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St Monica

North Africa

St Monica, was born in Hippo in North Africa in 331. A Christian, she would become the mother of St Augustine and patron saint of married women. Her husband, by an arranged marriage, was a pagan official in present day Algeria and was much older than she was. He was said to be generous, but he was also violent. She bore three children: Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. While the younger two children followed their mother in faith and piety, Augustine proved a handful, and cost her seventeen years of tears.

Augustine had been sent to Carthage to study, and there he lived a wayward life. He had not been baptized yet, and he became a follower of the Persian prophet Mani. When he shared his views on Manicheism, Monica drove Augustine out of the house. However, she is said to have experienced a strange vision that convinced her to seek reconciliation with her son.

She followed Augustine to Rome and Milan. Through the wise direction of St Ambrose, after seventeen years of resistance, she then had the joy of seeing Augustine convert to Christianity and be baptized in the church of St John the Baptist in Milan. Monica and Augustine were on their way back to Africa when Monica took ill and died at Ostia, the harbour city of ancient Rome, in 387. It was then that Augustine wrote some of the most moving chapters of his Confessions. The epitaph on Monica’s tomb read:

Here the most virtuous mother of a young man set her ashes, a second light to your merits, Augustine. As a priest, serving the heavenly laws of peace, you teach the people entrusted to you with your character. A glory greater than the praise of your accomplishments crowns you both – Mother of the Virtues, more fortunate because of her offspring.

In the thirteenth century the cult of St Monica began to spread and a feast in her honour was observed on 4 May. Pope Martin V ordered her relics to be brought to Rome in 1430. Many miracles were said to have occurred on the way, and her popularity increased even further. The Office of St Monica then appeared in the Roman Breviary in the sixteenth century.