Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Thecla, Virgin and Martyr

detail of a painting of Saint Thecla by Antoni Szulczynskiego, date unknown; Church of Saint Tekla, Wilczyn, Poland; photographed by Antoni Szulczynski on 13 September 2011; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

In the writings of the ancient Fathers of the church, the memory of the holy Virgin and Martyr, Saint Thecla, is highly praised; as she was the first woman who was sentenced to torments and death on account of her faith. She was born at Iconium, a city in Lycaonia, of pagan, but rich and noble parents; and in the whole city there was no maiden who could be compared with her in beauty and talents. Tamyris, one of the richest young men of the nobility, asked her hand in marriage, and as her parents favored his suit, Thecla engaged herself to him. At that period, Saint Paul came to Iconium, and lodging in the house of Onesiphorus, an honest and industrious man, began to preach the Gospel of Christ Led by curiosity, Thecla with many others, went to hear the new preacher, and God, full of mercy, enlightened her understanding in such a manner, that she, comprehending the truth of the Christian faith, resolved to embrace it She not only proceeded immediately with her resolution, but having heard the Apostle preach of the great value of virginal purity, she resolved to consecrate her virginity to God, although she was only eighteen years of age, and, as related above, engaged to be married to Tamyris.

Her parents soon perceived by her altered conduct, what had taken place in their daughter’s heart. They called her to account, and Thecla unhesitatingly confessed that she had become a Christian, and desired no earthly spouse. Not at all satisfied with this resolution, her parents endeavored by all possible means to induce her to forsake the true faith. At first they used great kindness, but when that did not succeed, they had recourse to menaces and severities, even whipping and maltreating her in various ways. Seeing that nothing could influence Thecla, they went so far in their rage, as to denounce their own daughter before the judge as a Christian, and desired that she should be burned alive, as a warning to others. The judge called Thecla before him, and asked her if the accusation of her parents was true. Thecla affirmed it, confessing before the judge, as fearlessly as before her parents, that she had embraced the Christian faith, and in it was determined to live and die. After this confession, the judge, in accordance with the desire of the parents, ordered the stake to be prepared for her execution. But before the executioner had time to touch her, Theda, inspired by God, making the sign of the cross over herself and the burning pile, leaped with a cheerful countenance into the midst of the flames. But, behold! although the flames passed over her head, Thecla stood unharmed in the midst of them, and praised God, like the three heroes in the furnace of Babylon. While all present were marvelling at this, a heavy shower darkened the sky, and not only extinguished the fire, but drove all the spectators away.

The emperor Nero was at that period in Antioch, and when he was informed of this occurrence, he desired to see Thecla. The Christian heroine presented herself fearlessly before him, and declared most emphatically that she would live and die in the true faith. The tyrant, not willing to lose time either in persuasions or menaces, ordered the undaunted confessor of Christ to be cast before wild beasts. She was led to the amphitheatre, where Thecla, on bended knees and with eyes raised to heaven, called on her heavenly bridegroom to assist her. The wild beasts were let loose, but not one of them attacked the virgin, or did her the least harm. They walked around her like tame dogs. The tyrant, ascribing this miracle to magic, ordered Saint Thecla to be bound to the tails of two wild steers, which were to be goaded with red-hot irons, that they might become infuriated and tear the supposed magician to pieces. All was done as the tyrant commanded, but the animals allowed themselves to be burned and pierced, but still moved not from the place where they stood. A new cruelty was now planned. Not far off was a deep pit, filled with serpents and other venomous reptiles; into this pit they cast the fearless Christian heroine. Signing herself with the holy cross, she remained unharmed.

