May 28 – Heliconis of Thessalonica; Margaret of Salisbury

Heliconis of Thessalonica (d. 244) moved from her hometown of Thessalonica to Corinth just in time to get caught up in the persecution of Christians. No shrinking violet (or local equivalent), she exhorted pagans to abandon their unhearing, unseeing, etc., idols and convert to Christianity. Predictably, she was arrested, and soon stood before Governor Perinus, who predictably tried to (in turns) entice and threaten her to sacrifice to idols.

When that failed, he had her thrown into a “hot” (what? no adverbs?) furnace, from which she emerged without so much as a glow, due to a handy angel who cooled the flames. Something of a sadist (a not uncommon property in governors, as we’ve seen), the gov subjected her to a number of gruesome tortures. When she failed to apostatize, he offered her honors and titles if she’d just burn a wee bit of incense to the gods.

“Okay, take me to the temple,” she said, and they thought they had won their woman. She was escorted to the goditorium with drums and trumpets. “Let me be alone with the gods a while,” she requested, so they closed the door and did whatever it is pagan priests do when they’re waiting for somebody else to worship their statues.

“She’s been in there a while,” they finally said. When they opened the door, she was wiping the dust from her hands—every idol had been cast down and smashed to bits in a feat of superhuman strength. “She’s a witch! Kill her!” they screamed, while she softly sang, “I am Christian woman, hear me roar[1].” They tossed her in jail, where her wounds were personally healed by our Lord Jesus Christ and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. After five days, she was dragged out to be devoured by three ferocious lions, who came and laid down by her feet and purred softly. “She’s a witch! Kill her!” roared the crowd, which so angered the lions (“Hey, this is our friend you’re talking about”) that they leapt into the stands and made havoc among the people. We have no numerical casualty reports, but I’m guessing it wasn’t pretty.

Perinus finally had Heliconis beheaded, which is how these things usually end. Her body was recovered, and reverently buried by the Christians of Corinth.

Blessed Margaret Pole (née Plantagenet), Eighth Countess of Salisbury  (1473–1541), had more royals in her family tree than Kansas City has in its baseball stadium on Alumni Night. She was the niece of Edward IV and Richard III, and first cousin once removed to Henry VIII, who made her Countess of Salisbury “in her own right” when her husband Richard Pole died. She served as governess to Hank’s daughter Mary, but incurred his ire when she spoke out against his marriage to Anne Boleyn. (Harry just didn’t understand why people opposed this match—“She’s got such a good head on her shoulders,” he would say.)

When Margaret’s son Reginald Cardinal Pole wrote a negative review of the Acts of Supremacy[2], the family’s days were numbered. Since Reggie was in France at the time, Harry had Margaret, her son the Duke of Montague, and another close relative the Marquis of Exeter, arrested. The men were executed, and all three had their rights and lands stripped. Margaret was found guilty of treason by virtue of a silk tunic which had the Five Wounds of Christ embroidered on it, and which may have been planted among her effects, perhaps by Cromwell. She was thrown into the Tower with a suspended death sentence, which was executed two years later after an uprising in York which nobody even pretended she had anything to do with. She walked calmly to the block, and suffered terribly under an apprentice headsman, who took ten strokes to get the job done[3]. She was beatified in 1886 by Leo XIII.


[1] Could you tell this part was satirical? Move ahead two spaces!
[2] Laws declaring Henry VIII (and his progeny after him) head of the Church of England.
[3] The Fellers’ Union wasn’t then what it subsequently came to be.