Science & Culture
Elzéar and Blessed Delphina
St. Elzéar of Sabran (1285-1323) and Blessed Delphina (a. k. a. Delphina of Glandeves, 1283-1358) are the only Franciscan couple to be formally canonized or beatified. From a noble family in Provence, France, Elzéar was the Baron of Ansouis and later the Count of Ariano. He was educated in Marseille by his uncle, William of Sabran, who was the Abbot of the Abbey of St. Victor. Elzéar was also an outstanding warrior, knight, politician, and diplomat. One might presume that a man with such extraordinary qualities—directing a fiefdom and distributing justice, a prince in the court and a lion in war—would be a pretentious man, one who would be quick to anger, stern and arrogant. He was none of that. He was affable and graced by a serenity that was ever apparent on his tranquil face. He once revealed to his wife that continuous meditation on Christ’s Passion gave him this gift.
The life of Elzéar is an example for those who do not have a religious vocation but are called to live as laypeople. The matter of his clothes is instructive. Elzéar was a noble who carried out his courtier duties with dignity, and therefore he wore magnificent clothes. When his wife joined him in Naples after four years of separation, she was surprised by the splendor of his clothes and company and feared that he had become worldly. When they were by themselves, he opened his fine outer clothing to reveal the hair shirt he wore underneath. He remained the penitent, detached person faithful to the Franciscan spirit. He only wore magnificent garments to properly fulfill his noble duties and uphold the situation he occupied at court.
Delphina, an orphan from infancy, was placed in the guardianship of her uncles and grew up under the direction of her aunt, who was the Abbess of the Monastery of St. Catherine in Sorbo. As a young girl, Delphina vowed to remain a virgin all her life.
Elzéar complied with the wish of king Charles II of Naples and married the virtuous Delphina, and he respected her desire to live as a virgin. The married couple joined the Third Order of St. Francis, and both were zealous in their practice of prayer, mortification, and charity. Inspired by Delphina's example, Elzéar took a vow of celibacy, and both remained chaste throughout their married life.
Upon his father’s death in 1309, Elzéar went to his new domains in Italy and, after winning over his subjects (who had despised the French), he was able to march to Rome at the head of an army and aid in expelling the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII. In 1317 he returned to Naples to become the tutor of Duke Charles and later his prime minister when Charles became regent. In 1323 he was sent as ambassador to France to obtain Marie of Valois in marriage for Charles, edifying a worldly court by his heroic virtues. Though childless, Elzéar and Delphina were life-giving to the poor and the sick. Twelve poor people dined with them every day. Their piety extended to the household staff, and everyone there was expected to attend Mass daily, go to confession weekly, and be ready to forgive injuries. Like Francis, Elzéar and Delphina came to see all creation as pointing to its source. They did not try to dominate ruthlessly any part of creation but to use all of it as a way of returning thanks to God.
Elzéar was buried in the Franciscan habit in the church of the Minor Conventuals in Apt, France. After her husband's death, Delphina continued her charitable works for 35 more years. She sold all her possessions to benefit the poor and retired first to Naples and then to Cabrières. She finally returned to Apt and is also buried there.
The decree of Elzear's canonization in 1369 was signed by his godson, Pope Urban V, and was published by Pope Gregory XI. Various Franciscan orders observe his liturgical feast, which he shares with Delphina (who was beatified in 1694), on September 26th.
Claude François, St. Francis of Assisi with Christ, St. Elzéar of Sabran, and St. Delphine of Signe, 1655, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie, Châlons-en-Champagne, France.
Busts of St. Elzéar of Sabran and his wife Delphina of Glandeves in the Castle of Ansouis, France. Source.