Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fabulous, Fascinating Fabiola

I was introduced to Saint Fabiola by my life-long friend Francoise, French educator and contemporary art lover and expert, who presented me with a gift last fall of badge of Santa Fabiola. Here I am wearing it to a party, where it had the desired effect

of helping me start conversations with complete strangerssomething I dread!

Fabiola was a fourth century Roman noblewoman and early Christian whose first husband was such a brute that she divorced him. This was allowed in Roman law, but already against the precepts of her religion. Nevertheless, she took another husband and lived with him until he died, whereupon she put on sackcloth and ashes and repented her sin. She gave up her life of luxury and devoted herself to the needs of the poorerecting a hospital where she nursed the sick herself and donating her fortune to religious communities. In 395, she traveled to the holy land, visited St. Jerome in Bethlehem, and continued her charitable work in Jerusalem. She eventually returned to Rome, where she died in the year 399 on December 27th, which is now her feast day. No less than St. Jerome wrote a eulogy of her.

Fabiola is the patron saint of divorced people, victims of abuse, unfaithfulness, and unhappy marriages.

Modern age interest in her starts with Jean- Jacques Henner (18291905), a French painter who painted an Idealized portrait of Saint Fabiola in classical Roman dress in 1885. His painting was lost in 1912, but artists all over the world, following prints of the original, copied the image in many media and played with the characterization of the saint.

In 2009 Francis Alÿs, a Swiss artist who lives in Mexico City, put together a traveling exhibition of his collection of over 300 renderings of Henners Saint Fabiola.

My friend Françoise bought my badge at a showing in Switzerland. She gave me a choice of a few versions, and I chose the one that made the saint look like a woman of the Seventies, the era when I was divorced and she became, unbeknownst to me, my patron saint, too.

Annamaria Alfieri


  1. My impression of you when I met you at the Carnegie Hill Writers Meeting in December was - what a charming, friendly person! I had no inkling you were scared of speaking to strangers. and one of the other members that day, who also met you for the first time, felt the same way I did!! So -consider yourself Friendly and Gifted With Strangers!! tjs

  2. That's what I was thinking: that Annamaria was an unusually outgoing and charming woman. Divorced in the seventies? So was I, divorced in the seventies. I thought everybody was divorced in the seventies. Okay, except for Robin. And Bob. And Thelma. I could have used a St. Fabiola badge, if only to brandish at my ex-mother-in-law. They never heard of Fabiola at St. Francis' in Trenton. It was the German church.

  3. Bob divorced in the 80s. He has endurance.

  4. Kate and Thelma, thanks for your lovely words. I am fine meeting people around a lunch table or in small groups, but a large crowd of complete strangers makes me want to run away. When I wasn't presenting or watching my friends (including you, Kate) present, I spent my first Bouchercon hiding in my room. Bob, stop it. You weren't divorced in the Seventies because you weren't married yet. Many of us, including Kate and Bob and Fabiola had to do it wrong once before we did it right.