“ One of the most famous woman apostles was Thecla, a virgin-martyr converted by Paul. She cut her hair, donned men's clothing, and took up the duties of a missionary apostle. Threatened with rape, prostitution, and twice put in the ring as a martyr, she persevered in her faith and her chastity. Her lively and somewhat fabulous story is recorded in the second century Acts of Thecla. From very early, an order of women who were widows served formal roles of ministry in some churches (I Timothy 5:9-10). The most numerous clear cases of women's leadership, however, are offered by prophets: Mary Magdalene, the Corinthian women, Philip's daughters, Ammia of Philadelphia, Philumene, the visionary martyr Perpetua, Maximilla, Priscilla (Prisca), and Quintilla. There were many others whose names are lost to us. [Source: Karen L. King, Professor of New Testament Studies and the History of Ancient Christianity at Harvard University Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“The African church father Tertullian, for example, describes an unnamed woman prophet in his congregation who not only had ecstatic visions during church services, but who also served as a counselor and healer (On the Soul 9.4). A remarkable collection of oracles from another unnamed woman prophet was discovered in Egypt in 1945. She speaks in the first person as the feminine voice of God: Thunder, Perfect Mind. The prophets Prisca and Quintilla inspired a Christian movement in second century Asia Minor (called the New Prophecy or Montanism) that spread around the Mediterranean and lasted for at least four centuries. Their oracles were collected and published, including the account of a vision in which Christ appeared to the prophet in the form of a woman and "put wisdom" in her (Epiphanius, Panarion 49.1). Montanist Christians ordained women as presbyters and bishops, and women held the title of prophet. The third century African bishop Cyprian also tells of an ecstatic woman prophet from Asia Minor who celebrated the eucharist and performed baptisms (Epistle 74.10). In the early second century, the Roman governor Pliny tells of two slave women he tortured who were deacons (Letter to Trajan 10.96). Other women were ordained as priests in fifth century Italy and Sicily (Gelasius, Epistle 14.26). <>

“Women were also prominent as martyrs and suffered violently from torture and painful execution by wild animals and paid gladiators. In fact, the earliest writing definitely by a woman is the prison diary of Perpetua, a relatively wealthy matron and nursing mother who was put to death in Carthage at the beginning of the third century on the charge of being a Christian. In it, she records her testimony before the local Roman ruler and her defiance of her father's pleas that she recant. She tells of the support and fellowship among the confessors in prison, including other women. But above all, she records her prophetic visions. Through them, she was not merely reconciled passively to her fate, but claimed the power to define the meaning of her own death. In a situation where Romans sought to use their violence against her body as a witness to their power and justice, and where the Christian editor of her story sought to turn her death into a witness to the truth of Christianity, her own writing lets us see the human being caught up in these political struggles. She actively relinquishes her female roles as mother, daughter, and sister in favor of defining her identity solely in spiritual terms. However horrifying or heroic her behavior may seem, her brief diary offers an intimate look at one early Christian woman's spiritual journey. <>

Virgin Mary, See Separate Article and Birth of Jesus; Mary Magdalene, See Separate Article

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website ; Sacred Texts website ; Gnostic Society Library ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians ; Guide to Early Church Documents; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Early Christian Art ; Early Christian Images ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Saints and Their Lives Today's Saints on the Calendar ; Saints' Books Library ; Saints and Their Legends: A Selection of Saints libmma.contentdm ; Saints engravings. Old Masters from the De Verda collection ; Lives of the Saints - Orthodox Church in America ; Lives of the Saints:

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene at the Crucifixion

Mary Magdalene stands out as the one individual who loved Jesus deeply while he was alive, stood with him to the end and was embarrassed to express her love for him. She became one of Jesus's most devout followers after hearing him speak. Some think Mary Magdalene may have been a close adviser of Jesus with perhaps the same status as an apostle. The word maudlin is derived from her reputation as teary-eyed penitent. He name comes from the village of Magdala on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

James Carroll wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “The whole history of Western civilization is epitomized in the cult of Mary Magdalene. For many centuries the most obsessively revered of saints, this woman became the embodiment of Christian devotion, which was defined as repentance. Yet she was only elusively identified in Scripture,and has thus served as a scrim on to which a succession of fantasies has been projected. In one age after another her image was reinvented, from prostitute to sibyl to mystic to celibate nun to passive helpmeet to feminine icon to matriarch of divinity's secret dynasty...Christians may worship the Blessed Virgin, but it is Magdalene with whom they identify."

