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. Paula sounds like she always went 110%, and she liked to show off! When she was a Roman matron, she made sure everyone in town saw her fancy duds. When she practiced asceticism, she went so far with non-bathing that even St. Jerome thought she should put on the brakes. She had a huge fortune, and she gave it all away through the convents and monastery she founded, and through other good works. She might have irritated me had I met her in person, but for her high spirits, charity, and scholarship, I’ve voted for her.

  2. Paula for me, for the same reason I voted for Hrotsvitha in the earlier round. Gobnait's story sounds like beautiful folklore (I adore bees) , but in the end I prefer the real life saints with all of their warts and odors.

  3. I have completely OD'd on asceticism and self-mortification this Lent Madness, so I had to vote for Gobnait even though I admire Paula's scholarly work on the Vulgate tremendously.

  4. "She left her children, moved to the desert, and took her asceticism very seriously. "
    She left her children did it for me. As to the bathing issue, there's generally not a lot of water in the desert.
    St Gobnait is the bee's knees for me.

  5. These two were, to me, lightweights in comparison to other matchups. I went with Gobnait since bees are endangered, at least in the USA. Perhaps if Paula had bathed, she might have attracted my devotion.

  6. As a professional writer/editor, had to vote for Paula, the editor. I can see I'm outnumbered, however.

  7. I suggest that if Gobnait defeats Paula, the announcement would read "Gobnait sent Paula to the showers."

  8. I love the idea of the "bee army"...surely an excellent metaphor for today's attempts to protect our environment. I am not a champion of asceticism, but I try to remember that we benefit from centuries of accumulated wisdom and science, as in Jesus' words that "there is much you are not ready to understand, but I will send the Spirit who will guide you." Putting our 21st sensibilities onto 3rd century lives can blind us to what their example was trying to offer. For her care for the poor and for her work on the Latin Bible, it is Paula for me today.

  9. Celebrity Bloggers, you have such power! Maybe Gobnait would have overtaken Paula anyway, but Paula's anti-bathing Quirk has clearly helped wash her out of the running. However, I applaud Carol Howard Merritt for not shying away from her saint's weirdness. If the saints were perfect, how could they be inspirations and models for us?

  10. I’m sorry, but Paula lost me over the hygiene issue. She was at best deluded and at worst passive-aggressively defiant, and likely a stumbling block to the faith of others. No, dear Paula, a clean body does NOT mean an unclean soul; and the fact that in you a pure soul happened to dwell in a filthy body was a coincidence, as you would have learned if you had responded to Jerome’s entreaties just once by bathing.

    So in making my choice I didn’t even have to think about the bees, except to the extent that Paula’s refusals probably gave poor Jerome hives. But for the record, I agree with all the good things everybody else has been saying about them.

    1. You have Evangelism Disease, you acidic person, you.

      In baths-ample Rome, Laura was crucified for smelling at her post;
      Mary, Martha worried, was whom Jesus loved the most.
      The ascetics are crypto-anorectics, St Guinefort's got fleas
      And everyone's concerned about Evangelism Disease.
      There's panic among the voters because some saints owned slaves
      we moderns blame those hermits whose flesh was piously unlaved
      Some blame anti-semitism some the Nicene Creed
      But everyone knows Evangelism Disease did the deed.

  11. Years ago a professor of Spanish literature at U.T in Austin told our class about a nun in Spain who bathed that she had not bathed in 60 years. Seems that the cleanliness of the Muslim populations of Spain and Portugal caused some Christians to think that they should distinguish themselves from these persons by not bathing. "La gente olía," he said, "The people smelled." All honor to Paula for her generosity to the poor, but I disagree that an unwashed body necessarily means a clean soul. I wish she had extended more charity toward those who lived close to her, the nuns who were signaling that she could use some Irish Spring.
    My vote goes to Gobnait and the bees. Again.

    1. correction: "...a nun in Spain who bragged..." instead of "...bathed...."

  12. God, bless Gobnait, again and again! Anyone who is friends with bees deserves to win, and to win big. You go, guuuurl!

  13. When Paula of Rome was victorious in a previous round, her narrative was more appealing. Sadly she is headed for the barn round.

  14. If Gobnait wins, my church's traditional chocolate and champagne "Break the Fast" following the Great Vigil may have to give way to honey treats and mead (honey wine). I just happen to have a few bottles of mead from the last batch I brewed!

  15. I’m in vaycay... thot today was Saturday and didn’t dive into the madness of Lent early. I’m shocked. SHOCKED! That Gobnait is killing Paula.
    The woman who literally funded the translation of Scripture for the first bunch of masses. I’m undone. You guys broke my bracket! (I’m also a little on edge....I’m visiting relatives....)
    My consolation prize is getting to know St Paula of Rome. And, I learned how to say Gobnait.

  16. I 'paid the pattern' at Saint Gobnait's shrine this morning and during the hour of my visit there was a steady trickle of pilgrims to the site. Pilgrims leave little personal momentous as an offrings one of the sweetest was bowl with a little posey of Mayflowers & honeycomb. I said a prayer for everyone who voted.....for Gobnait!