Eastern Orthodox Saints Who Committed Suicide (Synaxarion & Church Fathers)

In the first few centuries of Orthodox Christianity, the Orthodox Church and the Church Fathers accepted the act of suicide if it was to preserve one’s virginity; i.e. an individual could commit suicide to prevent being raped and it was not considered a mortal sin and one was even eligible to be ranked as a virgin-martyr. Also, some of the martyrs commemorated in the Church were not actually killed by their tormentors but rather they leapt to their own deaths after a period of torture or with the threat of martyrdom. Thus, in the Lives of the Saints of the first few centuries, one can find many saints who committed suicide. After the 4th-5th century, suicide was no longer an acceptable practise to preserve chastity which creates a little confusion. Those before this time period are saints in the ranks of heaven, whereas those who commit suicide after this time period have committed mortal sin and lost their souls.

The majority of the early Church Fathers evidently not only justified but commended suicide in such an extremity. The first Father distinctly to condemn the practice was Augustine (De civ. Dei. I. 22–27). He takes strong ground on the subject, and while admiring the bravery and chastity of the many famous women that had rescued themselves by taking their own lives, he denounces their act as sinful under all circumstances, maintaining that suicide is never anything else than a crime against the law of God. The view of Augustine has very generally prevailed since his time. In the 9th century, St. Theodore of Studite clearly states in his epistle: “It is not permitted in any situation whatsoever for a service or liturgy to be performed for him (namely, the one who commits suicide)” [PG 99, 1477B].

Church Councils Suicide cropped

Interestingly, though homosexual rape and pedophilia were quite predominant in the early days of the Church (both within and without of Christianity), the Fathers seem to only accept women virgin-martyrs. There is no mention of “economia” when it comes to male on male rape. It should be noted that in some medieval non-Christian cultures, a common practise of male victors in a raid or war was to rape (sometimes gang-rape) the male captors to shame and humiliate them. This practise continues today throughout the world both in war and prison systems.

Also, the early Fathers don’t talk much about clergymen hiding behind their rank to sexually abuse others (whether heterosexual, homosexual or pedophilia). This trend which existed in the early Orthodox Church is today quite predominant worldwide. Perhaps this silence is because St. Constantine the Great set the precedent of protecting them when he stated at the First Ecumenical Council: “If I would see with my own eyes a bishop, a priest or a monk in a sinful act, I would cover him with my cloak, so that no one would ever see his sin.”

ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO SUPPORTED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

AmbroseOfMilan

St. Ambrose of Milan (4th c.): Though St. Ambrose disapproved of suicide in general, he embraced the idea that women who committed suicide to protect their virginity received the martyr’s crown. St. Ambrose ends his ascetical treatise On Virgins by explaining to his sister that suicide is preferable to losing one’s virginity. He tells his sister that she can be confident suicide is permissible when protecting chastity because the Church has examples of martyrs who did that very thing. He then proceeds to tell the story of a teenager named Pelagia who lived in Antioch. She threw herself off a building to avoid lecherous pursuers. St. Ambrose even has her rationalizing her plans in his retelling. Ambrose’s Pelagia says, “God is not offended by the remedy [avoiding rape], and faith mitigates the misdeed [of suicide].” Though still a “misdeed,” St. Ambrose clearly views it as the lesser of two evils when a woman’s virginity is at stake.

Eusebius

Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, Church Historian (4th c.): In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius writes about the abominable treatment of female Christians formed a feature of the persecutions both of Maximian and Maximin, who were alike monsters of licentiousness. Eusebius wrote about the suicides of St. Domnina and Her Two Daughters and evidently approved of these women’s suicide. [Book VIII, Chapter 12]

 

St John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom (4th-5th c.): St. John Chrysostom’s stance regarding suicide and martyrdom is relatively close to St. Ambrose’s. John condemns suicide, believing it to be against God’s will, and claims that real martyrs do not commit suicide. Even though they do not kill themselves, John believed they must face death willingly. However, like St. Ambrose, Chrysostom accepts suicide for women who are attempting to protect their purity.

St. John Chrysostom, like many of his contemporaries, highly prized virginity, and when he considered the importance of sexual purity, St. John rationalized behaviors that would otherwise be condemnable. Specifically, John advocated suicide for women when necessary to protect their chastity. In his sermon on Julian, suicide is a defeat, though John probably had men in mind while preaching that sermon. In his sermon on the Virgin-Martyr Pelagia, suicide is victory over the enemies of God and over the Devil himself.

SaintJerome

St. Jerome (4th-5th c.): The early Church Father St Jerome categorically stated that Christ would not receive the soul of one who commits suicide. [Saint Jerome, Letters 39:3]. However, St Jerome makes an interesting exception to their otherwise absolute and inclusive condemnation: those who commit suicide in order to preserve their chastity.

 

ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO OPPOSED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

St. Augustine of Hippo (5th c.): This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid.  We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her. (Of Lucretia, Who Put an End to Her Life Because of the Outrage Done Her, City of God Chapter 19).

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ORTHODOX SAINTS IN THE SYNAXARION WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE

This list is just a brief sample and by no means complete. One can find numerous examples from the first few centuries of the Orthodox Church in the Synaxarion.

