“At Rome, St. Zoe, martyr, wife of the blessed martyr Nicostratus. Whilst praying at the tomb of the apostle St. Peter, during the time of Diocletian, she was seized by the persecutors, and cast into a dark dungeon; then being suspended on a tree by her neck and hair, and suffocated by a loathsome smoke, she yielded up her soul in the confession of the Lord.”
According to the Acts of Saint Sebastian, Nicostratus, a Roman magistrate, had custody of saints Mark and Marcellian in his house during the 30 days grace given to them to renounce their faith, during which time their family members and friends could visit them and try to persuade them to return to that Old Time Religion which was good enough for their fathers and good enough for their mothers and good enough for them. Sebastian, who had converted the twins, also entered the house, and in an hour-long exhortation urged the prisoners to remain faithful, promising them a crown of glory and everlasting life. At this point, Our Lord appeared with his angels in a golden light and commended St. Sebastian.
From a 1526 Martyology “in Englysshe after the vse of the Chirche of Salisbury”: “The .v. day of Iuly. At Rome ye feest of ye reuerend matrone saynt Zoe, that bycause she praysed the vertue of saynt Peter was put in harde prison & after many cruell turmentes she was hanged with her owne heere & a grete stynkynge smoke made vunder her & so put to martyrdom.”
Zoe (Mrs. Nicostratus) was present during the homily and also was given the grace to see the light and the angels. Because an illness had robbed her of her voice and her strength six years previously, she could only kneel at Sebastian’s feet and indicate her belief and her wish to be baptized by use of her own sign-language. Sebastian made the Sign of the Cross on her mouth and said, “If I am a true servant and soldier of God, He will restore your speech to you, even as He opened the mouth of His prophet Zacharias.”
Upon which Zoe exclaimed, “Blessed art thou, and all who believe on the Lord Jesus!” or in the longer version: “The word that thou hast said is very true, and blessed be thou and the word of thy mouth, and blessed be all they that by thee believe in Jesus Christ the son of God, for I have seen certainly seven angels before thee holding a book, in which was written all that which thou hast said, and cursed be they that believe thee not.”
[I guess after six years of silence, she felt the need to say as much as she could.]
When anyone could get a word in edgewise, Nicostratus, seeing this miraculous cure of his wife, also converted, and then said to Mark and Marcellian, “You are free to depart, and if the emperor insists on punishing me for this breach of duty, I will gladly lay down my life for your sake.” He and Zoe and several others in the house, including sixteen prisoners, were baptized. His martyrdom and birthday into heaven is celebrated on 7 July.
From a Martyrology “according to the reformed Calendar” in use in 1627 [not 1969]: "At Rome of S. Zoa Martyr, wife to S. Nicostratus alfo a Martyr, who paying [sic, probably ‘praying’] at S. Peters body, vnder Diocletian Emperour being apprehended by the perfecutors, and caft into a darke, and filthy pryfon; being afterward hanged on a tree by her hayre, and neacke, & a moft loathfome fmoke rayfed vnder her, in the confeffion of her fayth, gaue vp the Ghoft.”
Zoe did not have long to enjoy her restored health and voice. While praying at the tomb of Saint Peter, she was apprehended by local law enforcement who ordered her to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods as the law required. With her newly acquired voice she resisted the command, showing such contempt for the pagan gods that she was immediately sent to prison; unlike Mark and Marcellian, she was not given the white-collar prison of her own home. She lay in a stinking dungeon without light and without food, hearing only the taunting voices of her inhuman jailers saying that she would be left there to starve.
Finding that she would not apostatize, the local prefect ordered her death. Those Romans being an imaginative lot, they chose to hang her by her hair over a fire of damp straw so that instead of a relatively quick death by burning, she was both slow-roasted and suffocated, after which her body was dumped in the Tiber. As the first of that company of converts to suffer death, her example encouraged the rest, who soon followed her in gaining the heavenly crown.
In honor of Saint Zoe, I think tonight’s dinner will include Angel Hair pasta and something smoked – today being a Friday, probably smoked salmon (which is good any day of the year). Next year, perhaps a version of Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.
Artwork: Italian devotional card, swiped from Wikipedia