By Denise Trull
I was born sixty-six years ago today, the feast of the glorious St. Paul Miki, a martyr of Japan. I am a strong believer in providence. We receive from God the saints He has chosen to give each of us as special friends for life -- be they on the calendar the day we are born or whether they are inspired and chosen at our Confirmation. St. Paul Miki is my birthday saint, and he has been nothing but helpful with his prayers on my behalf.
This year, however, I made a charming discovery. I have recently taken to attending both the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine rite liturgies. Each liturgy’s calendar is slightly different. It was a bit confusing at first, but then I rather took to it. It meant more saints to celebrate on each day. Being curious, I scanned the month of February and whom did I see so graciously present on the sixth square of my Tridentine calendar but the beautiful young virgin, St .Dorothy. She shared the space not only with St. Paul Miki but also St. Titus. So, as it turns out, my birthday square contains a veritable cloud of witnesses. Both Paul and Titus, in saintly chivalry, seemed to bow in deference to St. Dorothy, so this year I have chosen to meditate on her life and to pray for her intercession.
St. Dorothy was a beautiful young virgin who lived in the 4th century. She dwelled with her family in Caesarea Mazaca (present day Turkey) during the great Diocletian persecutions. We do not know much about her but many wonderful stories have been passed down through the centuries that praise her courage and beauty, which makes me think that whoever she was, she made a deep impression. We do know that she had converted to Christianity when quite young and that she had been so taken by the stories of Christ she heard from her teachers, that she determined to give herself, body and soul, only to Him as her bridegroom and to follow Him wherever He would lead her. She was baptized and spent her quiet days learning to pray and serving the poor she found near her home.
Great beauty can be a curse as well as a blessing. For Dorothy, it was to be the former. A young pagan nobleman began to notice her as she walked among the poor each day, feeding them and binding up their wounds so tenderly. Quickly falling in love with her beauty and her gentle ways he, asked her to marry him. She quietly, but firmly, refused, trying to explain to him that she loved another. He was humiliated by her rejection and betrayed her to the Roman prefect Sapricius declaring her a Christian. But Sapricius, too, was charmed by her beauty and sought a way to spare her life. He kindly said that if she would simply offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, she would be released. Dorothy replied with a gentle but resounding 'no.' The prefect then lost no time in sentencing her to torture and death. Thinking she would be terrified at this final judgement, he was shocked to hear Dorothy cry out in joyous wonder that soon she would walk with Jesus among the fruits and flowers of His Heavenly garden.
With a sense of sadistic drama, and also as a cautionary tale to others who would dare to practice Christianity in his district, Sapricius had Dorothy marched to her death flanked on both sides by a mocking and jeering crowd. Having dressed herself like a bride in full finery, her hair bound in a jeweled head dress, she stepped lightly on her way to execution as to her wedding. From the crowd, one man, a lawyer name Theophilus, loudly cried out in sarcasm and derision: “O Bride of Christ! Send me some fruits from your Bridegroom’s garden!” Dorothy turned to him and ignoring the raucous laughter produced by his joke, she promised sweetly to do so with a look of kindness and love while adding these mysterious words, “You and I shall meet together in that garden.” Theophilus was taken aback by her words said so confidently and with such self possession. Mesmerized, he stared after her as she blithely walked on.
Before she was executed she removed her jeweled head dress and placed it in the basket of a young boy standing by. She told him to bring it to Theophilus who was standing in the crowd. As the boy drew closer, the basket suddenly gave off a sweet fragrance and there inside were three golden apples and three roses. With wide eyes, the boy gave the basket to Theophilus who at the heavenly fragrance, fell to his knees and asked forgiveness for his sarcasm and derision. Clutching the basket to himself, he professed his faith in Christianity and joined Dorothy at the place of execution. Together, in the year 311 they were martyred and indeed Theophilus was the first guest to enter the garden for the wedding feast of the Virgin Dorothy and her Divine King, just as Dorothy had promised.
Dorothy’s courageous joy was told over and over in stories and songs from that point on and she became a venerated saint as early as the seventh century. Many artists from the fourteenth century on were charmed by her life and she became the muse for many a painting and sculpture. In the art of Medieval Sweden, she is often painted with a beautiful wreath of heavenly roses on her golden hair, and she walks in the company of her fellow martyrs Barbara, Catherine, and Margaret. They are lovingly called ‘The Four Capital Virgins’. Many other artists place her in the center of a walled garden where she plays happily with the Christ Child as he climbs a tree. On the feast of St Dorothy it is a custom for gardeners the world over to bless their trees and to ask her prayers for a successful spring planting. She remains to this day the patroness of gardeners.
It was a delight to add St. Dorothy to my list of birthday saints. Her story is one of beauty and light, fragrance, flowers, and secret gardens -- the stuff of poetry. It was as if God knew this was the way to my heart and to all hearts. That there will be suffering and martyrdom surely, but the story does not end there. God’s story never ends in suffering. Suffering is the entrance to His garden. Our yes is the key. It is a thing of wonder that God would woo our hearts with such a story as Dorothy’s, this beautiful young girl who showed us how to unlock the door. Like an ancient bard or a Troubadour, He knows how much we love and need a beautiful tale to keep us true to the narrow way -- one that reads almost like a lovely fairy tale. Except this one is real and truly does end happily ever after, in a garden of golden roses.
St. Dorothy pray for us.
Denise Trull is the editor in chief of Sostenuto, an online journal for writers and thinkers of every kind to share their work with each other. Her own writing is also featured regularly at Theology of Home, and has appeared in Dappled Things. She also can be found at her Substack, The Inscapist. Denise is the mother of seven grown, adventurous children and has acquired the illustrious title of grandmother. She lives with her husband Tony in St. Louis, Missouri.