St. Agathonike (165 or 251 AD): St. Agathonike did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity, but is in the ranks of “voluntary martyr.” During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Agathonike became so excited while watching Carpus and Papylus die martyrs’ deaths that she believed she should join them on the pyre. The crowd tried to dissuade her after she announced her intentions, reminding her that her son needed her. She replied that God would take care of him, at which point she disrobed and threw herself on the fire. In the Latin recension of the text, however, Agathonike is arrested with the other two martyrs, which leads Musurillo to suggest, “The Latin redactor was attempting to colour the facts for a later age.” [See: Martyrdom of Carpus, Papylus, and Agothonike 44].

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 13th

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St. Apollonia (2nd century): St. Apollonia also did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity but did so after being tortured. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (247–265), relates the sufferings of his people in a letter addressed to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, of which long extracts have been preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: “At that time Apollonia, parthénos presbytis (mostly likely meaning a deaconess) was held in high esteem. These men seized her also and by repeated blows broke all her teeth. They then erected outside the city gates a pile of fagots and threatened to burn her alive if she refused to repeat after them impious words (either a blasphemy against Christ, or an invocation of the heathen gods). Given, at her own request, a little freedom, she sprang quickly into the fire and was burned to death.” [6.41 (PG 20:605–607)]

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on February 9th.

St Apollonia

St. Pelagia of Antioch (late 3rd century): St. Pelagia was a Christian saint, virgin, and martyr who committed suicide during the Diocletian Persecution rather than be forced by Roman soldiers to offer a public sacrifice to the pagan gods. She was 15 years old.

She was home alone during the Diocletian Persecution when Roman soldiers arrived. She came out to meet them and, discovering they intended to compel her to participate in a pagan sacrifice, she received permission to change her clothes. She went to the roof of her house and threw herself into the sea. The patristic sources treat this as a sacred martyrdom rather than an ignoble suicide, usually with reference to the potential that she would have been dishonored by the soldiers.

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 8th.

Saint Pelagia of Antioch
Saint Pelagia of Antioch

Saints Domnina, Berenice, and Prosdoce (c. 310)

Saint Domnina and her daughters Berenice (Bernice, Veronica, Verine, Vernike) and Prosdoce are venerated as Christian martyrs by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Domnina was arrested by soldiers for her adherence to the Christian religion. Fearing that the soldiers would rape her and her daughters, they threw themselves into a river after they asked their guards for a chance to rest for a while or after the soldiers had become drunk with wine. All three women drowned.

The account of St. John Chrysostom tells a slightly different story: according to Chrysostom, Domnina, after jumping into the river, pulled her daughters in with her to prevent them from being raped. Chrysostom praised Domnina for her courage and Domnina’s daughters for their obedience.

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 4th.

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PATRISTIC SERMONS LAUDING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

Saint John Chrysostom delivered the following sermon about St. Pelagia, the Virgin Martyr:

“Even women now poke fun at death and girls mock passing away and quite young, unmarried virgins skip into the very stings of Hades and suffer no ill effects. All of these blessings we experience because of Christ, born of a virgin. For after those blessed contraction pains and utterly awe-inspiring birth the sinews of death were unstrung, the devil’s power was disabled and from then on became contemptible to not just men but also women, and not just women, but also girls….

“It’s for this reason that blessed Pelagia too ran to meet death with such great delight that she didn’t wait for the executioners’ hands nor did she go to court, but escaped their cruelty through the excess of her own enthusiasm. For while she was prepared for tortures and punishments and every kind of penalty, even so she was afraid that she would destroy the crown of her virginity. Indeed, that you might learn that she was afraid of the sexual predation of the unholy men, she got in first and snatched herself away in advance from the shameful violence. None of the [Christian] men ever attempted any such act at all. Instead they all filed into court and displayed their courage there. Yet women, by nature vulnerable to harm, conceived for themselves this manner of death. My point is that, were it possible both to preserve one’s virginity and attain martyrdom’s crown, she wouldn’t have refused to go to court. But since it was utterly inevitable that one of the two would be lost, she thought it a sign of extreme stupidity, when it was possible for her to attain each victory, to depart half crowned. For this reason she wasn’t willing to go to court or to become a spectacle for lecherous eyes, or to give opportunity for predatory eyes to revel in the sight of her own appearance and crudely insult that holy body. Instead she went from her chamber and the women’s quarters to a second chamber – heaven….

“Don’t simply pass over what happened, but consider how it’s likely that she was raised as a gentle girl, knowing nothing beyond her chamber, while soldiers were posted against her en masse, standing in front of the door, summoning her to court, dragging her into the marketplace on weighty sorts of grounds. There was no father inside, no mother present, no nurse, no female attendant, no neighbor, no female friend. Instead, she was left alone in the midst of those executioners. I mean, how isn’t it right that we be astonished and amazed that she had the strength to come out and answer those executioner soldiers, to open her mouth and utter a sound, just to look, stand, and breathe? Those actions weren’t attributable to human nature. For God’s influence introduced the majority. Most assuredly, at the time she didn’t just idly stand around, but displayed all her personal qualities – her enthusiasm, her resolve, her nobility, her willingness, her purpose, her eagerness, her bustling energy. But it was as a result of God’s help and heavenly good goodwill that all these qualities reached maturity….

