|A Study in Scarlet: Some of the 300+ Fabiolae|
But Fabiola was a modern Roman woman -- it was, after all, the fourth century and the Fabii were one of the finest families in the City. There was no need to suffer an abusive, adulterous husband, just as there was no need to remain celibate after dumping him. She married again; let the Bishop make his own peace and she would make hers. [Okay, I have no idea if she were that defiant in her attitude, but the attitude does not seem implausible to me.]
|St. Jerome attended by angels, also painted by Henner|
Fabiola's husband and ex-husband both died while she was relatively young. This allowed her to reconcile with the Church. She made a penance, was readmitted into Communion, and would have been free to take another husband if she chose. Certainly a woman with her wealth would have found prospects in fourth century Rome, but she chose instead to establish charitable works.
The foundation of a hospital for homeless Romans who suffered the most repellant ailments established her bona fides. She then traveled to Jerusalem, where she met the abrasive Saint Jerome, Saint Paula, and Paula's widowed son-in-law, Pammachius. They (and the rest of Jerome's circle) fled to Jaffa during a heterodoctrinal dust-up with John II, the Bishop of Jerusalem. When they had the all-clear to return, Fabiola went back to Rome, where she founded and administered a hostel for sick and needy pilgrims. Pammachius worked with her on this project, and though they were both widowed, they were too deep into the religion thing to abandon their chastity. This innovative institution became famous (as Jerome says) from Britain to Parthia (Iran). Her death was marked by a huge funeral procession chanting Alleluia.
That brings us back to Jean-Jacques Henner, whose portrait of Fabiola was so celebrated that the fine craftsmen of Limoges copied the image onto plaques and jewelry. The smoothness of her skin contrasts with the gloss on her lip and scarlet cloak. Her eye is clear, not clouded or dull, yet it has no sparkle or hunger. She has no cause to be ashamed, and yet she is not shameless. She is a pious woman who knows the world. Perhaps three hundred studies of her image are not enough.