Saints Centola and Helena: The Iconography
AUGUST 13
According to texts assembled in the Acta Sanctorum a Roman governor had the virgin Centola arrested for preaching Christianity. The prefect Eglisius was then charged with persuading her to recant. He had her tortured on the rack, then her flesh was torn with combs, she was beaten with iron rods, and her breasts were cut off. But Centola she remained constant, so Eglisius cast her into prison, thinking she would die from loss of blood. Townswomen came to console the saint and urge her to change her mind, but she told them they had no idea what joys await a Christian martyr. A noblewoman named Helena then came to offer encouragement, for which she too was condemned to be beheaded along with Centola.1

The place where these women were martyred and then buried is variously identified as "Sierro" (modern Valdelateja, near Burgos) or an unnamed hill in Cantabria. A local tradition in Cantabria held that Centola had fled there to escape persecution by the authorities in Toledo, and that it was there that she and Helena were captured and beheaded. In any case, in the 13th century the Bishop of Burgos had the bodies translated to his cathedral and established an annual feast day in their honor. Their relics are now in the base of the main altarpiece of the cathedral.2

The cult of SS. Centola and Helena is mostly confined to the region around Burgos. There are ruins of a late Visigothic hermitage dedicated to them in Valdelateja.3 A church in the village of Villalbillal Sobresierra is dedicated to them, and the village of Mamolar has a fiesta in Centola's honor every August 13. Rodrigo de la Haya's altarpiece in the church in Villafranca Montes de Oca includes a portrait of St. Centola.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-18.

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Juan Rizi, The Martyrdom of Saints Centola and Helena (See the description page)

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Absent from the Golden Legend and from Butler, the legend appears to be available only in Latin in the Acta Sanctorum (August vol. 3, 30-32).

NOTES

1 Acta Sanctorum, August vol. 3, 31-32.

2 Ibid., 30-31. Spanish Wikipedia, s.v. "Retablo mayor de la Catedral de Burgos."

3 Spanish Wikipedia, s.v. "Valdelateja."