9 Feb: St. Apollonia, virgin and martyr

St. ApolloniaSt. Apollonia - ZurbaranCOLLECT (1962MR):
Deus, qui inter cetera potentiae tuae miracula,
etiam in sexu fragili victoriam martyrii contulisti:
concede propitius:
ut, qui beatae Apolloniae Virginis et Martyris tuae natalitia colimus,
per ejus ad te exempla gradiamur.

O God, who among the other wonders of Your might,
conferred also upon the weak sex the victory of martyrdom:
grant propitiously:
that we who celebrate the heavenly birthday of blessed Apollonia the virgin and martyr
may through her examples advance unto You.

St. Apollonia was a virgin who suffered martyrdom in Alexandria c A.D. 249 during an uprising against the Christians just before persecutions by Decius.  During the celebrations for the millennium of the founding of Rome the pagan population were roused up against Christians.  The Bishop of Alexandria Dionysius (+265) in a letter to Fabius of Antioch described the situation.  Excerpts from the letter were cited by Eusebius in his Ecclesiatical History (1, 4, 41).  He describes the death of St. Apollonia: "These men seized her also and by repeated blows broke all her teeth. They then erected outside the city gates a pile of fagots and threatened to burn her alive if she refused to repeat after them impious words. Given, at her own request, a little freedom, she sprang quickly into the fire and was burned to death."

In the early Church the examples of brave women like Apollonia were the basis for reflection on the equality of men and women by great theologians such as St. Augustine of Hippo (+430).  While asserting the usual position that women were by nature subordinate to men in the order of things, Augustine argued that in matters of faith and the bravery shown in martyrdom men and women were equals and equally in God’s image and likeness.

The newest edition of the Martyrologium Romanum describes her day this way:

1. Alexandriae in AEgypto, commemoratio sanctae Apolloniae, virginis et martyris, quae post multa a crudelia persecutorum tormenta, cum impia verba proferre recusavisset, flammis se dari maluit quam a fide deficere.

This echoes the tale told by Eusebius. 

Sometimes scoffers and scholars (often overlapping categories) will deny the historical veracity of the stories of ancient virgin martyrs saying, among other things, that they can’t be true because a) their stories are often very similar and b) young girls (much less most adults) don’t have it in them to resist the sort of cruelty inflicted on them.  It is true that many of the stories of ancient virgin martyrs are similar in some of their details.  To me that merely suggests that people often behave in much the same way in similar circumstances and that the evils that men are wont to inflict on their fellow man have much the same origin.  Furthermore, if the lives of martyrs are examples, then why should not people imitate them?  Furthermore, one of God’s gifts to humanity is that He chooses the weak and makes them strong in order to show forth His own love and power to the world.  Thus, why should not a young girl be as bold and steadfast as a company of Marines when being put to the ultimate challenge for the sake of the Faith and not just their country?  If anyone were ever to wonder if these ancient stories were true or not, that young girls and women endured boldy torments which are hard to even imagine, one need only look at the stories of the Chinese martyrs.  There is a fine website for the Church of the Chinese Martyrs in Toronto which has the stories of many of the martyrs, who died in ways that nearly exactly duplicate the tales of the martyrs of ancient Rome.  Among these Chinese martyrs was the little girl Anna Wang, 14 years old, not much older than the Roman virgin martyr Agnes.  Chinese Martyrs Rosa Wang and family

Indeed, here is an example of three amazing saints, women killed at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. St. Maria Zhao-Guo (mother 1840-1900), St. Rosa Zhao (daughter 1878-1900) and St. Mary Zhao (daughter – 1883-1900) were from from Zhaojiacun of Wuchiao County in Hebei Province.  Maria was the mother of two daughters, Rosa and Mary, who both remained celibate their entire lives. Rosa was also a catechist.  On 28 July 1900, they hid in a well to avoid a band of Boxers.  The Boxers found then and tried to force them to deny their Catholic Faith. Rosa answered: "We have already made up our minds that we would rather die then deny our Faith."  Then Rosa told her mother and sister to pray to Jesus, asking for help and strength to give up their lives for the Faith. A man named Zhao Wuhai begged the Boxers to spare them, but Rosa said, "Don’t waste your time trying to save us. Since we want to keep our faith, we are happy to die for it." Rosa then told the Boxers: "This is not a proper place for execution. If you want to kill us, take us to the cemetery where our ancestors are buried and kill us there."   The Boxers took them to the Zhao family cemetery, where they decapitated them and burned their heads to ashes.  They were beatified by Pius XII on 17 April 1955, and canonized by John Paul II 1 October 2000 (much to the rage of the Communist Party of the PRC).



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA, WDTPRS. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Henry Edwards says:

    “the weak sex” (sexu fragili), “the weaker sex” in my 1962 Latin-English missal.

    I guess we can see why there’s no such English-translated prayer in the new rite (so far as I know). Although a lifelong female friend, to whom I just showed this post, remarked that as a young girl she always wondered how such terminology squared with the everyday observation of nuns everywhere appearing to do most of the Church’s heavy lifting.

  2. Don Marco says:

    Assuming that some Benedictines of various persuasions read WDTPRS. . . . Looking ahead to tomorrow’s feast of Saint Scholastica, here are some texts for those who are interested in such things. The Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion are from the Benedictine sanctoral; the Preface is of recent composition. The General Intercessions are from the Monastery of the Glorious Cross in Branford, CT, USA.


    O Lord,
    who made Saint Scholastica resplendent
    with the brightness of an incomparable purity,
    grant that we may please you
    by the transparency of our daily lives
    and, by faithfulness in the school of your service,
    be found worthy of praising you in heaven
    with all the angels and saints.
    Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
    who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
    God forever and ever.


    That the Church of Christ
    may be a door of hope in the midst of a troubled world
    and a voice that sings of love’s glorious triumph,
    even in the midst of lamentations and cries of distress,
    to the Lord we pray, Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

    That through the intercession of Saint Scholastica,
    the hearts of world leaders may be softened
    by the tears of a great multitude,
    to seek the things that make for peace, and turn from war,
    to the Lord we pray, Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

    That all who are afflicted in body, mind, or spirit,
    may share in the sufferings of Christ through patience,
    and so deserve also to share in his kingdom,
    to the Lord we pray, Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

    That all nuns, monks, and oblates
    living under the Rule of Saint Benedict,
    may, like Saint Scholastica, be bold in prayer,
    and confident in the triumph of love,
    to the Lord we pray, Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

    That, following the example of Saints Scholastica and Benedict,
    we may harmonize our minds with our voices,
    and stand today with holy awe
    in the sight of the Divine Majesty and his Angels,
    to the Lord we pray, Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.


    Almighty and ever-living God
    who in your only-begotten Son
    opened for us a door of hope
    in this valley of tears,
    grant that we, like the virgin Saint Scholastica,
    may sing to you as in the days of our youth
    with purity of heart recovered and holy innocence restored,
    so that, having preferred nothing
    to the love of the Bridegroom Christ,
    it may be given us to sing your praise forever
    at the wedding feast of the Lamb.
    Through the same Christ our Lord.


    Lord, receive the worship that, in our lowliness,
    we set forth before you
    on this solemnity of the blessed virgin Scholastica;
    by this spotless offering,
    grant that we may be set ablaze
    with a love that is both tender and holy in your sight.
    Through Christ our Lord.


    Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
    always and everywhere to give you thanks,
    Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
    through Christ our Lord.

    Saint Scholastica, obedient to the teaching of Saint Benedict, her brother,
    inclined the ear of her heart to the voice of Christ
    who led her into the wilderness
    and there espoused her in mercy and faithfulness.

    This holy virgin chose the best part,
    and in preferring nothing to the love of Christ,
    reached that love of yours which, being perfect,
    drove out all fear.

    When in earnest prayer she sought your help,
    you answered her outpouring of tears
    with a sudden downpour of rain amidst lightning and thunder,
    and in this you revealed the surpassing power of love.

    In the form of a dove,
    her pure soul entered the glory of heaven;
    seeing this her brother was filled with joy
    and raised his voice in glad thanksgiving.

    Now Saint Scholastica rejoices in you who called her,
    and praises you forever with the powers of heaven,
    with whom we also raise our voices
    in this, their endless hymn of praise:


    Through the merits of your holy virgin Scholastica,
    look down, O Lord, with favor,
    upon your family nourished with spiritual food;
    and just as you once answered her prayers with a miraculous rain,
    so hear her now and moisten the dryness of our hearts
    with the dew of divine life.
    Through Christ our Lord.

  3. Great work!

    Perhaps they should actually be posted in a separate post? For St. Scholastica?? Tomorrow? That would sure help!

  4. Parousie says:

    Yes indeed, I’m interested in such things, and I’m not the only one.
    Congratulations for your website.
    Tribute to Saint Scholastica (and to your site), and Saint Benedict (and many other saints) on my website, French and English prayers, novenas and litanies.
    God bless you.
    Patrick from France.


  5. Antiquarian says:

    Father Z, am I right in remembering that you were an actor at one time? Saint Apollonia has a special place in theatre history– one of the few pictorial representations of the Medieval miracle plays is an illuminated manuscript illustration of a play based on the Martyrdom of St Apollonia. It is a rare look at how the religious drama of the Middle ages was presented. (And it actually depicts her having her teeth pulled by her tormenters!)

Comments are closed.