Mary Magdalene is often described as a prostitute although there is mention that was her trade in the Bible. All it says is that she was a person of means, and a follower of Jesus who was once possessed by seven demons that Jesus cast out. The prostitute label grew out of description of her in the Gospels as having "certain ways about her a little freer than modesty allows."

Book: Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor by Susan Haskins; Mary Magdalene : A Biography (2006) by Bruce Chilton, a professor of religion at Bard College; Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: the Struggle for Authority by Ann Graham Brock (2003); the Mary Magdalene Tradition: Witness and Counter-Witness in Early Christian Communities by Holly E. Hearon (2003); The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene by Jane Schaberg, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

See Mary Magdalene


St. Thecla (Thekla) was born in what's now the Turkish city of Konya at the time of Christ. She was forbidden from listening to St. Paul speak when he came Konya to preach the gospel. Steven V. Roberts wrote in the Washington Post: “Sitting at her open window, she miraculously heard his voice and was instantly converted. After that she broke her engagement and vowed to remain a "bride of Christ." For that she was sentenced to death by fire. But a sudden storm doused the flames. When she spurned the advances of a nobleman in the city of Antioch, she was thrown into a pit with wild beasts, which refused to attack her. Eventually, Paul blessed her decision to live as an ascetic virgin here in the hills of Maaloula, but she faced one more trial: A local peasant vowed to plunder her virtue. She fled his advances, and the mountain opened before her, offering a narrow path of escape.” [Source:Steven V. Roberts, Washington Post, December 20, 2009]

Thecla and the beasts

Elizabeth Clark of Duke University told PBS: “Thecla is a literary character of probably second century Christianity who comes to be thought of as an actual historical character by the fourth century. Thecla appears in a document called The Acts of Paul and Thecla which is one of the many sets of acts that came to be labeled the apocryphal acts.... Thecla's represented as being an aristocratic young woman who hears the teaching of Paul, and upon hearing the message of Paul, which is construed in this text... as a message of sexual renunciation, she gives up her fiancee and wants to go off and follow Paul on his missionary trips. Her family is very much opposed to this. Her mother goes so far as to try to have her daughter burned at the stake to prevent her from carrying out this wish, but after many lively adventures including baptizing herself in a pool of seals, Thecla does manage to become a missionary and lives to a ripe old age preaching and teaching the gospel. So this is one of several stories in the apocryphal acts where women are represented as giving up riches and particularly marriage and sexual activity for the sake of following the teachings of the Apostles.... [Source: Elizabeth Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion and Director of the Graduate Program in Religion Duke University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“I think the moral of the Thecla story is that young women would be better off not marrying in the first place, but if they are already married to try to as soon as possible... to lead lives of abstinence and sexual renunciation, and in that way they will be better fulfilling the will of God. In the Acts of Thecla for example, Paul gives a speech in which he recasts the part of the bible that we call the beatitudes. That's the "blessed are the so and so...." Paul's version of this is all about blessed are the bodies of virgins, ... blessed are the chaste. It's all about sexual chastity. That those are the people who are blessed in this new recasting of the Christian message. <>

“Did stories like Thecla -- the fact that the early church is urging people to abstinence, to effectively be breaking up their families, leaving their fiancees -- Does that create tension within the church, or does that create tension with society? <>

“The fact that some young women and men wanted, on the basis of hearing these injunctions to sexual chastity, to abandon societal life, not to marry, not to have children as their parents probably wanted them to, [is] certainly depicted in early Christian writings as causing a problem. In fact, I think we would analyze this today as a case of adolescent rebellion. That you hear many stories from the fourth and early fifth century, particularly, of aristocratic young women who decide they're not going to be obey their parents' command to marry. At this [time] ... aristocratic girls marry very young, in young teenage years probably, and their refusal to do this, and concordant with that their control of enormous sums of money devolving upon them, was a very great asset to the Christian church, and these women were much celebrated and written about and praised by the male authors of this period.... <>

