A saintly family

To have one saint in the family would be a great honour but two saints! A little-known French family who lived in the fourth century were blessed with two saints: Hilary of Poitiers and his daughter, Abra were both canonised.


Hilary’s feast day is celebrated on January 13 while Abra’s feast day is commemorated on December 12.


Hilary, also known as Hilarius, was reportedly born in 310 AD in Poitiers, France. Raised in a pagan family he converted to Christianity later in life. His name derives from the Latin word for happy or cheerful. Hilary, as well as being a bishop, was married and was the father of Abra who was born in 343.


The son of the local governor proposed to Abra, but such was her devotion to her father she heeded his fervent wish to remain a virgin. Not much is known about her life, but she became a nun and is remembered for her work amongst the poor and for spreading Christianity. She died in 360 at the young age of 18.


Hilary, meanwhile, played a significant role in defending the orthodox Christian faith against the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Jesus Christ believing the Son was distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to him. Their beliefs threatened to overrun the Western Church, so Hilary made it his mission in life to prevent it from spreading.


The Christian community of Poitiers so respected Hilary that around 350 or 353, they elected him unanimously as their bishop.


Hilary was known for his theological writings and his defence of the Trinity. He wrote extensively on the nature of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, earning him the title Athanasius of the West. Hilary was canonised by the Catholic Church because of his profound contributions to Christian theology and his unwavering support of orthodox beliefs. His writings and teachings played a crucial role in preserving the true understanding of the Trinity and combating heretical teachings.


Hilary’s major theological work was the twelve books now known as De Trinitate that he wrote during his exile, though they may not have been completed until his return to Gaul in 360. He spent almost four years in exile, although the reasons for this banishment remain unclear.


Hilary did not establish any religious orders. However, his theological writings have had a long-lasting impact on the Church. He is also recognised as a Doctor of the Church, a title given to those whose teachings have significantly influenced Christian theology.


Hilary died in Poitiers in 367.


Images: Saint Hilaire, depicted by Pierre-Floréal Crémière (1846) and a depiction of Abra Poitier.

Footnote: This story was written with the assistance of the AI powered app SaintsScape. Details at: majellan.media/saintscape/


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