Dorothea of Caesarea

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Dorothy of Caesarea[1]
Francisco de Zurbarán 038.jpg
Saint Dorothy, Francisco de Zurbarán
Bornc. 279–290
Caesarea Mazaca
(modern-day Kayseri, Turkey)
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Anglican Church
FeastFebruary 6
Attributeswreath or basket of roses, fruit
Patronagehorticulture; brewers; brides; florists; gardeners; midwives; newlyweds; love; Pescia[2]

Dorothea of Caesarea (Dorothea, Dora; often just called Saint Dorothy, died ca. 311 AD) is a 4th-century virgin martyr who was executed at Caesarea Mazaca. Evidence for her actual historical existence or acta is very sparse. She is called a martyr of the late Diocletianic Persecution, although her death occurred after the resignation of Diocletian himself.

Dorothea and her companion, Theophilus, are mentioned in the Roman Martyrology as martyrs of Caesarea in Cappadocia, with a feast on 6 February.[3] She is officially recognized as a virgin martyr. However, since only those feast of saints should be extended to the universal church which commemorate saints who are truly of universal significance,[4] her feast is no longer included in the General Roman Calendar, but in some regional calendars.


Santa Dorotea by Zurbaran

The earliest record that mentions Dorothea is found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum. This first record contains only three basic facts: the day of martyrdom, the place where it occurred, and her name and that of Theophilus.[5]


Virgin and martyr, Dorothea of Caesarea was persecuted during the persecution of Diocletian, 6 February, 311, at Caesarea in Cappadocia. She was brought before the prefect Sapricius, tried, tortured, and sentenced to death. On her way to the place of execution the pagan lawyer Theophilus said to her in mockery: "Bride of Christ, send me some fruits from your bridegroom's garden." Before she was executed, she sent him, by a six-year-old boy, her headdress which was found to be filled with a heavenly fragrance of roses and fruits. Theophilus at once confessed himself a Christian, was put on the rack, and suffered death. This is the oldest version of the legend, which was later variously enlarged.[6] (The boy with the basket can be seen in the depictions by Josse van der Baren and Hans Baldung Grien in the gallery below).

The oldest known version of the legend is Aldhelm's De laudibus virginitatis, addressed to Abbess Hildelitha of Barking Abbey, Essex. Kirsten Wolf characterizes it as one of several legends invented in the fourth and fifth centuries to provide a story to go with a name on one of the various liturgical calendars.[7]


In the Western church Dorothy of Caesarea has been venerated since the seventh century. Since the fourteenth century many artists created paintings and sculptures, which are to be found throughout Europe.[8] In late medieval Sweden Saint Dorothy was considered to be the 15th of the Holy Helpers,[8] and in arts she occurred with Saints Barbara, Catherine and Margaret, forming with them a quartet of female virgin martyrs called Quattuor Virgines Capitales, meaning "The four Capital Virgins".

Dorothy of Caesarea is regarded as the patroness of gardeners, due to her virginal attribute of a wreath of roses.[6]

On her feast on 6 February trees are blessed .[6] Saint Dorothy is also patroness of brewers, brides, florists, midwives, newlyweds and of the village of Pescia in Italy.

The Sisters of St. Dorothy is a congregation of sisters, occupied primarily with teaching.[9]

Dorothy of Caesarea's life and martyrdom was the basis of Philip Massinger and Thomas Dekker's The Virgin Martyr (printed 1622).


Saint Dorothy is often depicted as a virgin carrying a basket of flowers, sometimes with fruit, also depicted wearing a crown of roses; depicted surrounded by stars as she kneels before the executioner; crowned with palm, referring to the martyr's palm; surrounded by stars; depicted in an enclosed garden or an orchard with the Christ Child in an apple tree; leading the Christ Child by the hand; veiled with flowers in her lap; depicted holding apples from heaven on a branch.[2]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "St. Dorothy - Saints & Angels Catholic Online". Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b Patron Saints Index: Saint Dorothy of Caesarea Archived March 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  4. ^ "Mysterii Paschalis (February 14, 1969) | Paul VI".
  5. ^ Joseph Martin Peterson, The Dorothea Legend: Its Earliest Records, Middle English Versions, and Influence of Massinger’s "Virgin Martyr" (University of Heidelberg, 1910), 13.
  6. ^ a b c Meier, Gabriel. "St. Dorothea." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 13 Mar. 2015
  7. ^ Wolf, Kirsten. De Sancta Dorothea, PIMS, 1997 ISBN 9780888441300
  8. ^ a b Santa Dorotea e Teofilo
  9. ^ "Welcome to the Malta Dorothean Province Website".


  • Butler, Alban. The Lives of the Saints. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1995. (Originally published 1878.) Nihil obstat and Imprimatur 1955.
  • Englebert, Omer. The Lives of the Saints. Christopher and Anne Fremantle, trans. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994. Nihil obstat and Imprimatur 1951.
  • Harvey, Sir Paul, ed. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Peterson, Joseph Martin, The Dorothea Legend: Its Earliest Records, Middle English Versions, and Influence of Massinger’s "Virgin Martyr" (University of Heidelberg, 1910).
  • The Swedish Nationalecyklopedin Volume 5 p. 102
  • Medeltidens ABC edited by The Swedish national museum of history p. 93, 276.

External links[edit]