Martyrdom of Perpetua

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “One of the most amazing documents historians of early Christianity are privileged to have is the prison diary of a young woman who was martyred in the year 202 or 203 in Carthage, as part of a civic celebration. Her name is Perpetua. And she insisted on being killed. It's an amazing, complicated story. The diary is in kind of a sandwich. The editor introduces the story, then there's the authentic diary of Perpetua, and then there are editorial conclusions, at the end. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]


“Perpetua has brought herself to the attention of the governor. And she is really insisting on being put into the arena. There's an incredibly powerful trial scene where Perpetua's father is pleading with her and, finally, actually trying to beat her. And the Governor has him subdued by his soldiers. And the governor says, "Please, won't you cooperate?" And Perpetua, who's not even a baptized Christian, who's still catechumen, says, "No, I'm a Christian." Now, there's no dragnet out for Christians. Perpetua is visited by other Christians in prison. If the governor were trying to get all the Christians in Carthage, he just could have arrested whoever is going to visit Perpetua. But he doesn't. She's what one historian has called an overachiever in a sense. She's insisting on being martyred as part of her Christian witness. She gives her baby back over to her family, because she's still nursing. And she talks about this. And she's really insisting on being martyred because she says, and we have to believe her, this is the only word we have from her, because in so doing, she will get to God through Jesus.... <>

“The authentic diary ends before Perpetua is led into the arena. What we have concluding the diary is a description by somebody who is presenting a hero tale. The majority of Christians were not volunteering to be martyred. For one thing, there wouldn't have been an audience for these martyr stories. For another thing, we have doctrinally, the evolution of penance as a way to reincorporate Christians who lapse in the face of persecution. So Perpetua is really being preserved by her community as a role model. She marks off the heroic limit against which other Christians can measure themselves. She's led out to the arena. She, with heroic chastity, faces down the animals and gladiators, and finally, after being tormented by several animals, a young gladiator is sent into the arena to dispatch her. And it's just an incredibly moving scene; his hand is trembling so much he can't cut her. And she grabs his hand and guides his sword to her own throat. It's a kind of assisted suicide.... <>

“There are other people members who are members of her community and the person who draws me the most is a slave girl who's also part of this group. Her name is Felicitas. She is in an advanced stage of pregnancy when the group is in prison. And, they all pray around her so that she is delivered of her baby just before going into the arena. And she's also killed with this group...There's an intense sense of community that binds together these people who are insisting on being martyred. They take care of each other. There is a very affecting scene of Perpetua and Felicitas helping... arrange each other's clothes so they're not exposed after they've been jostled by these animals. And finally they say good-bye to each other in this life with the kiss of peace.” <>

Prison Diary of Perpetua

This is the prison diary of a young woman martyered in Carthage in 202 or 203 CE. The beginning and ending are related by an editor/narrator; the central text contains the words of Perpetua herself. The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas reads: “A number of young catechumens were arrested, Revocatus and his fellow slave Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and with them Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. Her mother and father were still alive and one of her two brothers was a catechumen like herself. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast. (Now from this point on the entire account of her ordeal is her own, according to her own ideas and in the way that she herself wrote it down.) [Source: The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas “The Acts of the Christian Marytrs,” “texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo, Oxford University Press, 1972, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <*>]

Perpetua and Felicity

“While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. 'Father,' said I, 'do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?' “'Yes, I do', said he. “And I told him: 'Could it be called by any other name than what it is?' “And he said: 'No.' “'Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.' “At this my father was so angered by the word 'Christian' that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments. <*>

“For a few days afterwards I gave thanks to the Lord that I was separated from my father, and I was comforted by his absence. During these few days I was baptized, and I was inspired by the Spirit not to ask for any other favour after the water but simply the perseverance of the flesh. A few days later we were lodged in the prison; and I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole. What a difficult time it was! With the crowd the heat was stifling; then there was the extortion of the soldiers; and to crown all, I was tortured with worry for my baby there. <*>

“Then Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons who tried to take care of us, bribed the soldiers to allow us to go to a better part of the prison to refresh ourselves for a few hours. Everyone then left that dungeon and shifted for himself. I nursed my baby, who was faint from hunger. In my anxiety I spoke to my mother about the child, I tried to comfort my brother, and I gave the child in their charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else. <*>

