Saint Thecla – First Woman Evangelist
We recently discovered the story of Thecla, who was a significant figure in early Christianity also hailing from Konya, one of the places we will be visiting in September. This is our adaptation of her story.
Saint Thecla was the first woman evangelist in the Christian Church. She came from a very wealthy and honorable pagan family in Konya (known in classical antiquity and during the medieval period as Iconium in Latin, and Ἰκόνιον (Ikónion) in Greek). The name Konya is a cognate of icon, as an ancient Greek legend ascribed its name to the “eikon” (image), or the “gorgon’s (Medusa’s) head”, with which Perseus vanquished the native population before founding the city.
Thecla was well-educated in the pagan philosophy and poetry. At the age of 18 her father arranged an engagement between Thecla and Thamyris, a pagan prince.
When Saint Paul left Antioch and began evangelising Christ in Iconium, Thecla listened to his teachings and converted to Christianity becoming one of his first students. She renounced marriage and devoted her life as a virgin for Christ.
When Thecla’s family and fiance knew that she had converted to Christianity and had dedicated her life as a virgin for Christ, refusing to many, they reported her to the governor who ordered that she be burned at the stake. When the fire was lit, Thecla walked courageously toward it, making the Sign of the Cross. Suddenly a strong wind blew and heavy rain poured down that extinguished the fire. People were frightened and went home, and Thecla was not harmed.
After that incident, Thecla was sent to Antioch where the Roman judge there ordered that she be thrown to the lions. When they brought her into the arena and everybody was watching, she made the Sign of the Cross and offered her spirit to the Lord. At once, the lions came close and started licking her feet. So the judge ordered that she be imprisoned. The following day she was brought out and each of her arms was tied to a bull. The soldiers started branding the bulls with red-hot irons, expecting that the bulls would eat Thecla alive. But the bulls didn’t move and remained calm. Then she was thrown into a valley with poisonous snakes. A fire began and destroyed the snakes and Thecla was saved.
After all these incidents, the judge asked Thecla “Who are you, that you are always saved?’ Her answer was, “I am a daughter of Christ, Son of the living God. He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life; He is the one who protects me. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever.” Then the judge set her free. And many people came to believe in Christ. The queen, Tryphaena, in Antioch gave her money to care for the poor and to find Saint Paul.
After this, Thecla met St. Paul again in Miralikia, and told him everything. He encouraged her to continue her mission in preaching the Word. Then Thecla went back to her town to evangelize the people there, especially her mother. (Her fiance had died by this time.) After that, Thecla went to Seleucia of Isauria and spent the rest of her life there helping the poor and caring for the sick.
Thecla died in Seleucia at the age of 80. She was buried there and a church was built over her tomb and dedicated to her. Many saints have visited her tomb, including St Gregory the Nazianzen.
Saint Thecla in the Bible
Aside from a side mention in the New Testament (2 Tim 3,11), the earliest record of her comes from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, probably composed in the 2nd Century.
Santa Tecla is the patron saint of Tarragona, Spain, where her feast day is the major fiesta of the city and the cathedral is dedicated to her. In Spain, she is sometimes facetiously referred to as the patron saint of computers (tecla means “key” on a keyboard in Catalan and Spanish).
Eliott, J.K., “The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation,” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
MacDonald, D.R., “The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon,” Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983.
Kirsch, J.P., Catholic Encyclopedia: “Sts. Thecla” , Volume XIV, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.
Ehrman, Bart D., “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew,” Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0195182491.
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