Tuesday, May 31, 2011
May 31 -- Feast of Saints Petronilla and Hermias the Martyr
Three: it's how long you ought to suffer for your faith before you can be released and receive your eternal reward. The length of those three units may vary, but three is (as we learned on Schoolhouse Rock) a magic number.
Petronilla was said to be the daughter of Saint Peter. Later, others said that simple-minded readers took a fairly common name (it means the little daughter of Petronius) and grafted it on to the only Peter they knew and cared to know. Others want to split the difference and say she was his spiritual daughter. Any of that works for me, but I am not buying the notion that she was so beautiful he locked her away in a tower. That was Danae. Or Rapunzel, maybe. But St. Peter was a poor fisherman trying to organize a religious community in the banlieues of Rome. He didn't have any towers to lock beautiful girls in, even if he had wanted to.
To get back to THREE, Petronilla caught the eye of a well-connected polytheist named Flaccus. One source lists him as a pagan king, but that doesn't make a lot of sense in first century Rome. Hell, not even the emperors were using the word king, so random swells certainly wouldn't have. Let's say he was a senator. He took a fancy, but she of course declined, trying to explain that she was the spiritual bride of a carpenter who died before she was born. That was always a tough idea to sell, so she got gaffled up for some vigorous persuasion. One version of the story follows the usual course -- piercing, burning, ripping, shredding, flaying and finally beheading. Another version says she launched a hunger strike that lasted three days.
Hermias the Martyr of Comana, also celebrated on May 31, was rightly accused of Christianity in the third century. It may have been the reign of Marcus Aurelius or of Antoninus Pius -- could have been either since they both took it to the Christians. He confessed but wouldn't renounce his faith, so they broke his jaw, tore the flesh from his face, pierced his eyes, and all sorts of other mean, nasty, ugly things (to quote Arlo Guthrie). After three days of torture, he was beheaded.
Christ suffered three hours on the Cross. Of course, he had a solid twenty-four hours (or so) of abuse running up to that, but the three hours are symbolic. If you find yourself embellishing the life of a martyr, consider making the duration of the tribulation three units (hours, days, weeks, months, years).
Posted by Tom Major at 4:00 AM