Perpetua Describes a Hearing for Persecuted Christians

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas reads: “One day while we were eating breakfast we were suddenly hurried off for a hearing. We arrived at the forum, and straight away the story went about the neighbourhood near the forum and a huge crowd gathered. We walked up to the prisoner's dock. All the others when questioned admitted their guilt. Then, when it came my turn, my father appeared with my son, dragged me from the step, and said: 'Perform the sacrifice--have pity on your baby!' [Source: The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas “The Acts of the Christian Marytrs,” “texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo, Oxford University Press, 1972, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <*>]

“Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: 'Have pity on your father's grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.' “'I will not', I retorted. “'Are you a Christian?' said Hilarianus. “And I said: 'Yes, I am.' “When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age. <*>

“Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits. But my baby had got used to being nursed at the breast and to staying with me in prison. So I sent the deacon Pomponius straight away to my father to ask for the baby. But father refused to give him over. But as God willed, the baby had no further desire for the breast, nor did I suffer any inflammation; and so I was relieved of any anxiety for my child and of any discomfort in my breasts.... Some days later, an adjutant named Pudens, who was in charge of the prison, began to show us great honour, realizing that we possessed some great power within us. And he began to allow many visitors to see us for our mutual comfort. <*>

“Now the day of the contest was approaching, and my father came to see me overwhelmed with sorrow. He started tearing the hairs from his beard and threw them on the ground; he then threw himself on the ground and began to curse his old age and to say such words as would move all creation. I felt sorry for his unhappy old age. <*>

Perpetua on Persecuted Christians in Prison


The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas reads: “As for Felicitas, she too enjoyed the Lord's favour in this wise. She had been pregnant when she was arrested, and was now in her eighth month. As the day of the spectacle drew near she was very distressed that her martyrdom would be postponed because of her pregnancy; for it is against the law for women with child to be executed. Thus she might have to shed her holy, innocent blood afterwards along with others who were common criminals. Her comrades in martyrdom were also saddened; for they were afraid that they would have to leave behind so fine a companion to travel alone on the same road to hope. And so, two days before the contest, they poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. She suffered a good deal in her labour because of the natural difficulty of an eight months' delivery. [Source: The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas “The Acts of the Christian Marytrs,” “texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo, Oxford University Press, 1972, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <*>]

“Hence one of the assistants of the prison guards said to her: 'You suffer so much now--what will you do when you are tossed to the beasts? Little did you think of them when you refused to sacrifice.' 'What I am suffering now', she replied, 'I suffer by myself. But then another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.' And she gave birth to a girl; and one of the sisters brought her up as her own daughter. <*>

“Therefore, since the Holy Spirit has permitted the story of this contest to be written down and by so permitting has willed it, we shall carry out the command or, indeed, the commission of the most saintly Perpetua, however unworthy I might be to add anything to this glorious story. At the same time I shall add one example of her perseverance and nobility of soul. <*>

“The military tribune had treated them with extraordinary severity because on the information of certain very foolish people he became afraid that they would be spirited out of the prison by magical spells. “Perpetua spoke to him directly. 'Why can you not even allow us to refresh ourselves properly? For we are the most distinguished of the condemned prisoners, seeing that we belong to the emperor; we are to fight on his very birthday. Would it not be to your credit if we were brought forth on the day in a healthier condition?' <*>

“The officer became disturbed and grew red. So it was that he gave the order that they were to be more humanely treated; and he allowed her brothers and other persons to visit, so that the prisoners could dine in their company. By this time the adjutant who was head of the gaol was himself a Christian.” <*>

Perpetua on Christians and Gladiators in the Arena

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas reads: “On the day before, when they had their last meal, which is called the free banquet, they celebrated not a banquet but rather a love feast. They spoke to the mob with the same steadfastness, warned them of God's judgement, stressing the joy they would have in their suffering, and ridiculing the curiosity of those that came to see them. Saturus said: 'Will not tomorrow be enough for you? Why are you so eager to see something that you dislike? Our friends today will be our enemies on the morrow. But take careful note of what we look like so that you will recognize us on the day.' Thus everyone would depart from the prison in amazement, and many of them began to believe. [Source: The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas “The Acts of the Christian Marytrs,” “texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo, Oxford University Press, 1972, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <*>]

