St. Gregory the Great had three aunts, sisters to his father, Gordian the regionarius, who led an ascetic religious life in their father's house. Their names were Tarsilla, who was the eldest, Emiliana and Gordiana. Tarsilla and Emiliana were more united by the fervor of their hearts and the bond of charity than by blood. They lived in their father's house on the Clivus Scauri as in a monastery and, encouraging one another to virtue by discourse and example, made great progress in spiritual life. Gordiana joined them, but she was often impatient of silence and retirement and, being called to another way of living, married her guardian. Tarsilla and Emiliana persevered in the path they had chosen, enjoying divine peace and love until they were called to receive the recompense of their fidelity. St. Gregory tells us that Tarsilla was visited one night with a vision of her great-grandfather, Pope St. Felix II (III), who showed a place prepared for her in heaven, saying, "Come; I will receive you into this habitation of light". She fell sick soon after, and as her friends were crowding round her bed, she cried out, "Away! Away! My Saviour Jesus is coming!" After these words she breathed out her soul into the hands of God on the vigil of Christmas. The skin of her knees and elbows was found to be hardened, "like the hide of a camel", by her continual prayer. A few days later she appeared to Emiliana, and called her to celebrate the Epiphany in heaven. Emiliana in fact, died on January 5. Both are named, on the respective days of their death, in the Roman Martyrology. Her feast day is December 24th.
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By Justin Soutar
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