Pelagia of Tarsus

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Saint Pelagia
Pelagia of Tarsus (Menologion of Basil II).jpg
Miniature from the Menologion of Basil II
Died reputedly in the early 4th century
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church[1]
Roman Catholic Church
Feast May 4

According to Christian legend, Pelagia of Tarsus (d. early 4th century) is a saint and martyr who lived in Tarsus in the Cilicia region of Asia Minor during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian.[2] She is likely based on Saint Pelagia of Antioch.[3]

According to tradition, Diocletian's son, the heir to the throne, fell in love with her and wanted to marry Pelagia. She replied that she could not, because she had sworn to preserve her virginity and was wedded to Christ. In his sorrow, Diocletian's son killed himself. Pelagia was sent to Rome by her pagan mother, where Diocletian asked her to become his wife. She refused, calling the emperor insane. She was then burnt to death, and her flesh melted and smells of myrrh pervaded throughout Rome. By some versions, she was burned within a Brazen bull.

The story concludes by relating that the pagans sent four lions to surround her bones, but instead they protected her bones from vultures and crows until a Christian bishop could recover them.

There is little historical base to the story, as in fact Diocletian had a daughter, Valeria, but no sons - a fact of considerable importance to the history of his reign. However, he did carry out the last intensive persecution of Christians in Roman history, many of whose victims were indeed burned alive. Thus, Pelagia might have been an actually martyr of that time, even if under different circumstances than those recounted in the later story.

Constantine the Great built a church on the reputed site of her remains.


  1. ^ (Greek) Ἡ Ἁγία Πελαγία ἡ Μάρτυς. 4 Μαΐου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  2. ^ Lives of all saints commemorated on May 4. Retrieved 2010-06-12.
  3. ^ Saint Pelagia of Tarsus. Retrieved 02/07/2010.