Saint Paraskevi Of Rome: Blood, Oil & Blindness

On October 20, 2015 by Tim Newman

Saint Agia Paraskevi of Rome Painting

I don’t make much of a habit of writing about saints (pun very much intended, thanks for asking) but Paraskevi is worth a mention. I came across Saint Paraskevi of Rome after staying in a village on Crete bearing her name, so I thought I’d check her out. I was impressed with the blood, gore, drama and destruction, her story is worth retelling.

She was born to Christian Greek parents in a village near Rome during the reign of Hadrian and she went through way more than her fair share of painful dramas. Paraskevi means “day of preparation” and refers to Friday (the day she was born), the day of preparation for the Sabbath.

So what was it that so impressed me about this ancient Christian lady?…

Paraskevi was a smart young lady and was well-versed in philosophy and theology. Her knowledge, understanding and chaste life made her top-notch marriage material, but despite many offers she turned down all eligible suitors. She was devout and an all round goody two shoes.

Aged 20, both her parents died, but rather than living the high life she gave away all of her belongings and headed up a community of Christian virgins and widows. She became a preacher and at 30 went off preaching in various towns and villages.

Saint Agia Paraskevi of Rome

Christians were manically hated by Jews and Romans around this time, but during the reign of Emperor Antonius Pius, Christians were initially protected. Pius required a good reason to put one to death. Unfortunately, around this time, there was a bad run of disasters in Rome and the blame was laid squarely at the feet of the Christians. They were pretty superstitious back then. Pius had no choice but to remove some of his legal protections.

Many did not like Paraskevi’s denial of the Pagan gods of the time and after a string of complaints from enraged Jews Antonius Pius had her arrested.

Despite Pius’ attempts to get her to renounce her God, she wouldn’t. He even offered to marry her and she turned him down flat. Rejecting an offer of marriage is a great way to annoy any powerful man. Pius did not take this lying down and tortured her by placing a steel helmet lined with nails on her head and squeezing it in a vice. She endured this affront with a smile and many were converted to Christianity through this show of strength.

Saint Paraskevi of Rome - Painting

Antonius Pius was enraged by this and had the converts executed, then he hung Paraskevi by her hair and burned her limbs with torches. She still would not repent.

Next she was submerged in a vat of boiling oil, but miraculously emerged unscathed. Pius claimed she was using magic to keep the liquid cool. He approached the vat to prove it was no longer dangerously hot, only to have his eyes destroyed by the steam and vapours. He begged for mercy and Paraskevi responded:

Emperor, the Christian God is healing you from the blindness that was given to you as a punishment.

Immediately his sight was restored, and for this action she is now considered an intercessor Saint for the healing of eye ailments. Pius was more than chuffed to get his eyes back in working order and ended the persecution of Christians. Phew.

Saint Agia Paraskevi of Rome Heals The Blind

Unfortunately, when Antonius Pius died in 161AD, things changed for the Christians. Marcus Aurelius came into power and although he was the last of the “five good emperors” and an important Stoic philosopher, he had no soft spot for the Christians. Aurelius faced a plague early in his reign which many people blamed on the Christians. Paraskevi and her gang bore the brunt once again.

Paraskevi was imprisoned and thrown into a pit of snakes by the local governor Asclepius. Unperturbed, Paraskevi made the sign of the cross and a snake was instantly cut in half. Asclepius was well impressed and set her free.

Her troubles, however, did not end here. She moved to a new town and the local leader – Taracius – once again placed Paraskevi into a large pot of boiling oil and tar. She’d been through this before, and once again emerged unscathed. No rest for the wicked though – once removed from the vat she was severely beaten and had a large rock placed on her chest. Once again this stalwart attitude fired up a spate of Christian converts in the area.

The next day Taracius took Paraskevi to a temple honouring Apollo in order to convert her. Paraskevi remained unphased, made the sign of the cross and the temple’s idols were destroyed. The priests beat her and cried for her blood. She was taken to be executed. Her last wish was to be left for a moment alone to pray, but this time it didn’t help. Finally Paraskevi’s struggle was ended and she was decapitated outside of the city walls.

Quite a full on life story, right? Of course, any detailed story from this long ago is bound to be confused, exaggerated or worse. But it makes for some excellent bedtime reading.







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