“The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone's stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after childbirth in a second baptism. <*>

“They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end. 'We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.' <*>

“Even injustice recognized justice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the on looking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures: 'You have condemned us, but God will condemn you' was what they were saying. At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord's sufferings. <*>

“But he who said, Ask and you shall receive, answered their prayer by giving each one the death he had asked for. For whenever they would discuss among themselves their desire for martyrdom, Saturninus indeed insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious. And so at the outset of the contest he and Revocatus were matched with a leopard, and then while in the stocks they were attacked by a bear. As for Saturus, he dreaded nothing more than a bear, and he counted on being killed by one bite of a leopard. Then he was matched with a wild boar; but the gladiator who had tied him to the animal was gored by the boar and died a few days after the contest, whereas Saturus was only dragged along. Then when he was bound in the stocks awaiting the bear, the animal refused to come out of the cages, so that Saturus was called back once more unhurt. <*>

“For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and the other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics. <*>

“First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph. <*>

“Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life. There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: 'When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?' <*>

Tomb of Perpetua

Perpetua on Christians Who Become Martyrs

According to The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas: “When told that this had already happened, she refused to believe it until she noticed the marks of her rough experience on her person and her dress. Then she called for her brother and spoke to him together with the catechumens and said: 'You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.' [Source: The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas “The Acts of the Christian Marytrs,” “texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo, Oxford University Press, 1972, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <*>]

“At another gate Saturus was earnestly addressing the soldier Pudens. 'It is exactly', he said, 'as I foretold and predicted. So far not one animal has touched me. So now you may believe me with all your heart: I am going in there and I shall be finished off with one bite of the leopard.' And immediately as the contest was coming to a close a leopard was let loose, and after one bite Saturus was so drenched with blood that as he came away the mob roared in witness to his second baptism: 'Well washed! Well washed!' For well washed indeed was one who had been bathed in this manner. Then he said to the soldier Pudens: 'Good-bye. Remember me, and remember the faith. These things should not disturb you but rather strengthen you.' And with this he asked Pudens for a ring from his finger, and dipping it into his wound he gave it back to him again as a pledge and as a record of his bloodshed. <*>

“Shortly after he was thrown unconscious with the rest in the usual spot to have his throat cut. But the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetual Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing. <*>

St. Catherine of Siena
“Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honours, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen. <*>

St. Agnes and St. Catherine of Siena

St Agnes was martyred at age of 10 or 12 in 304. She is the virgin-martyr of young girls. Saint Agatha, the patron saint of married women and breast-feeding women, had her face and breast removed before she was martyred.

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was an Italian nun so well known for her piety she was called my "my dear little Babbo" by Pope Gregory XI. She purportedly lived on a handful of herbs a day and spent so much time praying she only slept two hours a night. She bore stigmata wounds of Christ's crucifixion and died at age of 33, supposedly the same age Christ was to the day when he died.

St. Catherine of Siena claimed that Jesus gave his foreskin to her as a wedding ring. She said he pledged the union "not with a ring of silver but with a ring of his holy flesh, for when he was circumcised just such a ring was taken from his holy body." She also whipped herself three times a day: once for herself, once for the sins of living people and once for the sins of the dead.

St. Teresa (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada) is one of the best known Catholic saints. One of 12 children in an aristocratic family, she was born and baptized in 1515 and spent most her life in the walled medieval city of Avila, Spain. She opened her first reformed Carmelite convent in 1562 and founded 16 others in her lifetime. St. Teresa re-emphasized the contemplative nature of religion. She often said "God deliver me from sullen saints!" Although she was known as a mystic who went into ecstatic states she was also her known for her sense of humor and her ability to make friends.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc on horseback
Joan of Arc (1412-1431) is the most written about woman from the Middle Ages. She was burned at the stake for heresy but before that, while still in her teens, she was instrumental in the defeat the British in the Battle of Orleans, which changed the course of the Hundred Year War between Britain and France and helped establish the modern French state. Based on the number of books written about her (545 in 1999 the Library of Congress collection), Joan of Arc is the world's second most famous woman behind the Virgin Mary.

Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 by the Vatican, which ironic because she was burned at the stake for witchcraft on the orders of Catholic Chruch. She also did have many traits normally attributed to saints: she wasn't a martyr for her religion as other saints had been; she didn't renounce the world; and she didn't go around performing good deeds and miracles. Joan of Arc is the only Catholic saint who was burned at the stake as a heretic. The file her at the Vatican is closed and no reason has been given for its inaccessibility (the files on other saint are open to review).

Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl named Jehanne or Jeannette or Jeanne D'Arc. She called her self "Shann Day" and Jehanne la Purcell" (Jeanne the Virgin). The name Joan can be traced back to Shakespeare and late medieval writers. Most of what is known about her comes from medieval reports. The Joan of Arc that most people are familiar with is the product of a myth created in the 19th century.

Little is known about Joan of Arc's early life except that she refused to be married off by her father, who had threatened to drown her if she went off to war. Medieval writers described Joan of Arc as the bastard daughter of French nobility. Other pieces of information that have come out over the years were that she was a cook, she was good looking and had large breasts and her brother support her. She said she first hear the voice at age of 13.

Joan of Arc's Military Career Joan and the Battle of Orleans

20120508-Joan of arc  siege Orleans.jpg
Joan of Arc and
the siege of Orleans
Joan of Arc's military career only lasted about two years. She came out of nowhere, reportedly egged on by "voices" of the saints to lead the French army of the dauphin Charles (and future-king Charles VII) to defeat the English forces occupying much France. In the late 1420s, at the time Joan of Arc emerged, France was losing the Hundred Year War. The English had won most of the battles and were advancing steadily and methodically across France. They captured Paris and marched towards Orléans, which they hoped to use as a base for the conquest of southern France.

The English, and led the infant King Henry VI, England. were firmly entrenched in northern and southwestern France. They were supported by much of the French population including the Duke of Burgundy, who controlled eastern France and Flanders. Charles had been defeated in one battle after another and was largely regarded as a basket case.

In 1429, at the age of 17, Joan of Arc was brought to meet Charles. She promised him that she would end the "seige" of Orleans. Charles sent Joan to Orleans as part f the food convoy, not the army. Orleans as it turns out was not being attacked by the full English army but rather was under threat from a relatively small force: a force of 4,000 English soldiers, aided by 1,500 Burgundians. In October 1428, they, surrounded Orléans, a heavily fortified, well provisioned town protected by 5,400 soldiers. The English refused to let the French surrender to the Burgundians and captured the outer forts and pounded the town with cannonballs. At this juncture Joan arrived on the scene, dressed in armor, and lead an army through an English blockade and brought supplies and reinforcements to Orléans.

Joan of Arc is credited with saving Orleans and turning the tide of the Hundred Year War in favor of the French. But in reality Joan never lead the French armies, she never defeated the English and in fact was involved in a three-way war in which one of her enemies was French (the Burgundians). Joan of Arc convinced the defenders of Orleans to attack a few English outposts. The main English army retreated by why they did so is not clear.

Charles VII and Joan of Arc After Orleans

20120508-Joan of arc Ingres_coronation_charles_vii.jpg
Joan of Arc coronation
by Charles VII by Ingres
After Orléans, Joan of Arc was viewed as a saint by the French and witch by the English. Her military role appears to have been limited. Rather than taking command of the French army she was really more of a mascot. After Joan’s arrival, the previously demoralized French army, apparently inspired by her, won a couple of important battles. They captured an English force in May, 1429 after a long battle at the fortification of Patay, where Joan reportedly fought hard even after she was seriously wounded in the shoulder by an arrow, a story which only added to her reputation as being something more than human.

On May 8, 1429, the English surrendered all their fortifications in central France and retreated to their positions along the French coast. Central France was never again in danger of being conquered by the English.

On July 17, 1429, Charles was crowned the French King Charles VII at the cathedral at Rheims, which only a few weeks before had been held by the English. After being anointed king, on Joan of Arc's urging, Charles VI marched on Paris, which was regarded as pro-English but was in reality more Burgundian. His army was routed. After that Charles rejected Joan of Arc's appeals to "boot out the English" and pursued diplomatic solution.

