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Apollonia

(d. c. 249)


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(d. c.249),

aged deaconess of Alexandria and martyr. Denis, bishop of Alexandria, described her death as follows: “They seized that marvellous aged virgin Apollonia, broke out all her teeth with blows on her jaws, and piling up a bonfire before the city, threatened to burn her alive if she refused to recite with them their blasphemous sayings. But she asked for a brief delay and without flinching leapt into the fire and was consumed.” This happened in a riot, when many Christians were dragged from their houses and killed, while their property was looted.

Altars and churches were soon dedicated to her in the West, but there seems to have been no cult in the East. At Rome she was soon confused with another Apollonia, who suffered under Julian the Apostate. Later romancers and artists transformed her into a beautiful girl, tortured by her teeth being extracted with pincers. Other Legends were pillaged to make her a king's daughter who was tortured by her father, but who promised just before death to help all those who suffered from toothache. Artists usually depicted her holding a tooth in a pair of pincers, or else having her teeth forcibly extracted by an elaborate machine. One unexpected result of her cult is the publication of a dentist's quarterly at Boston (Mass.), called The Apollonian.

Apollonia's death has been much discussed by theologians concerned with the legitimacy or otherwise of her throwing herself into the flames. Feast: 9 February (since 1970 for local churches only).

AA.SS. Feb. II (1658), 278–83;Eusebius, H.E., vi. 41–2;M. Coens, ‘Une passio S. Apolloniae inédite’, Anal. Boll., lxx (1952), 138–59;H. Nux, ‘Sainte Apolline, patronne de ceux qui souffrent des dents’, Revue d'odontologie, de stomatologie, iii (1947); 113–53.

Subjects: Christianity.


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