Monday, March 17, 2014

Saint Apollonia

Feast Day: February 9th
Patron saint of Dentists and those suffering tooth pain or dental disease.

Saint Apollonia was an Christian virgin of, advanced age, living in Alexandria, Egypt.  She was killed by pagans during a local persecution around the year 249.  The details of her demise were documented in Eusebius's Historia Ecclesiae (Church History).  He records a letter that was sent from Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch.  Dionysius laments the treatment of several of his people.  Of Apollonia he says:

"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."

As far as historical documents go, this is all that is really known about Apollonia, however, after she was proclaimed a saint, her story evolved.  She went from a woman of advanced years to a young maiden.  Instead of having her teath knocked out, they were pulled out one at a time. Here is the legend that grew from her martyrdom:

There lived in Alexandria during the first half of the third century a very opulent magistrate, of unknown name. He had married a wife whom he loved devotedly, and who loved him fondly in return. The only blot on the happiness of this pair was the fact that they had no children. They addressed earnest and unceasing prayers to Juno, Ceres, Jupiter, all the gods, to grant unto them a son or daughter to inherit their vast wealth, but all without avail. Three pious pilgrims arrived in Alexandria, and went from house to house asking alms in the name of the Redeemer and the Blessed Virgin, his mother, for they were tired and hungry. The magistrate’s wife, seated at her window one day saw them, and heard their petition at a house across the way. Her interest was aroused by their strange words, and she called to them saying: “What sort of begging is that of yours, and who are the gods in whose name you ask?” Wherefore the pilgrims told her of Christ, His life and teaching. And she asked them if the Virgin Mar}’ would hear her if she prayed that a child might be given her, and the pilgrims replied that the Virgin would be gracious to her without any doubt. Then the wife of the magistrate fell on her knees and prayed long and fervently to the Holy Virgin, and her request was granted and a daughter was born to her, to whom she gave the name of Apollonia.

The child grew into a maiden as lovely and graceful as a flower, and as good and pure as she was beautiful. The family of a Roman magistrate quite naturally conformed to the established religion of the state, but the mother never ceased to talk to her daughter about the wonderful circumstances of her birth, and about Christ and the Holy Virgin to whom she had addressed her prayers. Apollonia drank in all the details, and as she got older there sprang up in her heart a strong desire to be baptized and become a Christian. And Heaven did not leave her helpless. An angel came to her one day and led her out of Alexandria into the desert to the cell of Leonine, a disciple of Saint Anthony. Apollonia told him her story and her wish to be a Christian, and Leonine baptized her forthwith. Hardly had he done so than another angel swooped down from Heaven, and throwing a garment of shining white about Apollonia cried: “This is Apollonia, the servant of Jesus; Go, now, to Alexandria and preach the faith of Christ.

Apollonia returned home filled with ecstasy and zeal. She went among the people and preached to them with wonderful eloquence, making many converts. Before long complaints concerning her and her doings began to pour in on her father. Why did he, a Roman magistrate, allow his daughter to break so flagrantly the laws of the Empire?

He, much disturbed, called Apollonia to him to explain her conduct. She defended herself with dignity and fervor, and still kept on with her preaching and conversions, until her father, beside himself with anger, gave her up to the Roman governor to be dealt with as a criminal. The governor ordered her to be taken into the temple of one of the pagan gods, Serapis, most likely, and bade her fall on her knees before the statue of the deity and adore it. Apollonia flatly refused to comply. She advanced haughtily to the statue, made the sign of the cross, and commanded the demon inside to depart. There was an awful rumble, a crash, a shriek, and from the broken image the demon fled, crying: “The holy virgin, Apollonia, drives me forth.”

This proceeding served to send the governor into a fit of violent wrath. At his bidding the girl was bound to a column, and one by one her beautiful teeth were all pulled out with a pair of pincers. Then a big fire was kindled, and, as Apollonia persisted in her faith, she was flung headlong into the blaze, and there gave up her soul to God, being borne to Heaven by His angels."


In paintings and statues, Saint Apollonia is pictured as a young woman.  In her hand, there is usually a pair of pincers holding a tooth.  She may also be holding a palm frond as a symbol of her martyrdom.

"Illustrious virgin martyr, Apollonia,
Pray to the Lord for us
Lest for our offenses and sins we be punished By diseases of the teeth."


“Eternally omnipotent God, for whose honor blessed Apollonia, virgin and martyr, steadfastly suffered the horrible crushing-out of her teeth, grant Thou as we desire, that we may be made happy in commemoration of her, thru whose most pious intercession we were freed from toothache and all imminent evils. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”


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