-Santa Dorotea, by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1648, oil on canvas, 180.2 x 101.5 cm, $3-4M US, Sotheby’s, 1/28/2010, private collection.
Even though her feast day was removed from the revised Roman calendar and her cultus suppressed in 1969 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, nevertheless, I love the story of St. Dorothy: the triumph of love over hate, the lesson of what has truest and permanent value, and the profound cost embracing the name Christian implies if dared lived fully and faithfully. I hope you find it worthwhile, too.
Saint Dorothy, virgin and martyr, was a Christian who lived in the 4th century A.D. in Caesarea of Cappadocia, now modern day Turkey. The cult of St Dorothy celebrates her for her angelic virtue. Her parents are believed to have been martyred before her in the Diocletian persecution.
She was ordered summoned before the governor of the region, Sapricius. She explained that the God she adored was majestic — above all emperors, who were mortal, and their gods, none of whom created either heaven or earth. She was stretched upon the rack, and offered clemency, favors, and honors if she would consent to sacrifice to idols, or death if she refused. And her torturers waited for her reply.
She asked why they delayed to torture her; they were expecting she might give in out of fright. She said to them, “Do what you have to do, that I may see the One for Whose love I fear neither death nor torments, Jesus Christ.”
She was asked, “Where is this Christ?” and she replied: “As Almighty, He is everywhere; but for weak human reason we say that the Son of God has ascended into heaven, to be seated at the right hand of the Almighty Father. It is He who invites us to the garden of His delights, where at all times the trees are covered with fruits, the lilies are perpetually white, the roses ever in their freshness. If you believe me, you too will search for the true liberty, and will labor to earn entry into the garden of God’s delights.” She was then placed in the custody of two women who had fallen away from the faith, in the
hope that they might pervert her; but the fire of her own heart rekindled the flame in theirs, and she led them back to Christ.
When she was set once more on the rack, Sapricius himself was amazed at the heavenly expression on her face, and asked her the cause of her joy. “Because,” she said, “I have brought back two souls to Christ, and because I shall soon be in heaven rejoicing with the Angels.” Her joy grew as she was smacked and buffeted in the face and her sides were burned with plates of red-hot iron. “Blessed art
Thou,” she cried, when she was sentenced to be beheaded, “Blessed art Thou, O Lover of souls, who call me to paradise, and invite me to Thy nuptial chamber!”
Saint Dorothy suffered in mid-winter when very little grows and local fresh produce is absent. On the road to her execution, a lawyer named Theophilus, who had grown accustomed to cursing and persecuting the Christians, asked her, in mockery, “Bride of Christ, send me some apples or roses from the garden of your Spouse you speak of, this Jesus!”
The Saint promised to grant his request. Just before she died, a little child stood by her side bearing three apples and three roses. She told him to take them to Theophilus, and to tell him it was the present he sought from the garden of her Spouse. Saint Dorothy was beheaded February 6, 311 A.D.
Theophilus was still making merry over his challenge to her, when the child entered his room. He recognized that the fruit and flowers were of no earthly growth, and that the child was an angel in disguise. He was converted to the faith, and then shared in the martyrdom of Saint Dorothy.
Prayer to St Dorothy:
Good St Dorothy, by the radiance of your holy life, you blessed your persecutors and forgave your enemies, just as Jesus told us to do. You eloquently gave witness, by your suffering, to a power greater than that of fear of death and torture; your love for Him.
Holy St Dorothy, we beseech you, ask that same Lord of Life, to give us a fraction of your grace and courage; that we may joyfully endure any minor inconveniences or small embarrassments living a faithful witness in our lives to Him may mean, never denying Him.
Blessed St Dorothy, you did draw the two sisters who were weak in faith back into the Eternal Light of the Faith; and sent roses and apples from Paradise to Theophilus. Always intercede for us, that we may grow more daily fervent in our love for Him.
O, St Dorothy, as a fellow contestant for the faith with Theophilus, you both were counted worthy of the divine glory of martyrdom. Ask your Spouse that we, who praise you for your steadfast witness, may give similar witness in our lives and thereby receive the forgiveness of our sins.
Glorious St Dorothy, even though once mistaken for the gardener of the Tomb by the Magdelene, through your intercession, may the Risen One grant us a share of your joy in His Garden of Eternal Freshness. May we be counted worthy to spend eternity with Him, Who is the Eternal Gardener of our souls. Amen.