ANTIGONUS, the father of this saint, was a nobleman of the first rank
and quality in the court of Theodosius the younger. He was married to Euphrasia, a ladv no less illustrious
for her birth and virtue, by whom he had one only daughter and heiress,
called also Euphrasia, the saint of whom we treat.
After her birth, her
pious parents, by mutual consent, engaged themselves by vow, to pass the
remainder of their lives in perpetual continence, that they might more
perfectly aspire to the invisible joys of the life to come.
Antigonus died within a year, and the
holy widow, to shun the importunate addresses of young suitors for
marriage, and the distraction of friends, not long after withdrew
privately, with her little daughter, into Egypt, where she was possessed
of a very large estate.
In that country she fixed her abode near a holy
monastery of one hundred and thirty nuns, who never used any other food
than herbs and pulse, which they took only after sunset, and some only
once in two or three days; they wore and slept on sackcloth, wrought
with their hands, and prayed almost without interruption.
Delicate and excessive attention to health nourishes self-love
and immortification, and often destroys that health which it studies
anxiously to preserve. By the example of these holy virgins, the devout
mother animated herself to fervor in the exercises of religion and
charity, to which she totally dedicated herself.
She frequently visited
these servants of God, and earnestly entreated them to accept a
considerable annual revenue, with an obligation that they should always
be bound to pray for the soul of her deceased husband. But the abbess
refused the estate, saying: "We have renounced all the conveniences of
the world, in order to purchase heaven. We are poor, and such we desire
to remain." She could only be prevailed upon to accept a small matter to
supply the church-lamp with oil, and for incense to be burned on the
The young Euphrasia, at seven years of age, made it her earnest request
to her mother, that she might be permitted to serve God in this
monastery. The pious mother, on hearing this, wept for joy, and not long
after presented her to the abbess, who, taking up an image of Christ,
gave it into her hands. The tender virgin kissed it, saying: "By vow I
consecrate myself to Christ."
Then the mother led her before an image of
our Redeemer, and lifting up her hands to heaven, said: "Lord Jesus
Christ, receive this child under your special protection. You alone doth
she love and seek: to you doth she recommend herself." Then turning
to her dear daughter, she said: "May God, who laid the foundations of
the mountains, strengthen you always in his holy fear." And leaving her
in the hands of the abbess, she went out of the monastery weeping.
Some time after this she fell sick, and being forewarned of her death,
gave her last instructions to her daughter, in these words: "Fear God,
honor your sisters, and serve them with humility. Never think of what
you have been, nor say to yourself that you are of royal extraction. Be
humble and poor on earth, that you may be rich in heaven." The good
mother soon after slept in peace.
Upon the news of her death, the
emperor Theodosius sent for the noble virgin to court, having promised
her in marriage to a favorite young senator. But the virgin wrote him,
with her own hand, the following answer: "Invincible emperor, having
consecrated myself to Christ in perpetual chastity, I cannot be false to
my engagement, and marry a mortal man, who will shortly be the food of
worms. For the sake of my parents, be pleased to distribute their
estates among the poor, the orphans, and the church. Set all my slaves
at liberty, and discharge my vassals and servants, giving them whatever
is their due. Pray for me, you and your empress, that I may be made worthy to
The messengers returned with this letter to the emperor,
who shed many tears in reading it. The senators who heard it burst also
into tears, and said to his majesty: "She is the worthy daughter of
Antigonus and Euphrasia, of your royal blood, and the holy offspring of
a virtuous stock." The emperor punctually executed all she desired, a
little before his death, in 395.
St. Euphrasia was to her pious sisters a perfect pattern of humility,
meekness, and charity. If she found herself assaulted by any temptation,
she immediately discovered it to the abbess, to drive away the devil by
that humiliation, and to seek a remedy.
The discreet superioress often
enjoined her, on such occasions, some humbling and painful penitential
labor; as sometimes to carry great stones from one place to another;
which employment she once, under an obstinate assault, continued thirty
days together with wonderful simplicity, till the devil being vanquished
by her humble obedience and chastisement of her body, he left her in
Her diet was only herbs or pulse, which she took after sunset, at
first every day, but afterwards only once in two or three, or sometimes
seven days. But her abstinence received its chief merit from her
humility; without which it would have been a fast of devils. She cleaned
out the chambers of the other nuns, carried water to the kitchen, and,
out of obedience, cheerfully employed herself in the meanest drudgery;
making painful labor a part of her penance.
To mention one instance of
her extraordinary meekness and humility: it is related, that one day a
maid in the kitchen asked her why she fasted whole weeks, which no other
attempted to do besides the abbess. Her answer was, that the abbess had
enjoined her that penance. The other called her a hypocrite.
Euphrasia fell at her feet, begging her to pardon and pray for her. In
which action it is hard to say, whether we ought more to admire the
patience with which she received so unjust a rebuke and slander, or the
humility with which she sincerely condemned herself; as if, by her
hypocrisy and imperfections, she had been a scandal to others.
favored with miracles both before and after her death, which happened in
the year 410, and the thirtieth of her age.