“In addition to what’s been said, I marvel as well at how the soldiers granted her the favor, how the woman deceived the men, how they didn’t work out the deception. After all, one can’t say that no one effected anything of the sort. For many women, it seems, gave themselves up to a cliff or hurled themselves into the sea or drove a sword through their breast or fastened a noose. That time was full of numerous dramas of that kind. But God blinded the soldier’s hearts so that they wouldn’t openly see the deception. That’s why she flew up out of the middle of their nets….

“Lot’s of people who’ve tumbled from a high roof haven’t suffered any ill effect. Others, in turn, despite suffering permanent disability to some part of their body, have lived for a long time after the fall. But in the case of that blessed virgin God didn’t allow any of these options to happen. Instead, he ordered the body to release the soul immediately and received it on the grounds that it had struggled sufficiently and completed everything. For death wasn’t caused by the nature of the fall, but by God’s command. From that point the body wasn’t lying on a bed, but on the pavement. yet it wasn’t without honor as it lay on the pavement…For this reason, then, that virginal body purer than any gold lay on the pavement, on the street.” [St. John ChrysostomA homily on Pelagia, Virgin and Martyr, translated into English by Wendy Mayer, from the book Let Us Die That We May Live (pp. 148-161)]

Let Us Die

Saint John Chrysostom delivered a sermon about St. Domnina and her two daughters:

In St. John’s sermon probably preached in the 390s in Antioch, the story takes an interesting turn. The women do not just kill themselves; John suggests that the mother actually drowns her daughters. He preaches, “And so, the mother entered in the middle [of the river], restraining her daughters on either side.” Once in the river, John says, “That blessed woman [Domnina] … lowered them down into the waters, and in this way they drowned.” Domnina then drowns herself to claim her martyr’s crown. Astonishingly, in this sermon, the protection of virginity not only justifies self-murder, but also John uses it justify murdering one’s children. He actually esteems Domnina because he claims that drowning her own daughters was an exceedingly painful form of martyrdom. Domnina could have suffered at the court, but then she would not have been able to ensure her daughters’ purity.

She endured far greater tortures in the river [than she would have at court]. My point, as I started saying, is that it was truly far more cruel and painful than to see flesh scourged, to drown her own innards, I mean her daughters, by her own hand, and to see them suffocating, and it required far greater philosophy than to endure tortures for her to have the capacity to restrain her children’s right hands and to drag them along with her into the river’s currents. For it was not the same in terms of pain to see [her daughters] suffering badly at the hands of others and to herself act as death’s servant, to herself promote their end, to herself stand against her daughters in place of an executioner.

John imputes extraordinary suffering to a mother who kills her young daughters, and he not only excuses the killing but also lauds it because she did it to preserve virginity. John commends these martyrs as prime examples for mothers and daughters in his congregation. No doubt, this sermon worried not a few daughters whose reputations were at risk. [see, The Cult of the Saints: St. John Chrysostom, http://www.svspress.com/the-cult-of-the-saints-st-john-chrysostom/ ]

Cult of saints

Saint Ambrose replies to Marcellina, who had asked what should be thought of those who to escape violence killed themselves, by narrating the history of Pelagia, a virgin, with her mother and sister…

  1. As I am drawing near the close of my address, you make a good suggestion, holy sister, that I should touch upon what we ought to think of the merits of those who have cast themselves down from a height, or have drowned themselves in a river, lest they should fall into the hands of persecutors, seeing that holy Scripture forbids a Christian to lay hands on himself. And indeed as regards virgins placed in the necessity of preserving their purity, we have a plain answer, seeing that there exists an instance of martyrdom.
  2. Saint Pelagia lived formerly at Antioch, being about fifteen years old, a sister of virgins, and a virgin herself. She shut herself up at home at the first sound of persecution, seeing herself surrounded by those who would rob her of her faith and purity, in the absence of her mother and sisters, without any defence, but all the more filled with God. What are we to do, unless, says she to herself, you, a captive of virginity, takest thought? I both wish and fear to die, for I meet not death but seek it. Let us die if we are allowed, or if they will not allow it, still let us die. God is not offended by a remedy against evil, and faith permits the act. In truth, if we think of the real meaning of the word, how can what is voluntary be violence? It is rather violence to wish to die and not to be able. And we do not fear any difficulty. For who is there who wishes to die and is not able to do so, when there are so many easy ways to death? For I can now rush upon the sacrilegious altars and overthrow them, and quench with my blood the kindled fires. I am not afraid that my right hand may fail to deliver the blow, or that my breast may shrink from the pain. I shall leave no sin to my flesh. I fear not that a sword will be wanting. I can die by my own weapons, I can die without the help of an executioner, in my mother’s bosom.
  3. She is said to have adorned her head, and to have put on a bridal dress, so that one would say that she was going to a bridegroom, not to death. But when the hateful persecutors saw that they had lost the prey of her chastity, they began to seek her mother and sisters. But they, by a spiritual flight, already held the field of chastity, when, as on the one side, persecutors suddenly threatened them, and on the other, escape was shut off by an impetuous river, they said, what do we fear? See the water, what hinders us from being baptized? And this is the baptism whereby sins are forgiven, and kingdoms are sought. This is a baptism after which no one sins. Let the water receive us, which is wont to regenerate. Let the water receive us, which makes virgins. Let the water receive us, which opens heaven, protects the weak, hides death, makes martyrs. We pray You, God, Creator of all things, let not the water scatter our bodies, deprived of the breath of life; let not death separate our obsequies, whose lives affection has always conjoined; but let our constancy be one, our death one, and our burial also be one.
  4. Having said these words, and having slightly girded up the bosom of their dress, to veil their modesty without impeding their steps, joining hands as though to lead a dance, they went forward to the middle of the river bed, directing their steps to where the stream was more violent, and the depth more abrupt. No one drew back, no one ceased to go on, no one tried where to place her steps, they were anxious only when they felt the ground, grieved when the water was shallow, and glad when it was deep. One could see the pious mother tightening her grasp, rejoicing in her pledges, afraid of a fall lest even the stream should carry off her daughters from her. These victims, O Christ, said she, do I offer as leaders of chastity, guides on my journey, and companions of my sufferings. [On Virgins, Book III, Chapter 7:32-35]

