Saint Eustochium, Virgin (368-419): The Iconography

In 1760 John Stilting assembled the many ancient and medieval references to Eustochium into a complete "historical summary" of her life and career.1 She was born in Rome as a high-ranking member of the Julian clan. As a teenager she studied the faith under St. Jerome. When he left for Palestine, she and her mother Paula followed him and established a monastery near him in Bethlehem. She continued her studies with Jerome, learning Greek and Hebrew.

Upon Paula's death in 404 Eustochium took charge of the monastery, now grown to 51 women, and put it under the Rule of St. Pachomius. She also collaborated with Jerome on his scriptural translations and commentaries. In 416 the monastery was attacked and severely damaged by a Pelagian mob following a condemnation of their beliefs by a church council in nearby Diospolis (Lydda). But apparently the complex was restored by 419, when Eustochium is known to have died and been buried there.

In the image at left Claude Lorrain shows the two women leaving Rome for Palestine, whose spiritual prospects are symbolized by the bright sun in the distance. (See this page for details.)

There is also a portrait by Zurbarán of mother and daughter with St. Jerome. Apart from giving them nuns' habits the artist does not show either woman with attributes; in this and other images it suffices to have the two of them standing with Jerome.

Feast day: September 28 (Eustochium), January 26 (Paula)


1"De Sancto Eustochio Virgine Romana in Bethlehem," Acta Sanctorum (Sept. vol. VII, 630-45). Several print and internet articles in English provide accurate summaries of Eustochium's life and career, but except for Butler (III, 665f) they do not refer to sources. See the Wikipedia entry (as retrieved 2013-11-22), the article in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia (retrieved same date), and a brief paragraph in Swan (141). These four restrict themselves to material originally presented in Stilting. Also see the Golden Legend's life of St. Paula (html or pdf).