Lydia of Thyatira
The name, "Lydia", meaning "the Lydian woman", by which she was known indicates that she was from Lydia in Asia Minor. Though she is commonly known as “St. Lydia” or even more simply “The Woman of Purple,” Lydia is given other titles: “of Thyatira,” “Purpuraria,” and “of Philippi (‘Philippisia’ in Greek).” “[Lydia’s] name is an ethnicon, deriving from her place of origin”. The first refers to her place of birth, which is a city in the Greek region of Lydia. The second comes from the Latin word for purple and relates to her connection with purple dye. Philippi was the city in which Lydia was living when she met St. Paul and his companions. All of these titles expound upon this woman’s background.
New Testament narrative
Acts 16 describes Lydia as follows:
A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one who worshiped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened to listen to the things which were spoken by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and stay." So she persuaded us.—Acts 16:14-15 World English Bible
Lydia was most likely a Greek even though she lived in a Roman settlement. She was evidently a well-to-do agent of a purple-dye firm in Thyatira, a city southeast of Pergamum and approximately 40 miles inland, across the Aegean Sea from Athens. Lydia insisted on giving hospitality to Saint Paul and his companions in Philippi. They stayed with her until their departure, through Amphipolis and Apollonia, to Thessalonica (Acts 16:40-17:1).
Paul, Silas, and Timothy were traveling through the region of Philippi when they encounter “a reputable businesswoman and possibly a widow… [who] was a righteous Gentile or ‘God-fearer’ attracted to Judaism”. “[S]he was one of a large group [considered]…sympathizers with Judaism, believers in the one God, but who had not yet become ‘proselytes’ or taken the final step to conversion to Judaism”.
Because these encounters and events take place “in what is now Europe,” Lydia is considered “the first ‘European’ Christian convert”.
“Thyatira in the province of Lydia (located in what is now western Turkey) was famous for the red [variety of purple] dye”. Lydia of Thyatira is most known as a “seller” or merchant of purple cloth, which is the likely reason for the Catholic Church naming her “patroness of dyers.” It is unclear as to if Lydia simply dealt in the trade of purple dye or whether her business included textiles as well, though all known icons of the saint depict her with some form of purple cloth. Most portray this holy woman wearing a purple shawl or veil, which allows many historians and theologians to believe that she was a merchant of specifically purple cloth.
There is some speculation regarding Lydia’s social status. Theologians disagree as to whether Lydia was a free woman or servant. “There is no direct evidence that Lydia had once been a slave, but the fact that her name is her place of origin rather than a personal name suggests this as at least a possibility”. Ascough states other examples of noble women named Lydia from the first or second centuries, so it is unlikely that she was actually a slave or servant.
Because women did not possess the same equality rights as modern women, it appears unusual that Lydia would be capable of inviting a group of foreign men to her house without a man’s consent. “The fact that there is no mention of a man has been used to deduce that she was a widow, but this has been challenged as a patriarchal interpretation”. Lydia’s evident social power exemplified by her control of a household and ownership of a house (which she offered to St. Paul and his companions) indicates that she was most likely a free woman and possibly a widow.
Lydia of Thyatira is recognized as a saint by several Christian denominations, though the feast day varies greatly. In the liturgical calendar of saints of the Latin Rite Catholic Church her feast day used to be celebrated on August 3, while it is now set on May 20; the Orthodox Church’s sects celebrate several days. The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America remembers St. Lydia’s on May 20  while the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church observes both June 25 and March 27 as her feast day. In the Eastern Orthodox Church her feast day is on May 20. The Lutheran churches are also divided: ELCA commemorates St. Lydia on January 27  while LCMS does so on October 25, along with Dorcas and Phoebe. Curiously, the Episcopal Church holds the belief that the correct feast day is January 27 as well.
Lydia is also commemorated with Dorcas and Phoebe on January 27 in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and on October 25 in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. She is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on January 27.
Devotion to St. Lydia is greater in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches than the Catholic Church and evident in the myriad of icons depicting this woman. The Orthodox Church has given her the title of “Equal to the Apostles,” which signifies her importance and level of holiness. There is a church located in Philippi, which many consider to be built in St. Lydia’s honor. A modern baptistery is located on the traditional site where Lydia was baptized by St. Paul near Philippi as well.
- Cumming, John (1998). Butler's Lives of the Saints. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. p. 24.
- Grudem, Wayne (1994). Systematic Theology. IVP. p. 693.
- Ascough, Richard S. (2009). Lydia: Paul's Cosmopolitan Hostess. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. p. 27.
- Hahn, Scott (2002). The Acts of the Apostles Revised Standard Version (Second Catholic Edition). San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press. p. 45.
- Cumming, John (1998). Butler's Lives of the Saints. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. p. 25.
- Cumming, John (1998). Butler's Lives of the Saints. Collgeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. p. 24.
- Ascough, Richard S. (2009). Lydia: Paul's Cosmopolitan Hostess. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. p. 50.
- Ascough, Richard S. (2009). Lydia: Paul's Cosmopolitan Hostess. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. p. 7.
- Ascough, Richard S. (2009). Lydia: Paul's Cosmopolitan Hostess. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. pp. 7, 32.
- "St. Lydia of Philippisia". The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
- "St. Lydia of Thyatira: First Christian Convert in Europe, Deaconess of Philippi.". One Thing Needful (Monastery News).
- (Greek) Ἡ Ἁγία Λυδία ἡ Φιλιππησία. 20 Μαΐου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
- St Lydia of Philippisia. OCA - Feasts and Saints.
- Kitahata, Stacy. "Bold Foremothers of Our Faith". Lutheran Woman Today.
- "The Saints of God: Holy Women, Holy Men". Episcopal Life Weekly.
- Kinnaman, Scot A. (2010). Lutheranism 101. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. p. 278.
- "Philippi". Sacred Destinations.