Ambrose virgins.jpg

SERMONS OF CHURCH FATHERS CONDEMNING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

St. Augustine of Hippo, That Christians Have No Authority for Committing Suicide in Any Circumstances Whatever, City of God Chapter 20.

It is not without significance, that in no passage of the holy canonical books there can be found either divine precept or permission to take away our own life, whether for the sake of entering on the enjoyment of immortality, or of shunning, or ridding ourselves of anything whatever.  Nay, the law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says, “Thou shalt not kill.”  This is proved especially by the omission of the words “thy neighbor,” which are inserted when false witness is forbidden:  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”  Nor yet should any one on this account suppose he has not broken this commandment if he has borne false witness only against himself.  For the love of our neighbor is regulated by the love of ourselves, as it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  If, then, he who makes false statements about himself is not less guilty of bearing false witness than if he had made them to the injury of his neighbor; although in the commandment prohibiting false witness only his neighbor is mentioned, and persons taking no pains to understand it might suppose that a man was allowed to be a false witness to his own hurt; how much greater reason have we to understand that a man may not kill himself, since in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” there is no limitation added nor any exception made in favor of any one, and least of all in favor of him on whom the command is laid!  And so some attempt to extend this command even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature.  But if so, why not extend it also to the plants, and all that is rooted in and nourished by the earth?  For though this class of creatures have no sensation, yet they also are said to live, and consequently they can die; and therefore, if violence be done them, can be killed.  So, too, the apostle, when speaking of the seeds of such things as these, says, “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die;” and in the Psalm it is said, “He killed their vines with hail.”  Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to pull a flower?  Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichæans?  Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation, nor of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses; if so, then it remains that we understand that commandment simply of man.  The commandment is, “Thou shall not kill man;” therefore neither another nor yourself, for he who kills himself still kills nothing else than man.

penguin-city-of-god

St. Augustine of Hippo, Of Suicide Committed Through Fear of Punishment or Dishonor, City of God Chapter, Book I, Chapter 17.

And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to forgive them?  And as for those who would not put an end to their lives, lest they might seem to escape the crime of another by a sin of their own, he who lays this to their charge as a great wickedness is himself not guiltless of the fault of folly.  For if it is not lawful to take the law into our own hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die.  Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God’s mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence?  How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment!  For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own:  for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime.  Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent to escape another’s guilty act, and perpetrate upon himself a sin of his own, that the sin of another may not be perpetrated on him?

The suicide of judas
The Suicide of Judas, ca. 1492. Fresco at Chapel of Notre Dame des Fontaine, France.

 

 

The “Dragon-Slayer” Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church

NOTE: The following article is a brief compilation of dragon accounts found in the Synaxarion of pre-Schism Orthodox Saints. Though some Orthodox commentators interpret these incidents as allegorical—either symbolizing the devil, paganism, or heresy—the fact remains that many of the Synaxarion of both Eastern and Western Saints before the Great Schism contain accounts of dragons, satyrs, centaurs, and other mythological creatures.

dragon_ancient

20th century Christian “rationalism” easily allocates dragons to the category of “allegory.” Yet even in the 21st century many of the simple village Greeks (Οι χωριάτες) still interpret these synaxarion literally—i.e. they believe that these saints literally slew dragons. It is impossible to determine the percentage of the medieval population that interpreted these stories literally. However, even the highly educated and God-inspired Church Fathers wrote and taught about the real existence of mythological creatures [St. Photius the Great, St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Damascene, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, etc.] Though the following compilation is by no means a complete list, it will give the reader an understanding of the widespread belief in dragons (and other imaginary creatures) throughout medieval Orthodox Christendom.

bel

Prophet Daniel (December 17, †6th century BC): Bel and the Dragon is an apocryphal Jewish story which appears as chapter 14 of the Septuagint Greek version of the Book of Daniel and is accepted as scripture by some Christians, though not in Jewish tradition.  Daniel slays the dragon by baking pitch, fat, and hair (trichas) to make cakes (mazas, barley-cakes, but translated “lumps”) that cause the dragon to burst open upon consumption:

bel_dragon

“And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped. And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him. Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God. But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave. Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon’s mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder: and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship. When they of Babylon heard that, they took great indignation, and conspired against the king, saying, The king is become a Jew, and he hath destroyed Bel, he hath slain the dragon, and put the priests to death. So they came to the king, and said, Deliver us Daniel, or else we will destroy thee and thine house. Now when the king saw that they pressed him sore, being constrained, he delivered Daniel unto them: Who cast him into the lions’ den: where he was six days.” (Daniel 14:23-31)

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5834178

St. Thomas the Apostle (October 6, 72): St. Thomas slays a dragon in India (see Acts of Thomas 30-3, ca. 220-40 AD). The apocryphal Acts of Thomas exhibit both Gnostic and Encratite affinities. The action takes place during St. Thomas’ mission to India. The fundamental correspondence with the Gospel of Thomas Tale and in particular with Lucian’s Philopseudes tale is striking.

