Gobnait vs. Paula of Rome

In yesterday's Saintly Sixteen pairing, Pandita Ramabai trounced Marguerite d'Youville 62% to 38% to advance to the Elate Eight vs. William Wilberforce. And, yes, Pandita, much like the Grinch, stole Lent from all the d'Yous down in d'Youville.

Today's battle features Gobnait vs. Paula of Rome for a chance to square off against Ignatius of Loyola in the Elate Eight. While you may think there is scant evidence about the lives of either of these saints, you can always check back to their earlier matchups to help fill in the gaps. Gobnait defeated Hrotsvitha and Paula of Rome bested Marcella of Rome.

This also marks the final matchup of another wild and wacky week of loony Lenten learning. We'll be back first thing Monday morning for the final battle of the Elate Eight as Zenaida faces Nicholas as Myra. Then it's on to the next round!

“The bee is more honored than other animals not because she labors, but because she labors for others.” -John Chrysostom

As the female leader of a convent and a community in medieval Ireland, there are not any writings or quotes preserved from Gobnait. However, this line from John Chrysostom sums up well her devotion to our honey gathering friends.

Gobnait’s name is often anglicized as “Deborah” – a name which means “honey bee.” And this is no accident. She is best remembered for her work raising bees at the convent she helped to establish.

And then there were the times she organized the bees to the defense of her community. For example, the cattle rustlers who were strongly encouraged to leave the area by a swarm of Gobnait’s bees. In some of these legends, the bees were transformed into soldiers to provide safety and security for the community.

According to Celtic tradition, when the soul departs from the physical body it departs as either a bee or a butterfly. Gobnait stayed in Ballyvourney until she died – it was the place where God had given her a sign to “wait for her resurrection.” The bees she worked with remaining as a sign of God’s promise.

-David Hansen

Paula of Rome
Paula of Rome was born into a family of distinction, and she married well too. She lived a life of luxury, wearing the finest silks and ordering slaves to carry her around the city.

Then, upon the death of her husband and her daughter, Paula’s life changed. She went on a pilgrimage and began to give all of her riches to the poor. People became nervous and considered her generosity reckless. Then Paula became friends with St. Jerome. She left her children, moved to the desert, and took her asceticism very seriously. Maybe even too seriously. After all of these years, we know about Paula’s great generosity to the poor. We remember that she founded a monastery and three convents. And, we also have the enduring knowledge that Paula of Rome…didn’t bathe.

The fact (and the smell) seemed to frustrate those working with her. Evidently, Jerome tried to get her to take a bath, and the Sisters would give her severe looks. But Paula would simply reply, “A clean body and a clean dress mean an unclean soul.”

Though John Wesley’s quote, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” gets a lot more attention among Christians, Paula of Rome may have had a point. At least, St. Jerome may have come around to her thinking. When he reflected on her life, he said, “The more she cast herself down, the more she was lifted up by Christ. She was hidden and yet she was not hidden. By shunning glory, she earned glory, for glory follows virtue as its shadow; and deserting those who seek it, it seeks those who despise it.”

-Carol Howard Merritt

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Saint Gobnait: Used with permission by artist, @theworkofbees


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105 comments on “Gobnait vs. Paula of Rome”

  1. (continued from yesterday: http://www.lentmadness.org/2019/04/marguerite-dyouville-vs-pandita-ramabai/#comment-67759)

    Mellitus fled and Ephrem led, according to the crowd
    That late evangelist, poor Dismas was dismissed
    Then Marguerite edged Phillips; Olde Bostonians were cowed
    When Brooks offstage was hissed — how Trinity was missed!
    A pair of unpronounceable monastics then ensued
    The bees so pleased, they beat the sneeze (forgive me if I’m rude)
    Zenaida Apollonia fought; the latter lost some teeth
    Ananais from Photini then received a funeral wreath
    Though with ‘em in communion as we share the Eucharist
    As bracket picks they missed — they’ve fallen off the list.

