St. Apollonia and the Martyrs of Alexandria
by Francisco de Zurbarán
Born: 2nd century Died: c. 249
AT Alexandria, in 249, the mob rose in savage fury against the Christians. Metras, an old man, perished first. His eyes were pierced with reeds, and he was stoned to death. A woman named Quinta was the next victim. She was led to a heathen temple and was ordered to worship. She replied by cursing the false god again and again, and she too was stoned to death. After this the houses of the Christians were sacked and plundered. They took the spoiling of their goods with all joy.
St. Apollonia, an aged virgin, was the most famous among the martyrs. Her teeth were beaten out; she was led outside the city, a huge fire was kindled, and she was told she must deny Christ, or else be burned alive. She was silent for a while, and then, moved by a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, she leaped into the fire and died in its flames.
The same courage showed itself the next year, when Decius became emperor, and the persecution grew till it seemed as if the very elect must fall away. The story of Dioscorus illustrates the courage of the Alexandrian Christians, and the esteem they had for martyrdom. He was a boy of fifteen. To the arguments of the judge he returned wise answers: he was proof against torture. His older companions were executed, but Dioscorus was spared on account of his tender years; yet the Christians could not bear to think that he had been deprived of the martyr’s crown, except to receive it afterwards more gloriously. “Dioscorus,” writes Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria at this time, “remains with us, reserved for some longer and greater combat.” There were indeed many Christians who came, pale and trembling, to offer the heathen sacrifices. But the judges themselves were struck with horror at the multitudes who rushed to martyrdom. Women triumphed over torture, till at last the judges were glad to execute them at once and put an end to the ignominy of their own defeat.
Reflection.—Many saints, who were not martyrs, have longed to shed their blood for Christ. We, too, may pray for some portion of their spirit; and the least suffering for the faith, borne with humility and courage, is the proof that Christ has heard our prayer.
Editor’s note: St. Apollonia, who was tortured by having her teeth violently pulled or shattered, is the patroness of dentistry and those suffering from toothaches or other dental problems.
Source: Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.