St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)
St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)

St. Philip the Apostle (November 4, 80): It is to St. Philip that the richest of all early hagiographical dragon-slaying narratives attach. Two closely related 4th-century AD Greek texts, the Acts of Philip and the Martyrion of Philip, bestow upon him three major dragon fights—doublets in origin, no doubt, but each now strongly differentiated and of considerable interest in its own right. These tales are important not only for their complex engagement with the classical dragon-slaying tradition, but also for the light they shed upon the religious battles of their own day. [See Acts of Philip 8:4, 7, 15-17, 9(V), 11:2-8, 13:1-4, 14:1-3, 14:7-9, 15.1 Martyrion of Philip 2(A), 7(V), 12-17 (V), 19-20 (V), 24(V), 26-8(V), 32(V), 39(V), 42(V)]

martamarylazarusSt. Martha of Bethany (June 4, †1st century): According to legend, St Martha left Judea after Jesus’ death, around AD 48, and went to Provence with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. With them, Martha first settled in Avignon (now in France). A further legend relates that Martha then went to Tarascon, France, where a monster, the Tarasque, was a constant threat to the population. The Golden Legend describes it as a beast from Galicia; a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, that dwelt in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water. Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarasque

St Clement & the Graoully
St Clement & the Graoully

St. Clement, first Bishop of Metz (November 23, †1st century): According to legend, St. Clement, disciple of St. Pierre, would have arrived in Metz in the 1st century, accompanied by two disciples, Celeste and Felix. According to critics, the arrival of St. Clement only dates back to the end of the 3rd century, thus backing up allegations that St. Clement was a disciple of Saint Pierre.

The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral
The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral

St. Clement of Metz, like many other saints, is the hero of a legend in which he is the vanquisher of a local dragon. In the legend of Saint Clement it is called the Graoully or Graouilly. The legend states that the Graoully, along with countless other snakes, inhabited the local Roman amphitheater. The snakes’ breath had so poisoned the area that the inhabitants of the town were
effectively trapped in the town. After converting the local inhabitants to Christianity after they agreed to do so in return for ridding them of the dragon, Clement went into the amphitheater and quickly made the sign of the cross after the snakes attacked him. They immediately were tamed by this. Clement led the Graoully to the edge of the Seille, and ordered him to disappear into a place where there were no men or beasts. Orius did not convert to Christianity after Clement tamed the dragon. However, when the king’s daughter died, Clement brought her back from the dead, thereby resulting in the king’s conversion. The Graoully quickly became a symbol of the town of Metz and can be seen in numerous demonstrations of the city, since the 10th century. http://www.culture-routes.lu/php/fo_index.php?lng=en&dest=bd_ar_det&id=00000300

Saint Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112)

St. Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112): While legend claims that he was the son of a Scottish king, other legends place his birth in Ireland. Beatus was a convert, baptized in England by St. Barnabas. He was allegedly ordained a priest in Rome by St. Peter the Apostle, whereupon he was sent with a companion named Achates to evangelize the tribe of the Helvetii. The two set up a camp in Argovia near the Jura Mountains, where they converted many of the locals. Beatus then ventured south to the mountains above Lake Thun, taking up a hermitage in what is now known as St. Beatus Caves, near the village of Beatenberg, probably in the ninth century. Tradition states that this cave is where he fought a dragon. St. Beatus’ grave is located between the monastery and the cave entrance.

St. Beatus Caves
St. Beatus Caves

St. Quirinus of Vaux-sur-Seine, France (October 11, †285): No trustworthy historical report exists of the martyrs Nicasius, Quirinus, Scubiculus, and Pientia. One legend states that they died in 285 AD and that Nicasius was one of the first missionaries sent from Rome to evangelize Gaul in the first century. Nicasius thus may have been a regionary bishop. Quirinus is stated to have been his priest while his deacon was Scubiculus (who is known as Egobille in France). According to the legend he was put to death, together with Nicasius, in the pagus Vulcassinus (Vexin).

One variant of the legend states that Quirinus, Nicasius, and the deacon Scubiculus were sent to Gaul by Pope Clement, accompanying Saint Denis there. At Vaux-sur-Seine, Quirinus fought and defeated a dragon, which had lay waste to the area and poisoned a well.

Bienheure

St. Bienheuré of Vendôme, France (†3rd century): Tradition states that he lived in a cave near the town. Like St. George, he is said to have fought a dragon. His legend was conflated with that of Beatus of Lungern. The legend states that Bienheuré fasted and prayed before fighting the dragon. According to the legend, the dragon was so large that when it went to drink from a river at some distance away, its tail still lay in its cave. It was also so large that it drained the Loir when it drank from it. There are three versions of this combat: the first states that the dragon fled at the sight of St. Bienheuré; the second version states that Saint Bienheuré defeated the dragon with one blow from his staff; the third states that the dragon strangled itself with its chain.