Great was the number of the heathens who were converted at the sight of such miracles. Among these was Tryphena, a highly respected matron, who exclaimed aloud: “Truly, the God whom Thecla worships, is the only true God. To Him we must pray, and to none other.” The same was said by many, and the tyrant began to fear that a public desertion of paganism would take place. To prevent this, as some say, he had Saint Thecla secretly executed, while others write, that having regained her liberty, she returned to her home, where, by her virtuous life and zealous instructions, she converted many to the Christian faith, and that she departed this life in the ninetieth year of her age. One thing is certain, that Saint Thecla has always been considered by the whole Christian world as one of the most heroic martyrs, and as such, has received due honors. In the prayer which the Catholic church has instituted for the dying, Saint Thecla is mentioned in the following words: “As thou, O Lord, did save the holy virgin and martyr, Thecla, from three cruel torments, so do thou graciously save the soul of this, thy servant, that he may partake with thee of the heavenly joys.” Saint Gregory Nazianzen writes, that a numberless crowd of people of the East, visited the tomb of Saint Thecla, in Seleucia, because God wrought great miracles there; and he relates that he himself had repaired thither, actuated by devotion. Among other titles of honor which the holy Fathers have given to Saint Thecla are the following: “Proto-martyr”; which means that she was the first female martyr; and, “first born spiritual daughter of Saint Paul,” because she was the first of her sex who was converted by his sermons at Iconium, and who, following his advice, consecrated her virginity to God.

Practical Considerations

• As soon as Saint Thecla had learned the priceless value of virginal purity from the sermons of Saint Paul, she determined to consecrate her virginity to God; and neither persuasion, menaces, torments, nor death could change her. Oh! what great wrong do those commit, who forfeit virginal purity in a wanton, sinful manner. They know not its value; hence they do not esteem it as highly as they ought. If you desire to know its value, consider what Christ our Lord and his Saints have done. The three holiest persons, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, lived in virginal purity. Jesus chose as His mother a virgin, and His Foster-father and His Precursor were virginal souls. He would be subject only to those who lived in virginal purity. Among His Apostles, none was so dear to Him as John, who had always lived in virginal purity. It was John who rested upon the breast of Jesus at the last supper; to John He commended His holy Mother. It was His desire that the first two martyrs, Stephen and Thecla, should be virginal souls. In heaven, He bestows upon the virgins an especial crown, an especial glory, as has already been said. On earth He shows them especial favor, and frequently assists them miraculously by His holy Angels, as is known from the lives of many holy virgins. As far as the Saints are concerned, it is known that many of them esteemed virginal purity more than all honors and riches, than kingly crowns and sceptres, more even than their lives; and that they endured all possible tortures rather than lose their virginity. If one would gather all that the holy Fathers have written in praise of virginity, it would fill more than one large volume. You can judge from this how inestimable a treasure purity must be. Have you lost it sinfully? Then regret it as long as you live. Do you still possess it? Then esteem it as it ought to be esteemed, and guard it with the utmost care.

• Saint Thecla added the merit of martyrdom to that of her virginal purity; hence, in heaven, she wears the double crown of virgin and martyr. You have no hope of gaining the crown of martyrdom like Saint Thecla; but you must know that the holy Fathers, Ambrose and Chrysostom, teach that we can be martyrs in a certain way, when we endeavor to live chastely. Yes, he who leads a truly Christian life, must suffer a kind of martyrdom. The martyrs had to battle with tyrants, who combated their resolutions, sometimes with soft persuasions, sometimes with menaces and torments. Whoever will live chastely and like a true Christian, has to fight with the world, the flesh and Satan. This kind of martyrdom we all have to suffer, and we must all fight valiantly against these enemies of our salvation. If we allow them to conquer us, we shall lose the crown of everlasting glory. But if we remain constant and gain the victory, with divine assistance, we may say at the end of our days, with Saint Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As for the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice” (II. Timothy, iv.). An especial crown will be the reward of him who fights valiantly, in this world, against the outward and inward enemies of purity; for, as Saint Augustine writes: “Among all the combats of the Christians, none are more severe than those fought to preserve purity.” Hence, the crown of those who conquer the enemies of purity must be much more glorious than all others. “Chastity makes men martyrs,” says Saint Ambrose; therefore, those who preserve it unspotted, gain the crown of martyrdom.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Thecla, Virgin and Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 6 May 2018. Web. 18 November 2018. <>