Friday, May 2, 2014

Saint of the Month: St. Zoe of Pamphylia!


St. Zoe of Pamphylia

AKA: n/a
Feast Day: May 2.
Not to be Confused With: St. Zoe of Rome.

Really Existed? There is no decisive evidence either way.
Timeframe: died 127, or 135.
Place: Pamphylia, duh.

Credentials: Recognized by tradition.
Martyrdom: Burned alive in a furnace; by some accounts, after witnessing torture of sons.

Patron Saint of: No known tradition of patronage.
Symbolism: No known artistic tradition or image.


If you browse around looking at the life of Zoe of Pamphylia, you find that there is a fairly consistent core story with lots of little variations, which you may or may not consider important. This is fairly typical of saints who exist outside of the real historical record due to their obscurity, or their antiquity, or -- as in this case -- both. When I say "real historical record," by the way, I mean any written history outside of lives of the saints.  That might sound snotty, but it's not meant to be. I don't think there is a serious theologian alive who wouldn't agree that the pre-modern hagiographies are largely, or essentially, legends.

So, Zoe of Pamphylia. She comes in a set with Exsuperius (or Hesperus) of Pamphylia, Cyriacus of Pamphylia, and Theodulus of Pamphylia, and --

yes? there's a hand up?

Ah, of course. "Pamphylia" is an archaic name for what is now south central Turkey. Yes. Thank you for asking. Exsuperius was Zoe's husband, Cyriacus and Theodulus were their sons, and today is the saint's day for all four.

The story: In the early second century, Zoe and her family are slaves in Roman Pamphylia. Zoe is in charge of the kennel, and it's often specified that her job is to keep the dogs from biting people. Many accounts also specify that because she works close to a major road, she is often meeting people even poorer than herself and sharing her food with them.  In some tellings, the sons evangelize the parents.  In some, Zoe and Exsuperius are kept separated, either out of spite or just in the course of their work.

One day, the family is asked to participate in a sacrifice offering -- this is the pre-Constantine Roman Empire, so we can figure it's a sacrifice to Apollo or Jupiter, that sort of thing (one source specifies Fortuna). Sacrifice to the gods is out of bounds to Zoe and her family, who are of course Christians, so they refuse. Consequently, they are tortured and burnt to death in a furnace.

There's an expanded version of the story -- more details, more gore, and a few stock miracles -- offered on the Orthodox Church in America website. Omer Englebert's Lives of the Saints, one of the great warhorses of hagiography, says that although St. Zoe of Rome's story "appears controvertible," this is not true for Zoe of Pamphylia, whose story is "well known." Saint Companions for Each Day claims that the Emperor had a church dedicated to St. Zoe in Constantinople, and that her relics "have been translated to Clermont, where they are still venerated." The church seemed pretty unlikely to me, but by gum check out this entry in the old Dictionary of Christian Antiquities:


...except, the "in Italy" is a bit of a red flag, since as we mentioned above Pamphylia is in Turkey.  I also note that there was a Byzantine empress named Zoe Porphyrogenita, and in the lack of any other evidence that Zoe of Pamphylia was a big deal in Constantinople, I can't wondering if somebody got their Zoes crossed somewhere along the line. Nor have I been able to confirm that there are any relics of St. Zoe in Clermont Cathedral. This is however a case where absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence; a large old cathedral like Clermont is bound to have an enormous collection of religious items with no easily accessible inventory.

I was surprised to see St. Zoe turn up in the work of a relatively prominent modern poet.  Rita Mae Reese's "There are no patron saints against accidents" is essentially a long list of things that there are patron saints for, setting up this ending:
Then there is Saint Zoe of Pamphylia, a slave who cared for the dogs guarding her master’s gate and kept them from biting visitors.
She is the patron saint of nothing. There is no one at the gate.
Cool! Although it's worth knowing that many or even most minor saints are "the patron saint of nothing."  And that Saint Romedio of Nonsberg is a patron saint against accidents.

Happy St. Zoe of Pamphylia Day to you, and your dog if you have one! 

1 comment:

gl. said...

love the poem at the end.