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Dorcas (Greek: Δορκάς, Dorkás; Aramaic: טביתא Ṭabītā) was a disciple who lived in Joppa, referenced in the Acts of the Apostles (9:36–42) in the New Testament. Her name in the Textus Receptus is "Ταβιθά" (Tabitha).
Acts recounts that when she died, she was mourned by "all the widows...crying and showing (Peter) the robes and other clothing that she had made while she was still with them" (Acts 9:39). The Greek construct used in this passage indicates that the widows were the recipients of her charity, but she may also have been a widow herself. It is likely that she was a woman of some means, given her ability to help the poor. The disciples present called upon Peter, who came from nearby Lydda to the place where her body was being laid out for burial, and raised her from the dead.
This narrative concerning Tabitha/Dorcas indicates her prominence in the community at Joppa. This might also be indicated by the fact that Peter took the trouble to come to her from a neighbouring city, when requested by the community members.
In Christian tradition
Dorcas, along with Lydia of Thyatira and Phoebe, is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on January 27. The Evangelical Lutheran Church also places their joint commemoration on January 27, immediately after the male missionaries remembered after the feast of St. Paul's Conversion, but the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) commemorates these three faithful women on October 25. The Catholic Church commemorates Dorcas (under the Aramaic version of her name, St Tabitha) on October 25, the same date as the Eastern Church. Dorcas societies, which provide clothing to the poor, are named after her.
Basil of Caesarea refers to Dorcas as an example in his Morals (rule 74): "That a widow who enjoys sufficiently robust health should spend her life in works of zeal and solicitude, keeping in mind the words of the Apostle and the example of Dorcas." She is also commemorated in poems by Robert Herrick ("The Widows' Tears: Or, Dirge of Dorcas") and George MacDonald ("Dorcas").
Dorcas' acts of charity are a common subject of stained glass church windows. She is represented in a window in the apse of Christ Church, Bath, on the south side of St Peter's Church, Caversham, in St. Andrew's Church, Cheddar, in the sacristy of Calvary Episcopal Church (Pittsburgh), in Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, in St Leonard's Church, Bridgnorth, in Castleton Parish Church in Derbyshire, on the north side of St. Nicholas' church in Castle Hedingham in Essex, in the Ladychapel of St Michael's Church in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, and in an oriel window at the Head Office of the Retail Trust in north London.
The Ladychapel of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin has a window of Dorcas with the legend: "Dorcas this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds". Christ Church, St. Joseph, Missouri, depicts her holding a blue cloth in a prominent nave window (1885) on the south side. Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia has her in a window made in Germany around 1890.
Dorcas and Cornelius are represented on the stained glass windows above the altar in the Emmanuel Anglican Church in Lawson, New South Wales. In the church of St. Lawrence, Weston under Penyard, Herefordshire, she is depicted with St. Paul in a pair of stained glass windows dedicated to the memory of Edward Burdett Hawkshaw, the Rector from 1854-1912, and his wife, Catherine (a photograph nearby in the church shows that his likeness is the face given to St. Paul, while Dorcas has the face of Mrs. Hawkshaw).
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Media related to Tabitha at Wikimedia Commons