May 4 – Pelagia of Tarsus; John Houghton

Pelagia of Tarsus (d. early IV cent.) lived in that city, which is why she’s called that. The heir of Emperor Diocletian fell in love with her and asked for her hand, but she had had a vision in which Bishop Linus (of Tarsus) had converted her to Christianity and suggested perpetual virginity as a valid lifestyle choice, so she refused the boy’s suit, saying “I am wedded to Christ, so to speak.” The heir (unnamed in my sources) decided to bide his time, figuring he was such a stud, she’d soon change her mind.

Pelagia’s mother at this juncture suggested she take a trip to visit her old nurse, and along the way whom should she run into but Linus himself, whom she recognized from her dream. “Baptize me!” she suggested. “But there’s no water!” the bishop replied. Suddenly, a brand-new spring gushed forth adjacent to where they were standing. Pelagia’s lack of baptismal sponsors ceased to be an issue when a retinue of angels appeared. After giving the newly-illumed one communion, Linus prayed with her and bade her Godspeed.

Upon returning home, the saint sold all her stuff, gave the money to the poor, and dressed in simple white linen. She tried to evangelize her mother, but it backfired—Mum sent word to the heir about her daughter’s baptism, and said heir fell on his sword in despair. “This won’t do,” said the mother unit, and she dragged Pelagia before the emperor.

Upon seeing the maiden, Diocletian’s heart burned with lust and other bad things, and he suggested that she become his bride. “You’re nuts,” she said. (Well, my source says, “You are insane” but my version has a certain punch that the source lacks, I’m sure you’ll agree.) “I’m married to Christ. Marriage to you would be loathsome in comparison.” She went on to mention the imperishable crowns of faith, purity, and martyrdom. Enraged, the emperor brazenly ordered her to be tossed into an oven in the shape of a bronze bull (cf. Antipas, Apr 11). Not wishing to be manhandled, she waved off the guards and jumped into the bull unaided. Witnesses said her flesh melted gently like myrrh, giving off a sweet odor. Her bones were tossed out, but they were guarded by four lions from Leonine Desert Mortuary Services, LLC[1], until they could be gathered by Linus and reverently buried. A church later sprang up on the site.

John Houghton (1487–1535) was a Cambridge-educated Carthusian priest in London who was arrested and taken to the Tower for not signing the Act of Succession as demanded by Henry VIII, the loving friend of monasteries and books. Among other things, the act arrogated to Parliament religious powers which loyal Catholics felt belonged to the Papacy. When it was amended with the phrase “in so far as the law of God allows,” John reluctantly inked it and was set free, but before his copy even made it to the filing clerk’s in-box, the act was replaced by the infamous I’ll-Divorce-Whomever-I-Damned-Well-Please Act (euphemistically known as the Act of Supremacy) making Henry head of the Church in England. John and others asked for an exemption from signing it, but were arrested and brought to trial.

The jury was about to find them innocent when a message came from the King suggesting something about the jurors’ own necks. Suddenly they were able to see aspects of the case they had hitherto overlooked, and returned a guilty verdict. The defendants were hanged, but John was taken down alive and quartered. Smallish bits of him were subsequently displayed throughout the city.

John is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.


[1] See Apr 1.