    He put them on his list — he's got 'em on the list;
    But now five of them he’s missed — a handful that he’s missed

    Pandita just edged Damien in a daylong head-to-head
    Then Paula topped the list — Marcella’s feeling dissed
    When Nicholas crushed Rudolph, more than Rudolph’s nose turned red
    Poor Rudolph masochist — I don’t think he’ll be missed!
    In the next round Martha sent old Nicodemus to the showers
    And Wilberforce remained ahead of Allen after hours
    Ignatius of Loyola Marina he sailed past
    Sing requiem for Ephrem, by John Chrysostom surpassed
    And yesterday Photini well-nigh Tabitha dismissed
    Good Tabitha is missed — I had her on my list!

    He put them on his list — he's got 'em on the list;
    Now thirteen of them he’s missed — unlucky lyricist!

    1. The Romans certainly did bathe. Paula lived c. 400 CE and there were at least 11 large public bathhouses in Rome, with hundreds of smaller baths and over a thousand fountains for people to draw water. Jerome was commenting because Paula did not conform to the standards of the time regarding personal cleanliness. In addition, if the linen worn closest to the body is changed and washed regularly people can go a long time without bathing and not develop an offensive odor. It's a lot easier to wash and boil linen garments than it is to boil a person! While Paula probably didn't have access to modern baths, that did not excuse her antipathy to washing and to putting on clean clothing.

      Mind you, we have no idea how often Gobnait washed and changed her clothes either.

    2. So it's pronounced CHRYSostom! (At least for this poem.)
      I kept trying to sing this to "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" and it almost worked. I'll have to go find my recording of Mikado.

  2. In this week’s final show tune tribute, we salute Gobnait and Paula of Rome to the tune of “Ring of Keys” from Alison Bechdel’s autobiographic musical “Fun Home.” For those unfamiliar with this musical and song, a YouTube link to its performance at the Tony Awards has been included. It is outstanding.

    In Gobnait’s last fight, she trounced
    That saint with the name I can’t pronounce.
    She won…
    She won…

    “Protectress”: Her claim to fame.
    She made foes wish they never came.
    She won…

    Attackers are withdrawing
    From protection lines you’re drawing.
    They try to build for lengthy siege
    But you knock it down.
    And your bees, oh
    Your killer bees.

    The Battle for Rome: Paula beat
    Marcella – and moved to the next heat.
    She moved on…
    Moved on…

    So, she traveled east with Jerome.
    Founded four abbeys and made her home.
    Moved on…

    Good works matched with oblation
    And that biblical translation.
    The edits that you made with ease
    We can trace them to…
    Expertise, oh
    Your expertise.

    And I feel my heart asking, “Why?
    In this Lent Mad bracket,
    Why are we the Madness fans who choose why one gets crowned?
    No, I mean…

    Both saints lived their vocation:
    Paula’s biblical translation
    And Gobnait brings her foes to their knees.
    So, to sum things up…
    Gobnait’s bees, oh
    Paula’s expertise.

    Let’s vote now.
    Let’s vote now.
    Let’s vote now


    1. "Her killer bees"---!! That's fabulous! I really love this song and the performance is amazing. (I wonder what that kid is doing now. What a little actress!) Thanks for posting the YouTube version; it really helps for those of us singing at breakfast.

      1. Your rhymes are really clever, Diana. "The woman endured St. Jerome" rhymed with "chrome"--hilarious!

      2. We saw Fun Home on Broadway. By then, Alessandra Baldacchino replaced Sydney Lucas
        as Small Alison - mainly because Sydney grew taller than Emily Skeggs, who portrayed Medium Alison. It is an amazing show which just brings tears to the eyes,

        1. Our trip to NY that year was right after it ended. How wonderful that you got to see it. Do you know if Sydney has done anything else since then?

        2. I enjoyed reading a fictionalized version of Gobnait’s ministry in Kristin Gleeson’s book In Praise of Bees. Gobnait gets my vote.

    2. Quite the moving expression of finding "belonging". Thank you for fabulous good morning song.

    3. Thanks for including the video. Great job as always!
      I want you to know in honor of yesterday's limerick I went home and made a curry for dinner.

  3. Gobnait is a name rather funny.
    The Saint’s known for bees and for honey.
    But her courage and faith
    (Prayed against those who preyed)
    Brings a halo both golden and stunning.

    Paula’s patience could fill quite a tome.
    For the woman endured Saint Jerome.
    Gave her money away,
    Fed the poor of her day.
    May her halo be golden, not chrome.