Charles is credited with laying the foundations for the modern French state. One of his first major moves was to "cruelly” and sensibly”dismissed" Joan of Arc so he could make a deal with the Burgundians. Feeling betrayed Joan of Arc attracted a small group of followers and fought a short-lived guerilla war. On May 29, 1430, Joan of Arc was captured outside Compiègne by the Burgundians. Charles VII refused to pay the ransom for her. The English paid 10,000 pounds for her and turned her over to the Catholic Church, who felt threatened by her and portrayed her as a kind of false prophet.

Trial and Execution of of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc interrogation
Joan of Arc was tried in an austere room by an English-backed court at the Abbey in the port city of Rouen. The trial was fairly lengthy and Joan of Arc defended herself with conviction and intelligence. Under protracted interrogation, she maintained that her visions were real, that God had ordered her to do what she did. Based on the minutes of her trial, Joan comes across a calm, stubborn woman not the deranged fanatic as she is often made out to be. During her trial, when she was asked how she inspired her countrymen, she replied, “What I said was 'Ride these English down'and I did it myself!”

Although the English paid for and approved of the trial, the proceedings were led primarily by conservative forces in the French Catholic church at the University of Paris. Joan was accused of witchcraft partly on the grounds that she dressed in men's clothes (which she probably wore for practical reasons on the battlefield). She reportedly recanted to avoid being burned at the stake but was found dressed as man in her cell. For having "relapsed" she was condemned to death.

Many historians and movie makers believe that her women’s clothes were taken away and men’s clothes were placed in her cell---giving her the choice of going naked or wearing men's clothes to her trial---to frame her. Either way she would be charged with being a witch. Historians say that if this story is true, the clothes were mostly likely put there by the French inquisitors. The English had no interest in killing her. They were happy to see her rot in prison.

On May 30, 1431, at the age of 19, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a witch in the main square of Rouen. She was largely forgotten for around 400 years and resurrected in the mid-19th century as a patriotic-republic and a heroine of religious conservatives. Today she is has been adopted by the far right pary intent on ridding France of foreigners. The Luc Besson film The Messenger (1999) was the 31st film made about Joan of Arc. It was shot in English in the Czech Republic and financed with Hollywood and French money.

St. Therese

St. Therese
Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the most beloved saints in the Catholic church and not a very old one. Described by Pope Pius X as the greatest saint of modern times, She was born on January 2, 1873 in Alencon, France, joined the Carmelites at age 15, took her vows at 17 and died seven years later in 1897 of tuberculosis. She was beautified in 1923. In 1997, she was declared a doctor of the Catholic Church by Pope Paul II, only the third woman to be so honored. Mother Teresa is named after her.

Before she died, Therese wrote on account of her life, The Story of a Soul , edited by one of her fellow sisters, that became a symbol of people who persevere through daily, minor troubles, Translated into over 50 languages, it was avidly read by singer Edith Piath and writer Jack Kerouac and others.

Sherida Gilley, a professor of theology at Durham University, told the Observer, “Therese stands for the quotidian grind that we all suffer from, and the eventual beatification that can be found in it, so she has a huge number of followers who are not Catholic...Therese is the saint to approach with the daily trials and tribulations we all face. She stands for the holiness of small things.”

The remains of St. Therese are kept in France. A casket containing half of her skeleton went on a tour of France in 1994 and began a world tour in 1997---the centenary of her death---traveling first to Brazil and Latin America and reaching 24 countries as of 2001, including Russia, France, Ireland and Britain, where the remains sparked scenes of religious frenzy and excitement, giving the Catholic Church some much needed buzz.

More than 1 million people came to view the remains during a 75-day tour of Ireland in 2009. Huge crowds turned out and traffic was brought to a halt when the “Theresemobile,” a Mercedes people-carrier that transports her around each diocese, came through. The last time Ireland experienced anything like that was when the Pope visited in 1979. An organizer of the Therese visit told the Observer, “the visit has succeeded beyond our most optimistic expectations. There is a certain supernatural divine magnetism about it all.”

see India, Mother Teresa

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons


p> Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Symbols of Catholicism by Dom Robert Le Gall, Abbot of Kergonan (Barnes & Noble, 2000); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Newsweek, Time and National Geographic articles about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.


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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated March 2011

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