What do missionary sisters work on in their academic studies?  How does the field of research and the university correspond to the charism?  What was an American sister looking for when she traveled to the South of France and to Rome?

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In the case of Sr. Maria del Fiat Miola, SSVM we can say that she is researching the first cloistered monastery of women in the West!  We congratulate her on her recent publication of the chapter “Un monastère familial” / “The family monastery” in Césaire d’Arles et les cinq continents, Tome I / Caesarius of Arles and the Five Continents, Volume I (Venelles : Association Aux Sources de la Provence, 2017), 192-197.  (The article can be downloaded by signing into Academia.edu with Facebook or Google Plus.)

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As a doctoral candidate in the Center for Early Christian Studies at The Catholic University of America, Sr. Fiat is working on reconstructing the way of life, the spacial experience, and the meaning behind the women’s Monastery of St. John in Arles.  The monastery is famous for having been founded in 512 by St. Caesarius of Arles (469/70-542), and even more significant because the Regula Virginum (534) was the rule that he composed, signed and promulgated for the community of women led by his sister Caeseria the Elder.  As Sr. Fiat points out, “this rule is the first monastic rule written specifically for women.”(p. 193)

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Academic Journey to Lerins, Arles and Rome

Last spring, Sr. Fiat was able to go to Lerins (the island monastery where St. Caesarius himself was a monk during his youth before becoming a bishop), to visit the archaeological site of the monastery in Arles, to meet with scholars in the field, and to participate in the opening of the exhibit in Rome “Between Arles and Rome: the relics of Saint Caesarius, treasures of early Christian Gaul.”  We share some photos of her exciting academic journey of material culture, monastic life, and the mystery and meaning of a cloistered community which grew to hold several hundred nuns.

Visit to the Monastery on the Island Saint-Honorat of Lerins with Sr. Maria Kiely, O.S.B. (CUA alumna, colleague, and friend)

Academic women religious at Lerins, Sr. Maria, OSB and Sr. Fiat, SSVM.

Academic women religious at Lerins, Sr. Maria, OSB and Sr. Fiat, SSVM.

View out to sea from the tower...

View out to sea from the tower…

Lerins from the tower.

Lerins from the tower.

Sr. Fiat on Lerins.

Sr. Fiat on Lerins.

Trying to get into the Lerins cemetery chapel...

Trying to get into the Lerins cemetery chapel…

With the KEY to the Lerins cemetery chapel!

With the KEY to the Lerins cemetery chapel!

Visiting Roman Arles with Sr. Maria Panagia Miola, SSVM (her sister twice over!)

Sisters Panagia and Fiat Miola outside the Roman Amphitheatre in Arles.

Sisters Panagia and Fiat Miola outside the Roman Amphitheater in Arles.

Understanding the Roman world of Caesarius!

Understanding the Roman world of Caesarius!

In the "Espace Van Gogh" outside the Archive Library.

In the “Espace Van Gogh” outside the Archive Library.

Sr. Fiat outside the "Tour des Mourgues," a tower of the original 6th century monastery, Arles.

Sr. Fiat outside the “Tour des Mourgues,” a tower of the original 6th century monastery, Arles.

Sr. Fiat on tour with archaeologist Marc Heijmans inside the tower and monastery grounds.

Sr. Fiat on tour with archaeologist Marc Heijmans inside the tower and monastery grounds.

Examining the footprint of the monastery.

Examining the footprint of the monastery.

21st Century nuns in the enclosure of the 6th Century nuns!!!

21st century nuns in the enclosure of the 6th century nuns!!!

Mosaic remnants of the nuns' enormous paleo-Christian basilica.

Mosaic remnants of the nuns’ enormous paleo-Christian basilica.

French lunch time, even scholars have to eat.

French lunch time, even scholars have to eat.

They also visited archives, the library, and the office for the Patrimony of Arles, and the office of the Amis de Vieil Arles.

