Saint Dorothea

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Saint Dorothea is an apocryphal Catholic saint, held to have been martyred 311 A.D. in Caesarea Mazaca, in modern-day Turkey.

Tradition states that both her parents were martyred for being Christians under the persecution of the emperor Diocletian. In the simplest version of her legend, Dorothea refused to renounce Christianity and marry, and as a result she was tortured and executed by the Roman authorities. On her way to be executed, a young pagan lawyer, Theophilus, mocked her and demanded that she send him a gift of fruit and flowers from the Garden of Paradise - they would have been unavailable otherwise as her execution took place in February. After her death, her headdress was delivered to Theophilus by a young child. Theophilus noticed that it smelled of roses and apples, and that the child was an angelic messenger; he immediately converted to Christianity as well and was martyred the same day. In other versions of the legend, the angel appeared before her death bearing apples and roses to comfort her, and Dorothea directed the angel to deliver them to Theophilus instead. In the most elaborate versions, Dorothea was subjected to prolonged abuses by the Roman authorities but was miraculously healed time after time, and many public miracles surrounded her imprisonment which led to thousands of witnesses converting to Christianity.

Her Catholic feast day was February 6, and she was venerated as the patron saint of gardeners and florists.

The first historical account of St. Dorothea appears in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum from about 600 A.D., which notes only the date and place of the deaths of Dorothea and Theophilus. Veneration of Dorothea spread rapidly throughout Europe in the seventh century A.D., and her expanded legend inspired many artists and writers over the centuries. Dorothea is usually portrayed with a basket of fruit and flowers (usually apples and roses) or with a crown of flowers.

Dorothea was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 due to the lack of any non-legendary knowledge about her.


Who’s Who in Christianity, Lavinia Coh-Sherbok, 1998