On September 26, Franciscans remember the martyr St. Damian, patron of the small church in Assisi so central in Franciscan history, but we also celebrate St. Elzéar of Sabran (1285-1323) and his wife, Blessed Delphine of Glandèves (1284-1358), committed Secular Franciscans.
Elzear belonged to an old noble family of Provence, who held territories there and in the Kingdom of Naples. He was raised in the famous monastery of St. Victor in Marseilles where his uncle was abbot. While a child, he was betrothed by the king to a noble orphan, Delphine of Glandèves, who was being raised in a convent. When the time came for their wedding in 1300, although both were still teenagers, Delphine revealed to Elzear that she had made a vow of virginity. Elzear pledged to honor her commitment and, according to tradition, they lived together in continence.
Elzear took his place as a trusted aide at the court of Provence in Aix; when he succeeded to his father’s estates, he proved to be a model Christian ruler, solicitous to enforce Christian standards of morality and providing charitable outreach to the poor. In 1308, he took possession of his estates in Italy; there too he played a prominent role at court and as a soldier and administrator, winning over his Italian subjects by his gentleness and charity. Delphine became a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.
Elzear and Delphine became closely acquainted with a number of Franciscan friars, and about 1316 they were received together into the Brothers and Sisters of Penance (Franciscan Third Order) and intensified their committed lives of prayer, ascetical practices, and charitable outreach. In 1328, Elzear was sent on a diplomatic mission to France, where he died.
Delphine continued to live at the court in Naples as a close confidante to the devout Queen Sancia, but eventually returned to Provence where she gave away most of her belongings and lived as a penitent recluse, enduring considerable suffering in her later years. She lived long enough to take part in her husband’s canonization process. Delphine died in 1358 and was buried with him in Apt. Elzear was canonized by his god-child, Pope Urban V, in 1369, who also approved the veneration of Blessed Delphine.
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.