St. Dorothy's legend was already formed by at least the 8th century, when it was summarized by St. Aldhelm, but her cult was not widespread until the 15th.1
In the legend Dorothy lived in the 3rd century in Caesarea in Cappadocia. When she was on the way to her martyrdom a jesting "scribe of the realm" named Theophilus asked her to bring him roses and apples from the "Paradise" she claimed she was going to. Then as she proceeded to the execution a mysterious child appeared before her bearing a basket of three roses and three apples. She asked him to take the basket to Theophilus. The year after she was martyred, in the dead of winter, the child brought the apples and roses to Theophilus, and he converted to Christianity as a result.
For this reason, St. Dorothy's attribute is a basket of roses and apples. Sometimes, as at left, the basket is replaced by her own garment and the apples are omitted. Instead of the basket, or sometimes in addition to it, she may be holding a stalk of three or five roses. In her Byzantine-influenced portrait at St. Mark's, Venice, the basket becomes a stylized circle.
Portraits also sometimes show her with the mysterious child (example). One image labels the child Jesus Christus and gives him the cruciform halo used only for the Divinity. In another somewhat deteriorated fresco in the same church the child is shown once receiving the basket and once delivering it. There are no labels, but the halo on the child receiving the basket seems to have a cross on it. This rendering of the child as Christ most likely responds to Dorothy's words to the child in the Acta Sanctorum (Feb. vol. 1, 774): "Tell him, ‘here is what you asked my spouse to send you from Paradise.’" That is, the flowers are from Christ, allegorically the "spouse" of the just soul.
Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2015-10-28, 2016-12-21.