of Paula’s departure to new pastures and Paulinus’ justification of Melania’s lack of motherly qualities serve as a good starting point to explore the phenomenon on which I would like to touch in this short communication : Both women acted in ways that would have required an explanation for anyone living in the Roman Empire only one century earlier. For a Roman noblewoman of High-Imperial times, both Paula and Melania were not fulfilling gender roles that had been valid for centuries, and it therefore seems worth asking what role gender played in the larger topic of hospitality in the late antique Holy Land. In order to shed light on this question, it is paramount to engage not only with the literary sources praising the Christian deeds of these women, but also to contrast these rather extraordinary examples with what we can only assume to have been the ‘normal’ case: For this, the epigraphic evidence from Jerusalem and its surroundings is highly important. While I will conclude this communication with a short outlook on this material, I have to apologise in advance that the final considerations are very much work in progress. Before we cast a look at the role of gender (and, as we shall see, modesty), it is necessary to give a brief outline of the phenomenon of pilgrimage hospitality in the Holy Land in general.
- Hier., ep. 108,6, cf. Gordini 1961:90–92, and, on the literary motif of holy women renouncing their children and being ‘bad mothers,’ Giardina 2001:193–194.
- Paul. Nol., ep. 29,9.