Saint Apollonia: The Iconography

In Alexandria the natal day of St. Apollonia, Virgin and Martyr. During the reign of Decius torturers pulled out all her teeth and then built a pyre, set it aflame, and threatened to put her on it if she did not join them in their impious rituals. But upon the briefest consideration she was inspired by the Holy Spirit to break away from the grasp of the pagans and leap into the fire. It terrified these cruel men that a woman was more willing to die than they were to torture her. – Roman Martyrology for February 9

Apollonia is the only saint whose attribute is a tooth-extractor, so she is easy to identify in paintings. Often the extractor has a tooth in it. The reason is that the first thing her tormentors did during her passion was to knock her teeth out. They then built a huge pyre and threatened to throw her on it if she did not join their worship of idols. Determined to do nothing of the sort and disdaining even to undertake the torments they had in store, she threw herself into the fire and died.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

HOME PAGE

SHOWN ABOVE:

Fresco in the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio. See the description page.

OTHER IMAGES:

Detail from Girolamo dai Libri, Madonna and Child with Saints, 1520 – See the description page.

Detail from Vincent de Kastav's frescos in Beram, Croatia, 1474 – See the description page.

DATES

  • Feast day: February 9
  • St. Apollonia is said to have died during the persecutions of Decius in 249.

HAGIOGRAPHY