23 Sep Saint Thecla, Virgin, Martyr
Today is the feast day of Saint Thecla. Ora pro nobis.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
In the writings of the ancient Fathers of the church, the memory of the holy Virgin and Martyr, St. Thecla, is highly praised; as she was the first woman who was sentenced to torments and death on account of her faith. She was born at Iconium, a city in Lycaonia, of pagan, but rich and noble parents; and in the whole city there was no maiden who could be compared with her in beauty and talents. Tamyris, one of the richest young men of the nobility, asked her hand in marriage, and as her parents favored his suit, Thecla engaged herself to him. At that period, St. Paul came to Iconium, and lodging in the house of Onesiphorus, an honest and industrious man, began to preach the Gospel of Christ. Led by curiosity, Thecla with many others, went to hear the new preacher, and God, full of mercy, enlightened her understanding in such a manner, that she, comprehending the truth of the Christian faith, resolved to embrace it. She not only proceeded immediately with her resolution, but having heard the Apostle preach of the great value of virginal purity, she resolved to consecrate her virginity to God, although she was only eighteen years of age, and, as related above, engaged to be married to Tamyris.
Her parents soon perceived by her altered conduct, what had taken place in their daughter’s heart. They called her to account, and Thecla unhesitatingly confessed that she had become a Christian, and desired no earthly spouse. Not at all satisfied with this resolution, her parents endeavored by all possible means to induce her to forsake the true faith. At first they used great kindness, but when that did not succeed, they had recourse to menaces and severities, even whipping and maltreating her in various ways. Seeing that nothing could influence Thecla, they went so far in their rage, as to denounce their own daughter before the judge as a Christian, and desired that she should be burned alive, as a warning to others. The judge called Thecla before him, and asked her if the accusation of her parents was true. Thecla affirmed it, confessing before the judge, as fearlessly as before her parents, that she had embraced the Christian faith, and in it was determined to live and die. After this confession, the judge, in accordance with the desire of the parents, ordered the stake to be prepared for her execution. But before the executioner had time to touch her, Thecla, inspired by God, making the sign of the cross over herself and the burning pile, leaped with a cheerful countenance into the midst of the flames. But, behold! although the flames passed over her head, Thecla stood unharmed in the midst of them, and praised God, like the three heroes in the furnace of Babylon. While all present were marvelling at this, a heavy shower darkened the sky, and not only extinguished the fire, but drove all the spectators away.
The emperor Nero was at that period in Antioch, and when he was informed of this occurrence, he desired to see Thecla. The Christian heroine presented herself fearlessly before him, and declared most emphatically that she would live and die in the true faith. The tyrant, not willing to lose time either in persuasions or menaces, ordered the undaunted confessor of Christ to be cast before wild beasts. She was led to the amphitheatre, where Thecla, on bended knees and with eyes raised to heaven, called on her heavenly bridegroom to assist her. The wild beasts were let loose, but not one of them attacked the virgin, or did her the least harm. They walked around her like tame dogs. The tyrant, ascribing this miracle to magic, ordered St. Thecla to be bound to the tails of two wild steers, which were to be goaded with red-hot irons, that they might become infuriated and tear the supposed magician to pieces. All was done as the tyrant commanded, but the animals allowed themselves to be burned and pierced, but still moved not from the place where they stood. A new cruelty was now planned. Not far off was a deep pit, filled with serpents and other venomous reptiles; into this pit they cast the fearless Christian heroine. Signing herself with the holy cross, she remained unharmed.
Great was the number of the heathens who were converted at the sight of such miracles. Among these was Tryphena, a highly respected matron, who exclaimed aloud: “Truly, the God whom Thecla worships, is the only true God. To Him we must pray, and to none other.” The same was said by many, and the tyrant began to fear that a public desertion of paganism would take place. To prevent this, as some say, he had St. Thecla secretly executed, while others write, that having regained her liberty, she returned to her home, where, by her virtuous life and zealous instructions, she converted many to the Christian faith, and that she departed this life in the ninetieth year of her age. One thing is certain, that St. Thecla has always been considered by the whole Christian world as one of the most heroic martyrs, and as such, has received due honors. In the prayer which the Catholic church has instituted for the dying, St. Thecla is mentioned in the following words: “As thou, O Lord, didst save the holy virgin and martyr, Thecla, from three cruel torments, so do thou graciously save the soul of this, thy servant, that he may partake with thee of the heavenly joys.” St. Gregory Nazianzen writes, that a numberless crowd of people of the East, visited the tomb of St. Thecla, in Seleucia, because God wrought great miracles there ; and he relates that he himself had repaired thither, actuated by devotion. Among other titles of honor which the holy Fathers have given to St. Thecla are the following: “Protomartyr”; which means that she was the first female martyr; and, “first born spiritual daughter of St. Paul, ” because she was the first of her sex who was converted by his sermons at Iconium, and who, following his advice, consecrated her virginity to God. (2)
Image: Santa Técla (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff