Friday, October 26, 2012

Bl. Emeline d’Yevres, Lay Sister and Ascetic

Tomorrow's reading from the Menology presents us with the picture of a lay sister who was an extraordinary ascetic:

At Bolancourt, Champagne, Blessed Emeline d’Yevres, Lay sister of the Grange of Perte-Seche, where she lived a very severe and mortified life. She took no food three days a week, and scarcely tasted bread during Advent and Lent. A rough haircloth and an iron cincture continually tortured her body. She was celebrated for her miracles and prophecies, and thus embellished with a beautiful crown of virtues and of good works, she finally reposed in a death precious in the sight of the Lord. She was buried in the Abbey Church, and a lamp was kept burning day and night upon her tomb.

Emeline was born in 1115 and died in 1178, living to the ripe old 12th Century age of 62, so we can see that she must have been balanced in her asceticism. She was an inspiration to those who lived in her grange, meditated upon the psalms during her spinning, and once ordered the crows to leave the woods around Perte-Seche because they disrupted the silence. Her vita says that she was frequently brought gifts, particularly of food, by visitors, but never kept anything for herself, instead distributing them to the poor. As her fame grew, many came to seek her counsel, but she never lost her humility. One summary of her life says,

Word of her devotion soon spread, and pilgrims came to consult her about holiness and prayer. She had the gift of prophesy, and sometimes prophesied about visitors before they arrived. She never sought honor or glory for herself from her gifts, but dealt with visitors humbly and patiently, always concerned with their conversion and relationship with God.

Her life is another good corrective to our vision. First, because we often tend to overlook the lay brothers and sisters, who played their own important role in the creation of monasticism. More generally, Bl. Emeline reminds us that heroic asceticism is not an exclusively male province. In the popular mind, the female ascetic too often becomes a sickly creature living only on the Host and fading away graciously like Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Farmer Emeline reminds us that there was no shortage of women made of sterner stuff.