Sunday, August 2, 2020

Another View of Saint Eulalia

John William Waterhouse painted the martyrdom of Eulalia, which created a sensation at the Royal Academy when it was exhibited in 1885. 
Saint Eulalia exhibited 1885 by John William Waterhouse

Tradition says that she was a devout Christian who was killed by Romans in 304AD for refusing to make sacrifices to the Roman gods and for insulting the emperor Maximian. She declared her Christian faith and challenged the authorities to martyr her. While she was being tortured, "She taunted her torturers all the while, and as she expired a dove flew out of her mouth. This frightened away the soldiers and allowed a miraculous snow to cover her nakedness, its whiteness indicating her sainthood."

Catherine Nixey’s book The Darkening Age presents a different view of Eulalia, based on Roman sources. According to Nixey, the presiding magistrate Flavious Probus wrote that a fervent group of these early Christians were indulging in a suicide cult, hoping for a ticket to the afterlife. 

Nixey quotes Romans trying to talk Eulalia out of killing herself: “Don’t you see the beauty of this pleasant weather?” Probus pleaded with Eulalia. “There will be no pleasure to come your way if you kill your own self.” 

Which was she, an innocent martyr or a suicidal fanatic? Let me know what you think in the comments.


Unknown said...

A Christian accepts that his life is from God to be lived for Him and for others. If one is seeking death, he is not a Christian. One is martyred because he refuses to pay homage to idols.

CatBlogger said...

1 Corinthians 1:18
For the message about Christ's death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God's power.

I know nothing about this Saint, but I'm sure the Romans thought she was crazy.

AMD Fineart said...

I’m of the persuasion that she was innocent. It would seem obvious for the Roman Empire to write their history in a way that wouldn’t put them in a bad light.

AMD Fineart said...

I’m of the persuasion that she was innocent, it would seem obvious for the Roman Empire to write their history in a way that wouldn’t place them in a bad light.

willbrooks said...

Hi James, I really admire Waterhouse in spite of his sanitized and evocative depiction of St. Eulalia. Was she a fanatic? She was young, impetuous and single minded as we all once were. Her devotion to the Gospels lead to her fanaticism. If she had a more mature interpretation she may have acted differently. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you"

Bill Marshall said...

On a lighter note I have to ask, am I the only one who immediately started looking for dinosaurs when first viewing this entry?

Eugene Arenhaus said...

AMD Fineart - It would be equally obvious for the Christians to do exactly the same.

Maria said...

I would guess it a matter of semantics. For example, did Perpetua commit suicide or was she executed?
Like the catholic priests in the Mexican revolution (read The Power and the Glory, Graham Green) who were spared if the renounced the church but executed if they did not. :) Maria

DavidB said...

I don’t know the true attitude of Eulalia, but I can say that to be a Christian is not to fear death, but also not to intentionally seek it out. The mandate given is to go forth and proclaim the gospel. Hard to do if you are dead. Having said that, if the punishment for proclaiming the gospel is death the Christian should continue to perform the mandate, not desiring to die but rather remaining faithful to the calling.

The apostle Paul knowing that in death there is release and reward still did not seek it out, but rather, realized it was necessary to remain in the body to proclaim the gospel. He said as much in the following verses.

Philippians 1:21-26 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better indeed. But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my coming to you again your exultation in Christ Jesus will resound on account of me.

scottT said...

Funny how the government frames it. They aren't executing you for refusing to adhere to their rules, you are committing suicide for refusing to do something so simple which could save your life--proclaim Caesar as god.

It really is amazing how many chose death rather than deny their God. This isn't just ancient history, either. May their reward be great.

Lauren said...

I am about to finish reading Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. Glad to see it mentioned here. A great book to read if you want to hear possible thoughts of one going into martyrdom. What does martyrdom look like to those who are not the martyr? I wonder if she did not wrestle with doubts like all would in that scenario. I guess Waterhouse thought she deserved the doves and white snow.

I remember this being the most arresting painting in the gallery when I visited the Tate. The perspective lines and foreshadowing drew me right into the scene. I wish you could analyze the composition for us, Mr. Gurney.

Maria said...

(Lauren) I find those questions fascinating as well. Perhaps, like in painting, one hones into what is the most relevant to oneself and not necessarily knowing why. Martyrdom, if by definition one would mean rather dying than loosing oneself, is always relevant. I find even when one is not truthful to oneself, one dies a little. I would also love to hear Mr. Gurney elaborate. :) Maria

Maria said...

(Hard not to think of John Everett Millais' Ophelia... Was she mad or true?)

Susan Krzywicki said...

I think this is why religion is such a force for trouble in this world. Both sides claiming some sort of divine influence or power.

Pushing people to these sorts of extreme behaviors doesn't help anything. Peace, acceptance and tranquility bring us to a better place where discourse allows for rational living.

Amin Ouazzani Touhami said...

Interesting story, and a very beautiful painting by old master Waterhouse. I think any of the two stories could be possible, or none. But an established power being intolerant to the advent of a new faith or ideology looks like a more credible story to me, it tends to happen a lot along history. To my knowledge at least.

What catches me especially in this painting is the uncommon composition. How our main subject (the dead woman) occupies the lower third of the painting, but the artist plays with all the elements around her to make her stand out, and she also has the advantage of proximity.

Thank you for this interesting post