Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
SS. Azades, Tharba, and Many Others, Martyrs in Persia
From their genuine acts, by St. Maruthas, in Assemanis Acta Martyrum, t. 1, p. 42.
IN the thirty-second year of king Sapor II., (which Sozomen and others from him call, by an evident mistake, the thirty-third,) on Good-Friday, which fell that year on the 17th day of April, according to our solar year, the same day on which St. Simeon and his companions suffered, a most cruel edict was published in Persia, inflicting on all Christians the punishment of instant death or slavery, without any trial or form of judicature. The swords of the furious were every where unsheathed; and Christians looked upon slaughter as their glory, and courageously went out to meet it. They had even in this life the advantage of their enemies, who often trembled or were fatigued, while the persecuted professors of the truth stood unshaken. The cross grew and budded upon rivers of blood, says St. Maruthas; the troops of the saints exulted with joy, and, being refreshed by the sight of that saving sign, were themselves animated with fresh vigour, and inspired others continually with new courage. They were inebriated by drinking the waters of divine love, and produced a new offspring to succeed them. From the sixth hour on Good-Friday to the second Sunday of Pentecost, that is, Low-Sunday, (the Syrians and Chaldeans calling all the space from Easter-day to Whitsunday, Pentecost,) the slaughter was continued without interruption. The report of this edict no sooner reached distant cities, than the governors threw all the Christians into prisons, to be butchered as soon as the edict itself should be sent them: and upon its arrival in any place, whoever confessed themselves Christians were stabbed, or had their throats cut upon the spot. The eunuch Azades, a very great favourite with the king, was slain on this occasion; but the king was so afflicted at his death, that he thereupon published another edict, which restrained the persecution from that time to the bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. Great numbers also of the soldiery were crowned with martyrdom, besides innumerable others throughout the whole kingdom. Sozomen computes the number at sixteen thousand; but an ancient Persian writer, published by Renaudot, makes it amount to two hundred thousand.1
The queen, in the mean time, fell dangerously ill. The Jews, to whom she was very favourable, easily persuaded her that her sickness was the effect of a magical charm or spell, employed by the sisters of the blessed Simeon, to be revenged for their brothers death. One was a virgin, called Tharba, whom Henschenius and Ruinart corruptly call, with the Greeks, Pherbuta. Her sister was a widow, and both had consecrated themselves by vow to God in a state of continency.2 Hereupon the two sisters were apprehended, and with them Tharbas servant, who was also a virgin. Being accused of bewitching the queen, Tharba replied, that the law of God allowed no more of enchantment than of idolatry. And being told they had done it out of revenge, she made answer, that they had no reason to revenge their brothers death, by which he had obtained eternal life in the kingdom of heaven: revenge being moreover strictly forbidden by the law of God. After this they were remanded to prison. Tharba, being extremely beautiful, one of her judges was enamoured of her. He therefore sent her word the next day, that if she would consent to marry him, he would obtain her pardon and liberty of the king. But she refused the offer with indignation, saying, that she was the spouse of Jesus Christ, to whom she had consecrated her virginity, and committed her life; and that she feared not death, which would open to her the way to her dear brother, and to eternal rest from pain. The other two judges privately made her the like proposals, but were rejected in the same manner. They hereupon made their report to the king, as if they had been convicted of the crime; but he not believing them guilty, was willing their lives should be spared, and their liberty restored to them, on condition they would offer sacrifice to the sun. They declared nothing should ever prevail on them to give to a creature the honour due to God alone; whereupon the Magians cried out, They are unworthy to live by whose spells the queen is wasting in sickness. And it being left to the Magians to assign their punishments, and determine what death they should be put to, they, out of regard to the queens recovery, as they pretended, ordered their bodies to be sawn in two, and half of each to be placed on each side of a road, that the queen might pass between them, which, they said, would cure her. Even after this sentence, Tharbas admirer found means to let her know, that it was still in her power to prevent her death, by consenting to marry him. But she cried out with indignation: Most impudent of men, how could you again entertain such a dishonest thought? For me courageously to die is to live; but life, purchased by baseness, is worse than any death. When they were come to the place of execution, each person was tied to two stakes, and with a saw sawn in two; each half, thus separated, was cut into six parts, and being thrown into so many baskets, were hung on two forked stakes, placed in the figure of half crosses, leaving an open path between them; through which the queen superstitiously passed the same day. St. Maruthas adds, that no sight could be more shocking or barbarous, than this spectacle of the martyrs limbs cruelly mangled, and exposed to scorn. They suffered in the year 341.
Note 1. Concerning those martyrs, see Cassiodorus, Hist. Tripart. l. 3, c. 2. Niceph. l. 8, c. 27. [back]
Note 2. Many had vowed perpetual chastity from the times of the apostles. We read in the Acts of the Apostles (ch. xxi.) of the four virgins, daughters of Philip the Deacon. Tertullian cries out, (L. de resur. carnis,) How many voluntary eunuchs! how many virgins of both sexes! St. Ambrose (Exhort, ad Virg.) mentions virgins consecrated to God by receiving a blessed veil from the hands of the bishop at mass. Some vowed their virginity without receiving the consecrated veil, but wore black or gray modest garments, as a mark of their state. The strictest nuns were those called, in Syria, daughters of the covenant; which name included the deaconesses and other canonical maidens, who not only made vows of virginity, but also in many places were appointed to sing divine hymns in the church, as we read in the Syriac life of St. Ephrem. Of this class were all the nuns who suffered in Persia, namely, SS. Varda, the two Theclas, three Maries, Danacka, Tatona, Mama, Muzachia, Anna, Abiatha, Hates, Mamlaca, Tata, Ama, Adrana, and Maraca; for they are called Bnoth-Kiama, or daughters of the covenant. All these classes of holy virgins lived in private houses, before monasteries were founded; but never in the same houses with men, as St. Cyprian testifies, (b. 1, ep. 11.) They had consecrated themselves to God by vows of chastity; for St. Cyprian (ibid.) says, that if one of them should fall into incontinence, she would be incestuous and an adulteress, not to a husband, but to Christ. And Tertullian (l. de virg. veland.) calls them sacrilegious, who could throw aside a habit consecrated to God. They employed their time in solitude, hymns, prayers, and fastings, and were, like the nuns mentioned by SS. Ambrose, Jerom, &c. in other parts of the church. [back]