St. Julian, First Bishop of Le Mans, France (January 27th, †3rd or 4th century): p He was consecrated a bishop at Rome and around the middle of the 3rd century, Julian was sent to Gaul to preach the Gospel to the tribe of the Cenomani. Their capital city was Civitas Cenomanorum (Le Mans), which was suffering from a shortage of drinking water. According to the legends surrounding his life, Julian thrust his staff into the ground and prayed. Water began to gush out of the ground. This miracle allowed him to preach freely within Le Mans. Other traditions state that St. Julian and one of his successors—St. Pavatius—killed the monsters which guarded a spring.

Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon

St. Crescentinus of Umbria, Italy (June 1, †303): Patron saint of Urbino. Crescentinus is traditionally said to have been a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. To escape the persecutions of Diocletian, he fled to Umbria, and found refuge at Thifernum Tiberinum (the present-day Città di Castello). His defeat of a dragon led to a successful evangelization of the region together with his companions. His mission was confined particularly to the Tiber valley and the ancient Thifernum Tiberinum. He was subsequently beheaded.

St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion
St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion

St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch, July 17, †303): According to the version of the story in Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, and she was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. Her mother having died soon after her birth, Margaret was nursed by a pious woman five or six leagues from Antioch. Having embraced Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God, she was disowned by her father, adopted by her nurse and lived in the country keeping sheep with her foster mother (in what is now stmargaret02Turkey). Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, asked to marry her but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical passage of skepticism, describes this last incident as “apocryphal and not to be taken seriously” (trans. Ryan, 1.369).

St. Ammon of Nitria (October 4, †357): I don’t believe that what we heard about Ammon, from a certain holy man we saw in the wilderness in the place in which he had lived, should be omitted. And so when, having parted from the blessed Apollonius, we proceeded to the part of the wilderness opposite Meridianum, we saw a dragon’s huge dragging tracks across the sand; his size had appeared so great that it looked like some treetrunk had been drawn through the sand. So that as we looked, we were struck with huge terror.

Monasticlocations

But the brothers who had escorted us encouraged us to dread nothing at all, but to rather to take hold of faith and follow the dragon’s track. ‘For you will see,’ they said, ‘how much faith may prevail, when you would have quenched it out of us. For we kill many dragons and snakes and vipers* with our hands; for as we read it written that the Savior allows those believing in Him “to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”‘ (Lk. 10:19) But with them saying this, we dreaded more and more because of the fragility of our faithlessness, and we asked them not to want to follow the dragon’s tracks, but rather that we might proceed straight on the road. Yet one of them, impatient, had followed the dragon with alacrity. And when he had found its cave not far off, he called us so that we might have gone to him and seen the end of the business.

Yet another of the brothers who dwelt nearby in the desert hurried to meet us, and forbade us to follow the dragon, saying we could not endure his appearance, especially because we were not used to seeing anything such as that. Truly, he said that he himself frequently saw that same beast of incredible devastation, and that it was fifteen cubits long. And when he had advised us against approaching the place, he hurried himself to pull away, recall, and turn back the brother who had awaited us, prepared for the beast’s killing and unwilling to depart unless he had killed it…

St Ammon of Nitria

“Afterwards, at a different time, with a certain most immense dragon having laid waste to the neighboring regions and killed many, the inhabitants of that place came to the above-mentioned Father, asking him that he might kill the beast for their region; and at the same time, that they might persuade the old man to mercy, they brought a shepherd’s young son with them who had been terrified out of his mind by only a sight of the dragon, and had felled and been carried off, unable to move and swollen, from only the dragon’s breath. Then he restored health to this boy, indeed by anointing him with oil.

“Meanwhile, he would promise nothing to those urging him to kill the dragon himself, as if one who could not help them with anything. But rising early, he went off to the beast’s sleeping place, and fixed his knees to the earth, begging the Lord. Then the beast began to come against him with a huge attack, sending out foul snorting and hisses and rattles. But fearing nothing of this, he said, turning toward the dragon, ‘May Christ, the Son of God, Who shall destroy the great whale, destroy you.’ And when that old man spoke, immediately that direst dragon also vomiting poison with every breath, blew up, bursting down the middle.

“But when the neighboring inhabitants would have gathered and wondered at it, unable to bear the violence of the stink, they got together an immense mass of sand over it — with Father Ammon still standing by, because not even when the beast was dead did they dare approach it without him.” (St. Rufinus of Aquileia’s Historia Monachorum, chapter 8. (PL 21: 420, 14 – 422, 4.)

