As we are in the middle of this brouhaha in the Arlington Diocese over a music director's comments on the role of women in the Church, along comes the feast day of a saint whose life demonstrates that women in the early Church had more power than they have today.
According to tradition, St. Martina was a deaconess in the Church in Rome and she was a woman who stood up for her faith and against idolatry even at the cost of her life. St. Martina was the wealthy daughter of a Christian Roman consul. On her parent’s death, she gave away her riches to the poor and devoted herself to prayer. She was tortured and martyred in the persecutions of Alexander Severus for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods. Unfortunately, her memory was also used by Pope Urban VIII to fuel the Crusades.
The popular tradition surrounding this saint, who is the patroness of Rome, is extraordinary and I have provided a good recounting of it here from A Dictionary of Saintly Women (compiled by Agnes B.C. Dunbar, 1904). The only element missing from this account is that St. Martina is also the patroness of nursing mothers because, according to another tradition, her body bled milk instead of blood when she was finally beheaded.
St. Martina, Jan. 1, 15, 30, Dec. 31, + 230. Patron of Rome.
She was the daughter of a consul of Rome and deaconess in the Christian church in the time of the Emperor Alexander Severus and Pope Urban I. She was ordered to sacrifice to Apollo, and replied, "Command me to sacrifice to Jesus Christ, that will I do, but to no other God." They dragged her to the altar of Apollo, and she prayed that his image might perish. Immediately, part of the temple fell down, destroying the statue of the god, killing the priests and causing the devil to depart shrieking from the idols' shrine.
She was struck on the mouth, and eight executioners were commanded to inflict diverse tortures on her, but she was defended by four angels who avenged on the eight men each injury they did to the young saint. They tore off her eyelids and the angels tore off theirs. She prayed for their conversion, which occurred while they were tearing her with hooks ; they declared themselves Christians, and were immediately hung up and torn with hooks by other executioners.
She was condemned to be killed by a lion; but instead of hurting her, he crouched at her feet. Then she was hung on four stakes and cut with swords, and at last she was beheaded. At the moment of her death, a great earthquake shook the city: a circumstance which increased the number of converts from paganism. Her martyrdom occurred Jan. 1, but her festival is the 30th.