“At Alexandria, in the reign of Decius, the birthday of St. Apollonia, virgin, who had all her teeth plucked out by the persecutors; then having constructed and lighted a pyre, they threatened to burn her alive, unless she repeated certain impious words after them. Deliberating awhile with herself, she suddenly slipped from their grasp, and feeling and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, rushed voluntarily into the fire which they had prepared. The very authors of her death were struck with terror at the sight of a woman who was more willing to die than they to condemn her.”
Today is the feast of Saint Apollonia, virgin and martyr, who died around 250 A.D.
Her story is recounted in the Fourth Century Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, in a letter from Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria to Bishop Fabius of Antioch. First, a little background: “The persecution among us did not begin with the royal decree, but preceded it an entire year. The prophet and author of evils to this city, whoever he was, previously moved and aroused against us the masses of the heathen, rekindling among them the superstition of their country. And being thus excited by him and finding full opportunity for any wickedness, they considered this the only pious service of their demons, that they should slay us. … Then all with one impulse rushed to the homes of the pious, and they dragged forth whomsoever any one knew as a neighbor, and despoiled and plundered them. They took for themselves the more valuable property; but the poorer articles and those made of wood they scattered about and burned in the streets, so that the city appeared as if taken by an enemy....”
[Does this sound familiar, children? It should, if you have been paying attention to the news. Same country – Egypt. Same mob, stirred up to show their piety by slaying the Christians. And the year? 2011. Yep. Last year.]
Eusebius continues “…Then they seized also that most admirable virgin, Apollonia, an old woman, and, smiting her on the jaws, broke out all her teeth. And they made a fire outside the city and threatened to burn her alive if she would not join with them in their impious cries. And she, supplicating a little, was released, when she leaped eagerly into the fire and was consumed.”
She is invoked against toothache and all diseases of the teeth.
O Glorious Apollonia, patron saint of dentistry and refuge for all those suffering from diseases of the teeth, assist me by your intercession with God in my daily work, and intercede with Him to obtain for me a happy death. Pray that my heart, like yours, may be inflamed with the love of Jesus and Mary, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
O my God, bring me safe through temptation and strengthen me as you did our own patron Apollonia, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Artwork: Saint Apollonia, Hours of Catherine of Cleves. She is here shown as a young woman with her usual attribute, a tooth held in pincers.
A good first course for dinner tonight would be a cockle-warming soup called PASTA FAZULA (or Fazul). It utilizes ‘ditalini’, a small macaroni whose name means “little thimbles”, but which looks more like little teeth – perfect for St. Apollonia’s day. Like all good peasant dishes, there are as many variations as there are peasants, so feel free to add your own touch – vegetables, herbs, tomato sauce… Substitute olive oil for the pork and it will be suitable for those meatless days in Lent.
Pick over and wash 1 pound of dried beans (cannellini, pinto or navy will do) and soak overnight in 2 quarts of water (if you are in a hurry, bring the pot to a boil; boil for 2 minutes; cover and remove from heat; let it sit for an hour).
Sauté ½ cup of diced salt pork, bacon, or ham with 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons of minced onion, and a dash of chili pepper. Add this to the pot of beans. Cook beans until tender [plan on a couple of hours].
Cook 1 pound of ditalini and drain. Just before serving, add the ditalini to the bean pot, and simmer together for 5 minutes. Stir well. Top each serving with grated Romano or Parmesan.