    1. Thank you, Diana! Made my day. " Prayed against those who preyed" is my line of the day!

  4. I often wonder if the ten commandments are the only true piece of bible. How many times has the bible been translated and with each translation how many changes from its original conversation. And to add to this dilemma many preachers read portions of the gospel than proceed to tells us what it means in place of a sermon.
    Gobnait all the way. God bless.

      1. I recommend the five volumes of "A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus," by John P. Meier. It is especially good on the criteria for possible historicity of a pericope (love that word, which I learned from these books) or particular passage of scripture. This is part of the Anchor Bible Commentary.

    1. Actually it’s pretty consistent and accurate with most “changes” being about linguistic nuances that allow for some updating or choices, but virtually all true to the underlying original texts

  5. I vote for Paula for her intellect, her facility with languages, her hard work of translating the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, her voluntarily choosing poverty while using her fortune to help the poor, and for her adventurous spirit. I do like bees, though.

      1. But didn't everybody back then? I don't think bathing was a thing till last century. BTW, welcome back!

        1. That's a common misconception, actually. Climbing into a large personal tub of hot water on a regular basis was a luxury reserved for the rich until the invention of indoor plumbing and mechanical heaters, but there are many other ways to get clean and they've all been popular for millennia! Ordinary folks have often favored a good scrubdown with a small bucket of water and a cloth, and keeping their undergowns/shirts/hose changed daily did a lot to absorb sweat and keep the harder-to-launder outer garments smelling sweet. Public bathhouses have also flourished in many cultures - the most famous have been in Rome, Japan, and Turkey, but even in London you could once spend a small coin to wash in the common "stew", which priests in the medieval era sometimes railed against as a human soup of sin (all that exposed flesh)! And of course, there's always a wash in the river or lake when the weather permits. Our exact standards (daily, weekly, with soap, with oils, wash the hair or just brush the dirt out daily) vary with culture and time, but we humans have always preferred to smell nice and keep tidy! No wonder Paula stood out in a crowd.

        2. Hi Susan! Actually, bathing was a thing in Europe through the 16th century. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, most people couldn't afford private baths, but every little town had its public bathhouse. These declined in the 17th century and things got progressively nastier. I don't know the history after that. I'm a Renaissance reenactor, and "nobody bathed" is one of the misconceptions we most enjoy fixing!

          1. Well, I walked into that one! Thanks for setting me straight, Barbara and Tessa!

    1. Dear Paula, I promise that I will not tease,
      as far as I care you may smell how you please.
      But did you not know, cuz in the tub we are bare,
      we can remember our baptism there?
      For symbols’ sake, I will vote with the bees,
      Despite your brain and your loving care.
      And sisters, both, now pray if you please:
      from this same site, I do declare,
      I seem to have caught a dang rhyming disease.

  6. I wanted to see what Ballyvourney looked liked--where her kitchen, well, and the monastery were. There are still ruins of all those things, plus a lovely medieval church. And I found this interesting bit at a website for Gobnait and Ballyvourney: "Traditionally it is believed she fled from Clare and took refuge on the Aran Islands. It is said she studied there under St Enda. Kilgobnet Church on Inis Oirr (Inisheer) is dedicated to her. While on Inis Oírr an an angel instructed her to go on a journey. The angel told her that when she came upon nine white deer, that would be her place of resurrection. Gobnait travelled through Waterford, Cork and Kerry. There is a Holy Well and a church named after her in Dunquin, County Kerry, a town near Dungarvan in Waterford. and also Kilgobnet near Killorglin in Kerry. But it was at Baile Bhúirne -Ballyvouney in Cork where she finally came across 9 white deer grazing." The photos are really lovely. http://www.megalithicireland.com/St%20Gobnait%27s%20House%20and%20Holy%20Well,%20Ballyvourney.html

    1. She played Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden with Manhattan Concert Productions on February 21 and 22, 2016. She is also a series regular on an AMC show called The Son (I am not familiar with it). So, yeah. Not bad for a 15 year old!

      I also go to see The Color Purple which was phenomenal!

  7. There is no credit given for the artist that did the image of Saint Paula of Rome.

    Did someone think no one would notice?

