23 September 2010

23 September - Saint Thecla

Astronomy: Full Harvest Moon rises at 6:24 pm (EDT)
Memorial of Saint Thecla (1st century)

The image here to the right was in our old Family Bible, with the inscription "Virgin and Child with Saint Inez and Saint Tecla" (El Greco)***, and while I knew who Saint Inez (Agnes) was, I had never heard of Saint Tecla.

Now I have.

It is a popular name, and there are several saints who carry it, but today's Saint Tecla was a maiden of Iconium who lived in the 1st century, converted to Christianity (perhaps under the guidance of Saint Paul), and thereafter supported Christian missionary activity.  An oral tradition, into which several similar stories of other female martyrs were mixed, gave rise to a 2nd century writing called "The Acts of Paul and Thecla", which for some reason took hold of the Eastern imagination, and assured that her cult would flourish.  They call her "Protomartyr" (except that she wasn't martyred) and "Equal to the Apostles" a title given to several saints as a kind of accolade for "outstanding service in the spreading and assertion of Christianity, comparable to that of the original Apostles".

I tried to summarize the story, but I can't do it without snark showing through every line.  "Pious fiction" and "religious romance" are charitable labels.  It reads more like a Mary-Sue fanfic, with pornographic overtones.  The heroine is a Paul-groupie and stalks him all over until she runs him to earth - actually under the earth - he's dead and buried.  She is, in true Mary-Sue fashion, so lovely that all men desire her and several try to rape her (even as a 90-year old woman), and in true Mary-Sue fashion, she bravely confronts her tormentors and their torments with fearlessness, nobility and good sense.

Poor Saint Thecla really deserves better.

Tarragona, Spain celebrates its patroness with the Santa Tecla Festival, 15 - 25 September, with religious ceremonies, parades, fireworks, music, dancing, and all-around merry-making.

***Yes, I know that this painting is labeled "Virgin and Child with Saint Agnes and Saint Martina".  Don't know why, except that it seems to be based on a supposition of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and even they suggest that it might be Saint Thekla instead.  Agnes is clearly indicated by her lamb; the other animal, the lion, has nothing to do with Martina, who was scourged with iron hooks (her usual symbols in art) and beheaded.