Thecla
ID:
 
1561
 
Alternate Name:
 
Thekla
 
Birth Date:
 
1st century
 
Country:
 
Turkey
 
Region:
 
Central Anatolian
 
Town:
 
Ikonion (modern Koyna)
 
Region:
 
Cilicia
 
Town:
 
Seleucia (modern Silifke)
 
Mother:
 
Theocleia
 
Spouse:
 
Thecla was engaged to Thamyris, a prominent citizen of Ikonion
 
Communities:
 

Athanasius, in his treatise On virginity, presented Thecla as a model virgin to the ascetic women living at home or in small, all-female communities in fourth-century Alexandria, Egypt.

During the fourth century, Athanasius in his Apologia de fuga sua describes a community of women who were forced to leave Alexandria, Egypt and relocate in the Kharga Oasis. On the necropolis of El Bagawat in the Kharga Oasis, two chapels include wall paintings which depict Thecla, one dating to the fourth century the other to later centuries (see "Artifacts"). Perhaps these refugee women founded a community with particular devotion to Thecla at El Bagawat.

An abundance of material evidence (papyri on which the Acts of Thecla are written, objects which depict Thecla, and churches dedicated to Thecla) indicate that Thecla had a strong following in Al-Fayyūm and in the Nile Valley. These cities include Antinoopolis (modern Sheikh-'Ibada), Oxyrhynchus (modern Al-Bashnasā), Arsinoe (modern Kīmān Fāris), and Aphroditopolis (modern Atfîḥ).

By the fifth century, a monastic community had sprung up at Hagia Thekla.

A number of clay flasks from Egypt depict St. Menas on one side, and Thecla on the other. This, coupled with a reference "the martyr shrine of Saint Thecla" in Miracles of St. Menas, 22.2.27-31, suggest that a shrine to Thecla was located near the pilgrimage center dedicated to St. Menas in Egypt in the fifth or sixth century. It is unclear whether a monastery was present at this shrine to Thecla, but it is likely that ascetic women made pilgrimages to this shrine.

There is also a Greek Orthodox convent dedicated to Mar Taqla in Maʻlūlā, a village fifty kilometers northeast of Damascus. The saint is believed to be buried there in a cave above the monastery. There is no evidence that any parts of the monastery or chapel date to the Byzantine period.

 
Ecclesiastical Relationships:
 

In The acts of Thecla, Thecla acted as a companion to Paul on his journey through the Roman Empire. They first met when Paul came to Ikonion. Thecla joined him to the dismay of her mother, fiance, the governor, and the townspeople. Paul and Thecla fled, going first to Daphne, then to Antioch, and finally to Seleucia.

 
Secular Affiliations:
 

According to The acts of Thecla, when Alexander, a wealthy man of Ikonion, tried to rape Thecla and she defended herself from his advances, he led her to the governor who imprisoned her. While in prison, a wealthy queen named Tryphaena befriended Thecla, and when Thecla was forced into the an arena with beasts, Queen Tryphaena followed her. The animals in the arena did not attack Thecla, and so Queen Tryphaena took her into her home like a daughter. Thecla again was led to the arena, where animals again refused to attack her. While there she baptized herself in a vat of water. Meanwhile, Tryphaena collapsed, encouraging the governor and Alexander to cease activities in the arena for the day. Thecla was able to return to Tryphaena's house for eight days. Thecla then rejoined Paul at Myra, traveling in women's clothes. While on her mission, Tryphaena sent Thecla clothing and gold to leave for Paul's ministry to the poor. Thecla eventually died in Seleucia.

 
Feast Day:
 
Sept. 24
 
Literary Works:
 

Legends and oral accounts of Thecla began to circulate in the second century. Davis, in The cult of Saint Thecla : a tradition of women’s piety in late antiquity, suggests that these oral accounts circulated especially among women's communities. The acts of Thecla was written in the second century. For other editions, see "Published Primary Sources" below. Tertullian’s Homily on baptism identifies its author as a presbyter in Asia Minor (ch. 17), indicating that Tertullian believed the author was a man. Modern scholars, including Davis and Barrier, have suggested that perhaps this anonymous male was only an editor, and that an earlier version circulated which was written by a woman. No such earlier version exists today.

Although not included as part of the canonical gospels, The acts of Thecla circulated widely from the second to the fourth centuries. Tertullian does not speak highly of it, but Hippolytus (Comm. Dan. 3.29), Jerome (Epist. 22.3), and Origen (De Principiis 1.2.3, Comm. Jo. 20.12, Hom. Jer. 20.1, Pasch. 36.6) have no problem with it. In addition, the text has been found on numerous papyrii in Egypt, it was translated from Greek into Coptic, Syriac, Latin, Armenian, Slavic, Arabic, and Ethiopic, and Ephrem wrote a Syriac commentary on it. For a further discussion of the text's reception, see The acts of Paul and Thecla : a critical introduction and commentary, 25-30.