St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome (January 2, 335): Pope Sylvester I was called in to kill a dragon that lived in a moat and devoured three hundred people daily. He went up to the beastie, called out Christ’s name, and bound its jaws together with a rope, when he then fixed permanently with the sign of the cross. St. Sylvester is often depicted leading a dragon on a chain.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
There are two different versions of the Acts of Silvester—one dated ca. 500 AD and the other text a century or so earlier. Both texts project the dragon as an object of pagan cult. The A text has the Vestal Virgins taking food down into its cave to it. The B text is less specific about the identity of the virgins and ascribes the lead role in its cult rather to an undefined group of ‘mages’, no doubt in a desire to emphasize the fraud and illegitimacy of the creature’s worship. Whilst the A text does not specify the actual location of its dragon’s cave, the B text locates it in the Tarpeian rock. This was some 300 yards distant from Vesta’s temple in the Forum. Cakes of grain and honey were regularly given to the sacred snakes, both real and imaginary, that lived in Greek and Roman shrines. These narratives offer one of the most striking examples amongst Christian ones of the pestilential breath the dragon can produce. Silvester defeats the dragon by locking it up with key and chain in an abyss; thus the dragon is confined deep inside the earth, albeit in its own hole. This is also the final fate of the dragons faced by Thomas and Philip.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon
Saint Silvester stops the dragon

St. Donatus of Arezzo (August 7, †362): Passio of Donatus’ life was written by a bishop of Arezzo, Severinus. It states that Donatus brought back to life a woman named Euphrosina; fought and slew a dragon who had poisoned the local well; gave sight back to a blind woman named Syriana; and exorcised a demon that had been tormenting Asterius, the son of the Roman prefect of Arezzo.

180px-Hilarion_the_GreatSt. Hilarion the Hermit (October 21, †371): In Croatia, St. Hilarion destroyed a dragon by bidding the people to make a fire, into which he commanded the dragon to go. It did so and was cremated: “An enormous serpent, of the sort which the people of those parts call “boas” because they are so large that they often swallow oxen [boves], was ravaging the whole province far and wide, and was devouring not only flocks and herds, but husbandmen and shepherds who were drawn in by the force of its breathing. He [Hilarion] ordered a pyre to be prepared for it, then sent up a prayer to Christ, called forth the reptile, bade it climb the pile of wood, and then applied the fire. And so before all the people he burnt the savage beast to ashes. But now he began anxiously to ask what he was to do, whither to betake himself. Once more he prepared for flight, and in thought ranged through solitary lands, grieving that his miracles could speak of him though his tongue was silent.” (St. Jerome, Life of St. Hilarion the Hermit, Paragraph 39, http://www.voskrese.info/spl/jer-hilarion.html )

[It is perhaps worth mentioning that a short way down the coast from Epidaurus was the town of Bouthoé, (now Budva, Montenegro), famous in legend as the place to which the dragon-slaying hero Cadmus and his wife Harmonia had retired in old age, and where by some accounts they had themselves assumed reptilian forms. The town was supposedly named for the oxen (boés) which had drawn their cart from Greece to Illyria.]

Mercurialis of Forlì

St. Mercurialis, First Bishop of Forlì (May 23, †406): was the Christian bishop of Forlì, in Romagna. The historical figure known as Mercurialis attended the Council of Rimini in 359 and died around 406. He was a zealous opponent of paganism and Arianism. Many remarkable adventures were woven onto legends about his life. The legend states that he was the first bishop of Forlì, during the Apostolic Age, and saved the city by killing a dragon. He has often been depicted in this act, imagery that resembles that associated with St. George. The cathedral of Forlì is named after him.

marcel01

St. Marcellus, Bishop of Paris, Confessor (November 1, †5th century): The life of St. Marcellus was written by Venantius Fortunatus. St. Marcellus scared off a dragon that was attacking tiny pre-medieval Paris. The dragon in this story is ambiguous, being either chthonic or aquatic, and the saint in banishing it gives it the choice of disappearing into the desert, that is the wilderness, or the sea, which in the Parisian case is the river.

Fortunatus  then goes into all sorts of considerations of dragons in the Fathers, dragons in medieval saints’ legends, Rogation procession dragons, and so on. He points out that dragons often are explicitly a symbol of a particular nation (like the Welsh and Saxon dragons fighting each other, or the Draco Normannicus), or are thought of as just an impressive animal (Romans and medievals believed that dragons were the largest animal in existence, as Mediterranean whales were big but not as big as oceangoing whales), or as a symbol of pagan beliefs or an unjust government. They don’t always represent the Devil, although they often do. St. Marcellus came to be known as the “Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters.”

st-keyne-web

St Keyne (October 5, †505): The virgin recluse, called variously St. Cain, Keyne or Ceinwen, migrated from Brecknock in Wales to Keynsham in Somersetshire. The town is named after the Saint. It is said that when she arrived there, the lord of the manor gave her a piece of land, but it was so infested with huge venomous snakes that no prospective converts would visit her. Undismayed, she turned the snakes into stone, and tradition claims that the fossilised ammonites, which abound in the area, are their remains.

St Vigor

St. Vigor, Bishop of Bayeux (November 1, 537): When he had made the Sign of the Cross and made the dragon unable to resist him, and he had leashed the dragon with his stole in the best approved French style (making it “like a tame sheep”), he handed the dragon’s leash to Theudemir, with instructions to take it to the seashore, so that it would have no more power on the land.  the taming of the Dragon of Cerisy Forest was legendarily the reason that Volusianus, a local nobleman, gave the land to St. Vigor to start the monastery of Cerisy.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon

St. Leonard of Limousin (†559): A Frankish nobleman who was baptised at the court of King Clovis in 498 by St Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, and then settled for a religious life. St. Leonard’s prayers ensured the safe delivery of Clovis’s child, and he was given as a reward as much land as he could ride round on a donkey in a day. He established a monastery on this land at Noblac near Limoges, and became its abbot. In his old age he became a forest hermit. There is a forest in West Sussex, England named after him.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon Bench
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon Bench

There is also a legend of St. Leonard the Dragon Slayer who lived in the forest and slew the last dragon in England. Æthelweard’s Chronicle of 770AD mentions “Monstrous serpents were seen in the country of the Southern Angles that is called Sussex”. St. Leonard was injured and Lilies of the Valley grow where his blood fell – an area of the forest is still called The Lily Beds. As a reward he requested that snakes be banished and the nightingales which interrupted his prayers should be silenced. However, dragons were still around in August 1614 as a pamphlet was published with the title “Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson. In Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonards Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August, 1614”.

