Thecla

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For other uses, see Thecla (disambiguation).
Saint Thecla
Saint Thecla.jpg
Fresco in Saviour Cathedral of Chernihiv, 11th century
Virgin and Martyr
Born

30 ad

Konya, turkey (lycaonia)
Died 1st century AD
Honored in
Oriental Orthodoxy
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Feast September 23rd (Roman Catholic Church)
September 24th (Eastern Orthodox Churches)
October 3rd (Coptic Orthodox Church)

Thecla (Ancient Greek: Θέκλα) was a saint of the early Christian Church, and a reported follower of Paul the Apostle. The earliest record of her life comes from the ancient apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla.

Legend[edit]

According to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thecla was a young noble virgin who listened to Paul's "discourse on virginity" and became Paul's follower and a Disciple of Paul's teachings and Ministry. Thecla's mother and her fiancé Thamyris became concerned Thecla would follow Paul's demand "one must fear only one God and live in chastity", and punished both Paul and Thecla.

Thecla was miraculously saved from burning at the stake by the onset of a storm and traveled with Paul to Antioch of Pisidia. There a nobleman named Alexander desired Thecla and attempted to take her by force. Thecla fought him off, assaulting him in the process, and was put on trial for assaulting a nobleman. She was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts, but was again saved by a series of miracles when the female beasts protected her against her male aggressors.

Traditions and interpretations[edit]

The Church Fathers recount a number of traditions about Thecla. Gregory of Nyssa writes in the 4th century (Homily 14 in Cant) that she undertook the sacrifice of herself, by giving death to the flesh [Gal 5:24], practicing great austerities, extinguishing in herself all earthly affections, so that nothing seemed to remain living in her but reason and spirit: the whole world seemed dead to her as she was to the world [Gal 6:14]. Macarius Magnes shortly after AD 300 wrote how the message of Christianity was "the Sword, [Matt 10:34] which cuts relations from each other [Matt:10:35], as it cut Thecla from Theocleia.” [Apocriticus ii.7]. Around AD 280, Methodius of Olympus wrote in his Symposium. St. Thecla is featured as one of the characters, from which we learn that she was well versed in profane philosophy, and various branches of literature, of eloquent yet modest discourse. He says that she received her instruction in divine and evangelical knowledge from St. Paul, and was eminent for her skill in sacred science ("Logos 8").

The martyrdom of Thecla is frequently referred to in the earliest Acts of the Martyrs. St. Eugenius, a martyr of Trebizond under Diocletian (284-305), couples Thecla with David and Daniel in his prayers. The exordium of the Acts of Polyeuctes [d. 259] refers to Thecla and Perpetua, and there were certainly many virgin martyrs who drew their first inspiration from the same source. Eugenia of Rome in the reign of Commodus (180-192) is reported in the Acts of her martyrdom to have taken Thecla as her model.

An inscription in remembrance "of the martyr Thecla" in the church of St. Menas in Cyprus, and dated to the second half of the 1st century, was interpreted in the early twentieth century as evidence for her historical existence.[1]

Society of Saint Thecla of Iconium[edit]

Statue of Saint Thecla in Ma'loula
Saint Thecla monastery in Ma'loula

In the Eastern Church, the wide circulation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla is evidence of her veneration. She was called "apostle and protomartyr among women" and "equal to the apostles." She was widely cited as an ascetic rôle model for women. Her society flourished particularly at Seleucia (where she was said to be buried), Iconium (present day Konya), and Nicomedia. The society also appeared at least as early as the 4th century in Western Europe. In Bede's martyrology, Thecla is celebrated on 23 September, which is her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Churches commemorate her on 24 September.

A local martyr legend of Tecla may have inspired an episode connected to Paul the Apostle. "It is otherwise difficult to account for the very great popularity of the cult of St. Thecla, which spread over East and West, and made her the most famous of virgin martyrs," wrote M.R. James, the editor of this Acta, (James 1924).

Tomb of Thecla, Ma'loula[edit]

In Ma'loula, Syria, a Greek Orthodox nunnery of St. Thecla Deir Mar Takla was built near what is said to be her cave tomb, reached by steps in the mountainside, a pilgrimage site with a holy well. The local legend is that the mountain opened miraculously to protect Thecla from her persecutors.

On Monday, December 2, 2013, during the Syrian Civil War, according to Pope Francis in his General Audience of Wednesday, December 4, 2013, at least some (the Pope did not say how many) of the nuns there were seized by an unspecified party; the Pope appealed for their release during his Audience.[2]

Catacomb of Saint Tecla, Rome[edit]

In June 2010, on a wall of the Catacomba di Santa Tecla in Rome, Vatican archaeologists of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, using laser technology to remove layers of clay and lime rind, discovered a frescoed portrait of St Paul the Apostle, "recognizable by his thin face and dark pointed beard...with small eyes and furrowed brow," [3] which they believe is the oldest image in existence of St Paul, dating from the late 4th century.[4]

Patronage[edit]

As Santa Tecla, she is the patron saint of Tarragona, Spain, where her feast day is the major fiesta of the city and the cathedral is dedicated to her. In Spain, she is sometimes facetiously referred to as the patron saint of computers (tecla means "key" on a keyboard in Spanish and Catalan). The earliest Cathedral of Milan was also dedicated to her, and remnants of the baptistry from that structure are still extant.

As St. Takla, she is a favorite patron saint in Lebanon, which has 42 St. Takla churches spread throughout the country. One of the oldest is the Maska, Matn St. Taqla Church which was built in 1695. In that church, a painting of St. Taqla by the Italian artist Vincento Lampodico dates back to 1870.

Several cities and towns are named for her:

In the United States there are three Roman Catholic parishes named for Saint Thecla: in Clinton Township, Michigan, in Pembroke, Massachusetts, and in Chicago, Illinois.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Eliott, J.K., "The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation," Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • MacDonald, D.R., "The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon," Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983.
  • Kirsch, J.P., Catholic Encyclopedia: "Sts. Thecla", Volume XIV, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.
  • Ehrman, Bart D., "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew," Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-518249-1.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ernst Sittig, Αρχ. Εφ. 1914, mentioned in American Journal of Archeology, 1915, p. 489
  2. ^ http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2013/12/04/0807/01807.html
  3. ^ Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2010, Vol 36 No 1, p. 18: Found in Vatican: Paul's Portrait
  4. ^ "Pope: Scientific analysis done on St. Paul's bones". guardian.co.uk. 29 June 2009. Retrieved 30 June 2009. 

External links[edit]