The second small-scale exhibition within the context of The Golden Cabinet is devoted to Saint Jerome – patron saint of the humanists and a key source of inspiration for sixteenth and seventeenth-century artists. Jerome was born around 347 CE in Stridon, in what is now Croatia. He studied in Rome, where he developed an interest in the arts of rhetoric and literature. When Jerome left Rome, he travelled to Trier, where he was employed for a while in the imperial civil service. It was here that he discovered the Vita Antonii (the Life of Saint Anthony), which made such a powerful impression on him that he was finally baptised as a Christian in around 365. He left Italy some time around 373 on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jerome sailed from Athens, but was taken ill and ended up spending roughly a year in Antioch, where he learned Greek. His health restored, he resumed his journey, which took him to the Chalkis desert in Syria, between Antioch and Aleppo, where he lived from 375 until 378. There a monk of Jewish origin taught him to speak Hebrew. He left the desert after four years and returned to Antioch, where Bishop Paulinus ordained him as a priest. Jerome spent the years 383–385 back in Rome, where he was employed as secretary and adviser to Pope Damasus I. It was Damasus who commissioned him to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible, which became known as the Vulgate. This initiative was not well received by the Roman clergy, who saw it as an attack on Latin biblical tradition. Damasus died on 11 December 384 and was succeeded by Pope Siricius, who ordered Jerome to leave the city. Jerome set off to visit the holy sites in Palestine. He finally settled in Bethlehem in 386, where he lived out the remainder of his life as a hermit.
Saint Jerome and the lion
Jerome was supposedly visited one evening in Bethlehem by a lion with a thorn in its paw, which the hermit kindly removed. Henceforth, the grateful lion remained with him as a loyal companion and escorted the donkey that fetched firewood from the forest each day. On one occasion, however, the lion fell asleep and passing merchants took the donkey with them. The guilty lion assumed the task of collecting wood, but later managed to recover the donkey, which was being used to lead a caravan.