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October 8

(or May 4 Catholic)

Saint of the day:

Saint Pelagia of Tarsus

Saint Pelagia of Tarsus' Story

There are several legends associated with the name Pelagia. Various legends recount the story of a former dancer who eventually became a hermit in Jerusalem, disguising herself as a monk to escape an unwanted marriage.

The historical Pelagia was a young Christian woman in Antioch, who is now celebrated as a virgin and martyr. Both St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose refer to her in their preaching as an example of Christian faithfulness. They tell the story of Pelagia, who was only just fifteen, leaping from a roof of a building rather than offer a sacrifice to pagan gods during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian.

Yet, over time, the faithful Pelagia, virgin and martyr, has become confused with this first Pelagia, also known as “Pelagia the Penitent,” who was, for a brief moment, Antioch's most prominent actress. The theatre at Antioch, as John Chrysostom notes constantly in his homilies, was neither the recreation of classic Greek tragedies nor a thoughtful presentation of story-telling, but more like a burlesque show, full of tantalizing sights for idle urbanites. Thus, Pelagia's reputation as a famous actress was certainly for performances that were measured on criteria other than artistic merit. Pelagia was renowned for her wealth, her entourage, and her meticulous care for her body even in the midst of her hedonistic lifestyle. After an Antiocene priest named Nonnus condemned himself and his brothers-in-Christ for ogling at Pelagia, Pelagia appeared at Nonnus' church next Sunday. After Nonnus preached a powerful sermon, Pelagia instantly desired to become Christian. She prostrated herself before Nonnus, begging for a baptismal robe, until he agreed to let her be baptized. After three days, Pelagia's legend claims that, after giving away all her possessions, she fled to Jerusalem and lived in extreme poverty in a cave on the Mount of Olives, eventually dying as a result of her harsh, penitential lifestyle.

This confusion between the two stories has left St. Pelagia with the title of patron saint of actresses. Although the confusion of their legends is responsible for their patronage, the faithful Pelagia's leap from the roof of a building to prevent herself from being forced blasphemy is certainly a theatrical gesture of holiness, and perhaps would earn her patronage of the theatre on its own. Relics of the historical St. Pelagia, virgin and martyr, rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica, and her image is used here with permission from

St. Pelagia, martyr and patron saint of actresses—pray for us!




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