Delphine of Provence


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St Etheldreda (d. 679)


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Franciscan tertiary. Of royal blood, orphaned in childhood but educated by nuns under her uncle's protection, she wished, when aged ten, to live in virginity, but her family induced her to marry at the age of fifteen Elzear de Sabran (slightly younger than she) for political and patrimonial reasons. Such marriages were not uncommon at this time. Nevertheless Delphine protested, then submitted, but kept her firm intention to remain a virgin. They lived piously together in the castle of Ansouis until in 1310 Elzear went to Italy, where the king of Naples entrusted to him some important administrative and military posts. In 1314 Delphine joined him and both made vows of chastity in 1316. Elzear left for Paris some years later and died in Paris in 1323.

Contemporary ecclesiastical controversies now affected Delphine. In 1317–18 Pope John XXII had condemned the Franciscan Spirituals for their exaggerated and divisive beliefs on poverty. Now Naples became their refuge, where both the king and the queen were deeply attached to their teaching. So too was Delphine. In 1327 she gave away most of her considerable wealth, either to her family or to the poor of Apt (Provence). In 1333 she made a vow of poverty and planned to form a religious community devoted to prayer and good works. This she achieved in Provence in 1343. Although she was regarded as a healer, she preferred to help others by recommending poverty and chastity. A special gift of supernatural knowledge was attributed to her, and Pope Clement VI in 1351 said he had never heard anyone speak so deeply about the mystery of God and the Holy Trinity. Others commented on her skill in expounding Scripture. Towards the end of her life she became a recluse, but intervened effectively in the settlement of local disputes. Her mystical prayer was centred on Christ Crucified, whom she saw in the poor and in those abandoned to Muslim rule. In 1363 the enquiry for her canonization began, but although 68 witnesses were called, it was not concluded, some say because of her choice of virginity in marriage. This was not so esteemed in the fourteenth century as it had been in the seventh for St Etheldreda. A Latin Life of her was written in 1373 and translated in 1380. Her relics were enshrined by the bishop of Apt in 1410. Her cult was finally approved in 1694, more than 300 years after her husband was canonized. Feast: 26 November.

H.S.S.C., vii. 126–31.

Subjects: Christianity.

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