THE VIES OCCITANES OF ELZEAR OF SABRAN
AND DELPHINE OF PUIMICHEL
On 5 February 1300, Delphine, orphan heiress of the chateau of Puimichel, its lands and benefices, married Elzear of Sabran and Ariano, scion of powerful Provençal nobility whose lands and influence extended into Italy, in a union engineered by Charles II of Sicily and greatly desired by the relatives of the young couple in order to ensure an orderly succession to titles and lands. Delphine, then fifteen, spent their wedding night regaling her twelve-year-old spouse with tales of the virgin martyrs until he, not surprisingly, fell asleep. Thus began one of the most extraordinary chaste marriages in the annals of medieval sanctity. Although initially reluctant, Elzear soon acceded to Delphine's wish for a virginal marriage, a commitment reinforced by a divine vision urging him to maintain his virginity. This pleasing confluence of desire between the spouses, however, was in direct opposition to the desire of relatives and guardians for an heir. Accordingly, the young couple embarked on an elaborate double life, maintaining the facade of a worldly pair, as denizens of the court and familiars of royalty, while in private embracing an ascetic existence.
The chaste marriage of Delphine and Elzear is constructed, both in the living and in the telling, according to models offered by traditional hagiography, tales of the lives of the saints of antiquity.1 And in this construction, family, with its
*I would like to thank the Camargo Foundation for awarding me a Residential Fellowship in Cassis, France for the spring semester, 2003. This afforded me the opportunity to visit sites and archives connected with Delphine and Elzear, and to complete this essay in their remarkably beautiful premises there.
1 I owe the inspiration for this paper to André Vauchez's comment that the lives of Elzear and Delphine read like something out of the Golden Legend. See André Vauchez, Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, trans. Jean Birrell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 529.