Saint Christina of Bolsena

In Tyre, on Lake Bolsena in Tuscany, St. Christina, Virgin and Martyr. This virgin broke up her father's idols of silver and gold and gave them to the poor because she believed in Christ. On her father's orders her flesh was torn with lashes, she suffered other cruel tortures, and she was thrown into the sea weighted down with a great stone. She was saved by an angel, however. A second judge succeeded her father in ordering even more severe torments. Finally, under the prefect Julian, after five days in a burning furnace and after overcoming an attack of snakes with the aid of Christ, she achieved martyrdom when her tongue was cut out and she was pierced by darts. – Roman Martyrology for July 24

St. Christina's most common attribute is a dart, as in the picture at right. In her Passio a judge tries to force her to recant her faith with a number of torments, and when they all fail he throws two darts at her, one of which pierces her heart and ends her life.1

Other attributes arise from the many tortures she endures on the orders of her father and then of two judges in succession. The father is incensed that she has broken his gold and silver idols into pieces and given the pieces to the poor (image), so he has her tied to a great wheel set above a flaming fire. The wheel often appears in her portraits, as in the second picture at right.

The wheel often has the look of a millstone. This may be due to a confusion with the next torment in the story, when the father orders his men to tie her to a stone weight and throw her into the sea, although in the Latin the weight is specifically a field stone (saxum), not a millstone (mola).

In the Passio an angel comes and breaks up the stone for Christina so she can return to shore, but the images always picture an unbroken wheel, thus distinguishing it from the wheel that is St. Catherine of Alexandria's attribute.

A less common attribute is a snake, as in the third picture at right. In the Passio the judge has St. Christina confined to a fiery furnace (which appears in the lower left of the first picture at right). When the fires fail to harm her he engages a sorcerer to have snakes beset her. The snakes attach themselves to her breasts, but when she prays for deliverance the snakes turn on the sorcerer and he dies.

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • The Acta Sanctorum (July vol. 5) prints a brief 7th-century account of St. Christina's passion by Aldhelm (505), a number of prayers and breviary entries including some narrative segments (503-506), and a 13th-century Passio (524-28) that is basically an expansion of Aldhelm's account with more detailed tortures and vivid dialogue between the saint and her adversaries.

DATES

  • Feast day: July 24
  • Sicard of Cremona's 11th-century Cronica places Christina's death in the year 120. Farmer suggests some time in the 4th century. 2

NAMES

  • The Father's name is Urbanus. The first of the judges is named Dion and the second Julian.
  • According to Farmer (s.v. "Christina"), this St. Christina is probably the same person as the "St. Christina of Tyre" whose feast is on the same day in the Eastern churches. Although the current Roman Martyrology puts "Tyre" on Lake Bolsena, it is of course in Lebanon.

ALSO SEE

Prepared in 2018 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.

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In her right hand St. Christina holds her primary attribute, a long dart. Behind her is Lake Bolsena and the tower where her father kept his gold and silver idols. (See the description page.)


A secondary attribute is a wheel, sometimes pictured as if it were a millstone. The book and the raised hand celebrate her vigorous and erudite defense of the Christian faith. (See the description page.)


The snake is also an attribute of this saint. (See the description page.)

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NOTES

1 Narrative details reported here are from the various texts printed in the Acta Sanctorum's article on St. Christina in July vol. 5, 495-534. See especially the Passio on 524-28 and section V (503-506) on breviary entries and shorter narrative pieces. Also see Butler, III, 173-74.

2 Sicard, Cronica, 109. Farmer, s.v. "Christina."