Around 470, an anonymous author compiled Vie et miracles de sainte Thècle: texte grec, traduction et commentaire ("The Life and Miracles of Thecla"), written in Greek. Manuscript copyists in the middle ages erroneously attributed the text to Basil of Seleucia, but the author is actually an enemy of Basil and specifically attacks Basil in ch. 12 of the text. The "Life and Miracles of Thecla" paraphrases The acts of Thecla at the outset of the work, making this earlier tradition the foundation for contemporary devotion. The author innovates on this tradition by placing greater importance on Thecla's life in Seleucia, where she evangelized, catechized, and baptized until the end of her life. Rather than dying, she sunk into the earth, but continued to work miracles for her followers. The importance of Seleucia in this text specifically links "The Life and Miracles of Thekla" to Hagia Thekla.

 
Artifacts:
 

According to The ecclesiastical history of Evagrius Scholasticus 3.8, the Emperor Zeno (c. 425 – 9 April 491) had a vision of Thecla, who encouraged him to march on his usurper Basiliscus. In thanksgiving for his victory over Basiliscus, Zeno dedicated a sanctuary to Thecla at her hilltop shrine at Hagia Thekla. By the late fifth century, this shrine included up to five churches as well as monastic structures.

15-16 clay flasks depict St. Menas on one side, and Thecla on the other. These date from the fifth or sixth century, and pilgrims purchased them at Menas' pilgrimage center in order to to carry home holy oil, water, or dust. For an example, see Thecla Ampulla.

Numerous other artifacts depicting Thecla exist. These include:

- A fifth or sixth century ivory tablet which depicts Thecla listening to Paul, now in the British Museum, no. MME 1856.06-23.
- A wooden comb depicting Thecla among the lions, now in Berlin, Frühchristlich-byzantinische Sammlung, no. 3263.
- A limestone round relief depicting Thecla with the lions and angels, now in the Nelson Gallery at the Aktins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri, no. 48.10.
- An oil lamp depicting Thecla and two lions, Frankfurt am Main, Liebieghaus-Museum, no. 302.
- A curtain fragment depicting Thecla, now in the Textile Museum, Washington D.C., no. 71.46.
- A bronze cross with an inscribed petition to Thecla, now in the Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., acc. no. 52.5.

A number of frescoes, wall paintings, and reliefs in churches across the Mediterranean also depict Thecla. These include:

- A church in Etschmiadzin with a relief of Thecla and Paul dated to the fifth century.
- A fresco from Ephesus which depicts Paul and Theocleia teaching Thecla.
- Fourth-century wall paintings depicting Thecla in The Chapel of the Exodus (no. 30) at El Bagawat, Egypt.
- A fifth- to eighth-century fresco from the Chapel of Peace (no. 80) at El Bagawat, Egypt which shows Thecla being taught by Paul.

 
Misc Info:
 

Women and men venerated Thecla in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries and beyond. When Emmelia was pregnant with NULL, she dreamed that a man appeared to her and called the child Thecla . Gregory interpreted this as a sign of Macrina's holiness (Life of St. Macrina, 962C). Gregory of Nazianzus visited Thecla's shrine, Hagia Thekla, in 374 upon the death of his mother (On his own life, 548-549). NULL also traveled to Thecla's shrine in 384, where she prayed and read The acts of Thecla. NULL and NULL also made a pilgrimage to Thecla's shrine (Philotheos historia. French & Greek. 1977, XXIX.7-8).

 
Published primary sources:
  
Secondary sources:
 

The cult of Saint Thecla : a tradition of women’s piety in late antiquity, The life and miracles of Thekla : a literary study, and The acts of Paul and Thecla : a critical introduction and commentary were particularly helpful in writing this entry.

See also Thekla, Sisters of Thecla : knowledge, power, and change in the church, Redeemed bodies : women martyrs in early Christianity, 72-102, Contextualizing gender in early Christian discourse : thinking beyond Thecla, Apokryphes praxeis Paulou kai Theklas, Thekla-- Paulusschülerin wider Willen? : Strategien der Leserlenkung in den Theklaakten, Texts and the body. Engendering palimpsests : reading the textual tradition of the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Of martyrs and men ; Perpetua, Thecla, and the ambiguity of female heroism in early Christianity, Eloquent virgins from Thecla to Joan of Arc, Pilgrimage and the Cult of Saint Thecla in Late Antique Egypt, Namesakes of St. Thecla in Late Antique Egypt, Thecla the beast fighter : a female emblem of deliverance in early Christian popular art, Rescue for the dead : the posthumous salvation of non-Christians in early Christianity, 56-75, Narrative as a strategic resource for resistance: reading the Acts of Thecla for its political purposes, The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thekla-- die Apostolin : ein apokrypher Text neu entdeckt, Alle origini del Duomo : la basilica e il culto di Santa Tecla, Das Leben der heiligen Makrina auf dem Hintergrund der Thekla-Traditionen : Studien zu dem Ursprüngen des weiblichen Mönchtums im 4. Jahrhundert in Kleinasien, Vielschichtige Neuigkeiten in der so genannten Paulusgrotte von Ephesus, Thekla, ihre Bilder in der frühchristlichen Kunst, Die Thekla-akten : ihre Verbreitung und Beurteilung in der Kirche, Die Acten des Paulus und der Thecla und die ältere Thecla-Legende, Monuments of Syria : a guide, p. 152.

 
Contributor:
 
Dina Boero