    1. Bee Gobnait!
      As a beekeeper in a big city, translation, backyard is the size of three parked cars, we share the backyard with our honeybee hive, flowers, and the grill. Summer evenings finds us grilling, conversing, chilling with a glass of wine and watching the honeybees flight path as they return to their hive.

  8. Paula.
    I love Gobnait's story and her bees, but I love Paula and her importance for Bible translation even more.
    "Paula and Jerome continued working together. Jerome was commissioned to revise the Old Latin Gospels. Paula encouraged Jerome to expand the job and translate most of the books of the Bible into Latin. She provided him with resources for the translation, suggested revisions, and edited the manuscripts. The women of the convents served as scribes, making copies of this groundbreaking work, which became known as the Vulgate, the first translation of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew to Latin (rather than from Hebrew to Greek to Latin). In the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed the Vulgate as its official Latin Bible, and it remained the standard until 1979."

  9. Oh dear, I was hoping to be more inspired today. The image of the soul leaving the body as a butterfly or bee is lovely and it was tempting to vote for Gobnait because of it. However I voted for Paula last time, and have held my nose and voted for her today because of her transformed life and her little known influence.

  10. I appreciate Saint Paula of Rome's knowledge that a clean exterior was not indicative of a clean interior. For that and for her careful work of Bible translation, I'm tempted to vote for her.

    That be had, I'm a wee bit Irish and I'm really drawn to Saint Gobnait. Her friends the bees, without whose lpollinating abor we would shortly be doomed, need all the help they can get these days.

  11. Though I loved Carol Howard Merritt's description this morning, it was all about the bees for me.

  12. St. Gobnait and her bees for me. She's a saint to whom I can relate. St.Paula comes across as somewhat deranged, with her clean body/unclean soul philosophy.

    1. I agree. I voted for the sweetness of bees. Besides, we used to have eight beehives in a farmer's apple orchard, plus one on the flat roof of an addition to the house we lived in at the time.

    1. Yeah (your second sentence). At this point the choosing is almost arbitrary, given how these saints made their lives a witness. So, Ireland is at least as good as any other reason.

  13. Maybe Paula was into water conservancy ahead of her time. I've always thought modern U.S.ers bathe far more than they need to and consequently waste an inordinate amount of water.

  14. John Wesley was right . . . remembering the Beacon Day Center at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, TX (serving the homeless and poor), and all other laundry facilities - and the bees - voting for Gobnait.

  15. My vote is for Hrotsvitha. Only . . . she's not here. I think I would have concentrated on the Vulgate instead of on how Paula stank. I would vote for the bees, but they're not the nominee. I'm put off by the "for Ireland" contingent. It's possible I might not vote today. Ignaz is going to wipe the floor with either of these. What to do . . .

    1. My vote was with Hrotsvitha as well, but I went with Gobnait today. It might be that spring flowers are making me think of bees.

  16. The non-bathing thing put me off Paula completely. The cleaner Gobnait is a much more appealing role model. Though not very godly I can deal with cleanly and, besides, I love honey.

  17. Speaking of smells.... I am thoroughly enjoying a read of Holy Grounds, delivered yesterday by the hard-working delivery minions of Amazon. Loving PS to Tim, when we ladies are purchasing perfume, the finer establishments have a cup of coffee beans at hand with which to cleanse the palette nasal.

    I voted for Gobnait because my sister's name is Deborah, and I like bees and honey. My heart goes out to Paula as her refusal to bathe is frequently a result of severe trauma particularly among young women who have been sexually abused.

    1. Interesting information at the end there, Mary Jane. A compassionate observation. Prayers for healing and courage for girls and women who have been sexually abused.

  18. Go Gobnait, naturalist honoring God thru his creation of bees . Wish our world respected pollinators now the way Gobnait did !

  19. Gobnait is a little more down to earth for me, whereas St. Paula's unclean b9dy clean soul idea kind of repulsed me and I too thought it wasn't too normal. We also have a neighbor who is a hoarder and lives in the next set of buildings in front of where I and my significant other are at. The man also never bathes and I kind of had that to relate to when reading through the vignette on Paula. Instant choice of Gobnait!

  20. Quite the moving expression of finding "belonging". Thank you for fabulous good morning song.

  21. So many cogent comments! I, too, was 'put off' by Paula's bodily care habits, much like others of her own time and community. I was bee-guiled by Gobniat, however.