- Saint Apollonia
Eastern Orthodox Church Roman Catholic Church Coptic Church
caption="Saint Apollonia", by
Francisco de Zurbarán.
titles=Virgin & Martyr
tongs(sometimes with a tooth) in them, depicted holding a cross or martyr's palmor crown
dentists toothproblems Achterbos, Belgium Ariccia, Italy Cuccaro Monferrato, Italy
Saint Apollonia was one of a group of virgin martyrs who suffered in Alexandria during a local uprising against the
Christians prior to the persecution of Decius. According to legend, her tortureincluded having all of her teethviolently pulled out or shattered. For this reason, she is popularly regarded as the patroness of dentistryand those suffering from toothacheor other dental problems.
Ecclesiastical historianshave claimed that in the last years of Emperor Philip the Arab(reigned 244–249), during otherwise undocumented festivities to commemorate the millennium of the founding of Rome (traditionally in 753 BC, putting the date about AD 248), the fury of the Alexandrian mob rose to a great height, and when one of their poets prophesied a calamity, they committed bloody outrages on the Christians, whom the authorities made no effort to protect.
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' "Historia Ecclesiae". [ Eusebius of Caesarea, "Historia Ecclesiae", I:vi: 41.] After describing how a Christian man and woman, Metras and Quinta, were seized and killed by the mob, and how the houses of several other Christians were pillaged, Dionysius continues: :"At that time Apollonia, "parthénos presbytis" (by which he very probably means not a virgin advanced in years as is generally reported, but 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."
This brief tale was extended and moralized in
Jacobus de Voragine's " Golden Legend" (c. 1260).
Apollonia and a whole group of early martyrs did not await the death they were threatened with, but either to preserve their chastity or because they were confronted with the alternative of renouncing their faith or suffering death, voluntarily embraced the death prepared for them, an action that runs perilously close to
suicide, some thought. Augustine of Hippotouches on this question in the first book of " The City of God", apropos suicide:
:"But, they say, during the time of persecution certain holy women plunged into the water with the intention of being swept away by the waves and drowned, and thus preserve their threatened chastity. Although they quitted life in this wise, nevertheless they receive high honour as martyrs in the Catholic Church and their feasts are observed with great ceremony. This is a matter on which I dare not pass judgment lightly. For I know not but that the Church was divinely authorized through trustworthy revelations to honour thus the memory of these Christians. It may be that such is the case. May it not be, too, that these acted in such a manner, not through human caprice but on the command of God, not erroneously but through obedience, as we must believe in the case of
Samson? When, however, God gives a command and makes it clearly known, who would account obedience thereto a crime or condemn such pious devotion and ready service?" [ Augustine of Hippo, " The City of God", I:26]
The narrative of Dionysius does not suggest the slightest reproach as to this act of St. Apollonia; in his eyes she was as much a martyr as the others, and as such she was revered in the Alexandrian Church. In time, her feast was also popular in the West. A later legend mistakenly duplicated Apollonia, making her a Christian virgin of
Romein the reign of Julian the Apostate, suffering the same dental fate.
Eastern Orthodoxand Roman CatholicChurches celebrate the feast dayof St. Apollonia on February 9, and she is popularly invoked against the toothache because of the torments she had to endure. She is represented in art with pincers in which a tooth is held. In a late 14th century illumination from a French manuscript, widely distributed as a poster that is considered suitable for dentists' offices in the U.S., the tooth in her pincers glows from within, like a lightbulb.
Saint Apollonia is one of the two
patron saints of Catania. In Germany, where the Fourteen Holy Helpers("vierzehn heiligen") or "Nothelfer" are singled out as the patron saints of daily life, Apollonia, protectress against toothache, is one of them.
William S. Walsh noted that, though the major part of her relics were preserved in the former church of St. Apollonia at Rome, her head at the
Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, her arms at the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, parts of her jaw in St. Basil's, and other relics are in the Jesuit church at Antwerp, in St. Augustine's at Brussels, in the Jesuit church at Mechlin, in St. Cross at Liege, in the treasury of the cathedral of Porto, and in several churches at Cologne. [William S. Walsh, "Curiosities of Popular Customs And of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances, and Miscellaneous Antiquities", 1897] These relics consist in some cases of a solitary tooth or a splinter of bone.
There was a church dedicated to her in Rome, near the Basilica di Santa Maria in
Trastevere, but it no longer exists. Only its little square, the "Piazza Sant'Apollonia" remains. One of the principal train stations of Lisbonis also named for this saint. There is a statue of Saint Apollonia in the church at Locronan, France.
The island of Mauritius was originally named "Santa Apolonia" in her honor in 1507 by Portuguese navigators.
Cult in England
England, there are 52 known images of her in various churches which survived the ravages of the 16th century Commissioners. These are concentrated in Devonand East Anglia. Most of these images are on the panels of roodscreens or in stained glasswith only one being a stone capital ( Stoke-in-Teignhead, Devon).
By county, some of the locations are:
Cornwall: : Poundstock
*Devon: :Alphington (now gone), Ashton,
Combe Martin, Exeter Cathedral(tapestry in St. Gabriel's chapel), Holne, Kenn, Kenton, Kingskerswell(now faded beyond recognition), Manaton, Payhembury, South Milton, Stoke-in-Teignhead, Torbryan, Ugborough, Whimple(now gone), Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Wolborugh(Newton Abbot)
Lincolnshire: :Long Sutton
Norfolk: : Barton Turf, Docking, Horsham St Faith, Ludham, Norwich(St. Stephen's), Norwich-over-the-water(church disused), Sandringham
Somerleyton, Westhall, Chiltern
Her image is the side support of the arms of the
British Dental Association.
*Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. "The Penguin Dictionary of Saints". 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-140-51312-4.
* [http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=149035 Virgin-martyr Apollonia] Orthodox
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01617c.htm St. Apollonia] article from "
The Catholic Encyclopedia" (1907)
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