A most exciting and important day was March 15th, when Sr. Fiat was able visit the Museum of early Christian art in Arles and to meet with the expert restorer of textiles Anastasia Ozoline, and witness the packaging of the precious relics of Caesarius’ own vestments.  (These are exceptional textiles to have survived from the sixth century!)

Museum of Arles, Christian sarcophogi.

Museum of Arles, Christian sarcophogi.

Speaking with Anastasia Ozoline.

Speaking with Anastasia Ozoline.

A moment of prayer and reflection with the tunic of St Caesarius.

A moment of prayer and reflection with the tunic of St Caesarius.

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These artifacts were being shipped to the Vatican Museum for a special exhibit on Saint Caesarius and the world of early Christian Gaul.

Saint Caesarius in Rome

The exhibit at the Vatican was called “Between Arles and Rome: the relics of Saint Caesarius, treasures of early Christian Gaul.”

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The exhibition was open to the public from March 24 through June 25, 2017.  Sr. Fiat was able to be there for the grand inauguration of the exhibit on March 23.  Having met up with scholars she had met in Arles during the last weeks (and had corresponded with for nearly a year), Sr. Fiat was included as part of the Arles delegation during the exhibit opening in Rome!

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Caesarius’ woolen pallium given by Pope Symmachus in 513.

Back at CUA…

So, this is a little glimpse of what a missionary sister brings to academic field at large…the living interest and the acute scholarly attention given to early monastic life.

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Now writing her dissertation  in the Center for Early Christian Studies at CUA, shortly, Sr. Fiat will also publish “Permitted and Prohibited Textiles in the Regula Virginum: Unweaving the Terminology.” Early Medieval Europe, 26.1. Forthcoming.  Check her Academia page for updates and other of her academic writings.

The Catholic University of America is a wonderful place to work on Caesarius since Dr. William E. Klingshirn, the Margaret H. Gardiner Professor of Greek and Latin, is one of the scholarly experts on the topic.  He is author of Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) and prepared the translation with commentary of Caesarius of Arles: Life, Testament, Letters (Liverpool: Translated Texts for Historians, 1994), as well as a contribution for the recent exhibit, “Saint Césaire d’Arles,” in Dilectissimo fratri Caesario Symmachus: Entre Arles et Rome: les reliques de saint Césaire, trésor de la Gaule paléochrétienne, ed. Claude Sintès, Umberto Utro, and Alessandro Vella, 37-48 (Vatican City: Edizioni Musei Vaticani, 2017).

Learn more about the Caesarius project at CUA and see a bibliography of works on Caesarius.

Brother Monks and Sister Nuns from the Same Family

To close, we share a recent photo of family members who have all found their religious vocations within the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word!  Some brothers-and-brothers, some sister-and-sister, sister-with-many-brothers, even a pair of fraternal twins (brother and sister), and a grand-daughter and grandmother!  Congratulations to the IVE brothers who made first vows, those who received the holy habit as novices, and to our minor seminarians who traveled from the St Jose Sanchez del Rio Minor Seminary in Minnesota for the celebration.

Some of the many sibling and family vocations in the Province of the Immaculate Conception!

Some of the many sibling and family vocations in the Province of the Immaculate Conception!

Like Saint Caesarius and his sister Caesaria the Elder, like Sts Benedict and Scholastica, Sts Cosmas and Damian, Sts Basil and Gregory and Macrina, and even among the Apostles…Sts Peter and Andrew, Sts James and John, we find that God sometimes calls vocations “from the same garden.”

This is one of the very questions in the shape of early monastic life that Sr. Fiat explores in “The family monastery” in Césaire d’Arles et les cinq continents, Tome I / Caesarius of Arles and the Five Continents, Volume I (Venelles : Association Aux Sources de la Provence, 2017), 192-197.  (The article can be downloaded by signing into Academia.edu with Facebook or Google Plus.)

Saint Caesarius, pray for us!