Christina of Bolsena
|Saint Christina of Bolsena|
St Christina, by Moriz Schlachter, (c.1889)
|Virgin and Martyr|
Persia (modern-day Iran and Iraq) or Tyre, Lebanon
Bolsena, Tuscany, Italy
|Major shrine||Toffia, Italy; Palermo, Sicily, Italy|
Saint Christina of Bolsena, also known as Christina of Tyre, or in the Eastern Orthodox Church as Christina the Great Martyr, is venerated as a Christian martyr of the 3rd century. Archaeological excavations of an underground cemetery constructed at her tomb have shown that she was venerated at Bolsena by the fourth century.
The existence of Christina herself is relatively well attested. Although some versions of her legend place her in Tyre (Phoenicia), the most credible evidence points to Bolsena: an ancient town in central Italy, near an Etruscan site called Volsinium, with catacombs in which archeologists have found the remains of an early Christian church and the tomb of a female martyr. Inscriptions found on the site confirm that this martyr had a name like Christina and that the local community was venerating her as a saint by the end of the fourth century. Some corroborating evidence is provided by a sixth-century mosaic in the basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna, which includes in its procession of virgins a saint named Christina, wearing a martyr's crown.
The Martyr Christina lived during the third century. She was born into a rich family, and her father was governor of Tyre. By the age of 11 the girl was exceptionally beautiful, and many wanted to marry her. Christina's father, however, envisioned that his daughter should become a pagan priestess. To this end he placed her in a special dwelling where he had set up many gold and silver idols, and he commanded his daughter to burn incense before them. Two servants attended Christina.
According to accounts, one time Christina was visited by an angel, who instructed her in the true faith. The angel called her a bride of Christ and told her about her future suffering. Christina smashed all the idols in her room and threw them out the window. In visiting his daughter, Christina's father, Urban, asked her where all the idols had disappeared. Christina was silent. Then, having summoned the servants, Urban learned the truth from them.
Legend of Saint Christina
Christina is an early virgin martyr with a legend too fanciful to have much historical credibility. Nothing is now known about her life. But by the ninth century, an account of her martyrdom was composed, which developed many variants. According to these, she was born either in Tyre (Eastern stories) or in Persia (Western stories) during the 3rd century or 5th century.
While the accounts of her martyrdom vary widely, they seem to agree on some details: Christina was the daughter of a wealthy pagan magistrate named Urbanus who had his daughter tortured because of her faith, but God thwarted his efforts on several occasions. The nature of the torture varies with each telling, and can include iron hooks, grilling by fire, placement in a furnace, torture on the wheel, assault by snakes, assailment by arrows, drowning tied to a millstone, and other assorted methods which she survives. After her father's death, his successor, Dion, continued to torture her. In all versions of the tale Christina eventually perishes, but not before God exhibits his wrath by lashing out at her tormentors.
Some scholars have concluded that her legend is the result of pious fiction being mistaken for history. The theme of her legend (a beautiful Christian maiden is tortured to death by pagan men, who in return suffer the wrath of God) is repeated in many ancient and medieval hagiographies, particularly that of Saint Barbara.
The entry for her in the 2004 Roman Martyrology is very brief: "At Bolsena in Tuscany, Saint Christina, Virgin and Martyr". She was once included in the General Roman Calendar. The Tridentine Calendar gave her a commemoration within the Mass of the Vigil of Saint James. When in 1955 Pope Pius XII suppressed this vigil, the celebration of Saint Christina became a "simple" and in 1960 a "commemoration". The 1969 revision omitted her from that calendar, "because nothing is known of this virgin and martyr apart from her name and her burial at Bolsena", but not from the the Martyrology, the official list of recognized saints. According to the present rules in the Roman Missal, Saint Christina may be celebrated with a "memorial" everywhere on her feast day, unless in some locality an obligatory celebration is assigned to that day.
The Eastern tradition that connects Saint Christina with Tyre, Lebanon may be due to confusion with the name of a locality near Bolsena.
The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland Ohio claims "In the Resurrection Chapel, below the altar, is the reliquary of St. Christine, including her entire skeleton and small vial of her blood. The relics were presented to Archbishop Schrembs in 1928 by Pope Pius XI. Tradition says that Christina was a girl of 13 or 14 who died for her faith around 300 A.D."
Miracle of Bolsena
A Second legend is connected to St. Christina. The Miracle of Bolsena, often considered to be the catalyst for the feast of Corpus Christi, recalls an event in the Umbrian region of Italy in 1263. A priest named Peter from the city of Prague nurtured doubts regarding the transubstantiation of the Host during Mass, and during his pilgrimage toward Rome prayed to be relieved of his questions. While saying the words of consecration in the church of St. Christina in Bolsena, the Host dripped blood on his hands and on the cloth below. The Miracle of Bolsena is depicted on the walls of the Vatican in a painting by Raphael.
- Αποστολική Διακονία (Greek)
- Reames, Sherry L. ed., "Christina of Bolsena: Introduction", Middle English Legends of Women Saints, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003
- "Saint Christina of Tyre", Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of Australia
- General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII
- General Roman Calendar of 1960
- "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 131
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 355 c
- Bulletin of The Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, July 25, 2010
- "Poetry, painting and procession", Zenit, June 23, 2011
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.