Monday, February 16, 2009

The Story of Saint Eulalia, Virgin and Martyr

In the early years of the 4th century CE the Roman Emperor Diocletian decreed a persecution of Christians throughout the Empire. As a Roman province, Spain came under the edict, and in Barcelona Dacian, the Roman Consul, was doing his job. People scurried about, trying to survive. Many went underground, others abjured, and some were caught, tortured and killed.

Eulalia was a thirteen-year-old girl living with her parents in a pine-shaded villa overlooking the Mediterranean. She heard of the persecutions and was outraged. If nobody else would, she proposed to do something about it.

Knowing her temperament and worried about her safety, her parents watched her closely, but one night she escaped and ran down the hill to Dacian's palace. As soon as the doors opened in the morning, she insisted on seeing the Consul, and once in his presence denounced the persecutions and proclaimed herself a Christian and a willing martyr. Dacian knew her parents, and maybe he had teenage children himself, so he tried his best to reason with her. He said that if she offered just a tiny pinch of salt on the altar of Venus, he'd be willing to forget the whole thing and send her home.

She responded by kicking the altar and the statue of the goddess to the ground.

That set the Roman law enforcement machinery in motion. She was imprisoned, then dragged out and subjected to thirteen tortures, one for every year of her life. They put her into a barrel with nails and broken glass and threw her down a hillside. They cut off her breasts. They tied her to an x-shaped cross and set her on fire. She was still alive and unrepentant when Dacian got to torture #12, so he finally had her head cut off (torture #13). As she expired, a white dove flew out of her body and disappeared into the sky.

Dacian left her naked body out on the street as a final outrage. And then the real miracle happened: it was February 12, a time when the broom is already budding on Mediterranean hillsides. But on that day snow fell on Barcelona, and covered the martyr's body in a white shroud.

Today her remains are in the crypt of the city's cathedral. In the cloister, around a central fountain, a flock of thirteen white geese is kept in her memory.

There is a rich iconography of Saint Eulalia, most of it conventional: X-shaped cross and martyr's palm in hand, she rolls her eyes meekly up to heaven. But that is not my Saint Eulalia.

My Saint Eulalia is a bold pre-pubescent girl, afire with indignation and convinced that if nobody else dares, then she can and must do something to put the world to rights. (I feel for her parents.)

My Saint Eulalia does not roll her eyes mutely up to heaven. Instead, she raises her fists and rails against terror and injustice on earth.

In Greek, her name means “fair of speech.”

4 comments :

  1. Good God. What a tale.

    I made a point to use a saint name somewhere in each of my kids' names, but even though Sophia was a martyr (really she's an allegory...), nothing like this is in any of their tales.

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  2. Thanks for this, Lali, Serial Goatherd.

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  3. I never heard this story--and what a story! Sheesh. I guess St. Eulalia can be the patron saint of indignant 13-year olds--I have a few in my practice who could benefit from that sort of validation.

    The story helps maybe make sense of Eulalia being the battle cry of badgers...

    Happy (late) St's Day!

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  4. Bridgett,

    This is nothing compared to the stories of St. Agnes, or St. Lucy. At least St. Eulalia was not martyred for hanging on to her virginity. A lot of these stories have quite a sadistic tinge to them. I remember reading them as a 12-year-old and finding them disturbing.

    Alison,
    I found out that these days, in Barcelona, the Feast of St. Eulalia is the occasion of a four-day-festival for the city's children. She's become an icon for spunky kids

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