St. Samson and Dragon

St. Samson of Dol (July 28, †565): Some historians have argued that the St. Vigor story is drawn from the first Vita of Samson of Dol. However there are crucially different details in the two stories. The two saints do have a young companion in each story, but in the Samson story the boy is merely an observer and does not lead the tamed dragon away. Moreover, Samson flings the dragon from a height, and there is no mention of waters of any kind, in contrast to the sea in the Vigor story. Finally the dragon is commanded to die by Samson, while it is clearly left alive by Vigor. Saint Samson defeats another dragon later on, which he does fling into the sea, and charges to die in the name of Christ. In another of St. Samson’s dragon stories, he banishes the dragon without killing it. But instead of flinging it into the sea, the saint commands it to cross the river Seine, and to remain under a certain stone, revealing this dragon as a chthonic figure.

Saint Serf or Serbán (Servanus) (July 1, †583) is a saint of Scotland. Serf was venerated in western Fife. He is also called the apostle of Orkney, with less historical plausibility.  At Dunning, in Strathearn, he is said to have slain a dragon with his pastoral staff.

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St. Veranus, Bishop of Cavaillon (October 19, †590): A French saint, with a cultus in Italy. St. Gregory of Tours writes of miracles performed by Veranus, including the expulsion of a dragon. St. Veranus captured and expelled a winged dragon that had been terrorizing the region near his hermitage in Vaucluse. Making the sign of the cross, he commanded the creature “by the living and eternal God” never to harm anyone again.

St Gregory of tours

St. Gregory of Tours (November 17, †594):  In 589, a great flood of the Tiber River sent a torrent of water rushing through the city of Rome. According to Gregory, a contemporary bishop of Tours with contacts to the south, the floodwaters carried with them some rather remarkable detritus: several dying serpents and, perhaps most strikingly, the corpse of a dragon. The flooding was soon followed by a visitation of bubonic plague, which had been haunting Mediterranean ports since 541: “…In the month of November, the River Tiber had covered Rome with such flood water…A great school of water-snakes swam down the course of the river to the sea, in their midst a tremendous dragon as big as a tree trunk, but these monsters were drowned in the turbulent salt sea-waves and their bodies were washed up on the shore. As a result there followed an epidemic, which caused swellings in the groin” (History of the Franks, Book X, chapter 1).

Saint Carantoc of Wales (May 16, †6th century): Many details of his life are obscure or contradictory. The people of Carhampton who had been terrorised by a flying dragon. King Arthur said that he would strike a bargain with the saint. If St Carantoc could call up the dragon from the marches then he would restore the Altar to its owner. St Carantoc nodded and turned away in prayer, uttering a strange incantation over the swamp. Immediately the bog heaved and parted and amidst a terrible smell the dragon appeared right in front of the retinue. Only Arthur and the Saint stood their ground while the rest backed away in horror. The dragon the trotted up to the Saint and bent its head in submission. St Carantoc then led the dragon to the court of King Catho at Dunster Castle where the dragon was forced to vow never to hurt another soul again. So transformed was the dragon by the Saint that it never ate meat again and only used its fiery breath to aid the villagers in lighting bonfires in the rain. St Carantoc was granted land by the Kings and built his chapel by the river at Carhampton.

Saint Romanus, Gargouille, and presumably, the convict

St. Romain of Rouen, France (October 23, †640): The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that his legend has little historical value with little authentic information. St. Romain caught the Gargouille. On the left bank of the Seine were wild swamps through which rampaged a huge serpent or dragon who “devoured and destroyed people and beasts of the field”. Romanus decided to hunt in this area but could only find one man to help him, a man condemned to death who had nothing to lose. They arrived in the serpent’s land and Romanus drew the sign of the cross on the beast. It then lay down at his feet and let Romanus put his stole on him as a leash, in which manner he led it into the town to be condemned to death and burned on the parvis of the cathedral (or thrown into the Seine according to other authors). This legend was the origin for the bishops’ privilege (lasting until 1790) to pardon one prisoner condemned to death each year, by giving the pardoned man or woman the reliquary holding Romanus’s relics in a procession.

793 - Image of a fire dragon

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Entry for 793: “In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

Viking Dragon Ship.  Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD
Viking Dragon Ship. Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD

Saint Hermentaire (†10th century): Draguignan is a commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, in southeastern France. According to legend, the name of the city is derived from the Latin name “Draco/Draconem” (dragon): a bishop, called Saint Hermentaire, killed a dragon and saved people. The Latin motto of Draguignan is Alios nutrio, meos devoro (I feed others, I devour my children).  The name of Draguignan (“Dragonianum”) appeared for the first time in 909.

Coat of arms of Draguignan
Coat of arms of Draguignan

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