Sunday, April 19, 2009

St Apollonia, patroness of teeth problems

Many years ago I discovered that there was a saint in heaven that was very solicitous to my dental woes, due to her horrific martrydom on earth, during a Roman persecution many centuries ago. St Apollonia had all her teeth removed as a torture..yes, I'm sure you're wincing already.

I meditate on this everytime I find myself in the dental chair as I'm shuddering (and pinching about the gate theory as to why, 'cause it works for me!) as the blessed needle, going through flesh, is going to make my ordeal bearable (just as long as the needle doesn't hit a nerve..) As the dentist drills away on tooth or jaw socket relatively pain-free, I think, "What on earth did YOU endure St Apollonia?"

St Apollonia's feast day is the 9th of February and I think it is a feast worth remembering and offering prayers of thanksgiving rather than remembering her only as we step through the dental surgery door.

We have also incorporated this special saint into the lives of our children. St Apollonia has for many years now, been our 'tooth fairy'. And why not? Why a fairy, to mark the passage of childhood teeth to our irreplaceable set? Why not a saint whose glory for eternity will always be connected to a part of our body that we grow in appreciation for, especially as we get older and realise as another tooth goes, the truth in the saying, "Time is that in which all things pass away."

I have not done it as yet, but I yearn to make the time for the children to put together a meaningful craft where they make an image of St Apollonia with a basket at her feet, where the tooth can be placed the night of the tooth collection. When we do it, I'll post again and link back to my posting here.

My mother and I have had a bit of dental work in the past few weeks, losing 3 teeth between us (I lost the most!) Last night mum rang to say she had been reading the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich and found a few pages dedicated to St Apollonia, as Anne Catherine saw it in a vision:

"I had the saint's relic by me, and I saw the city in which she was martyred. It stands on a cape not far from the mouth of the Nile; it is a large and beautiful city. The house of Apollonia's parents stood on an elevated spot surrounded by court-yards and gardens.

Apollonia was, at the time of her martyrdom, an aged widow, very tall. Her parents were pagans. But she had been converted in childhood by her nurse, a Christian in secret, and had married a pagan in obedience to her parents, with whom she lived at home. She had much to suffer; married life was for her a rude penance. I have seen her lying on the ground, praying, weeping, her head covered with ashes. Her husband was very thin and pale, and he died long before her, leaving her childless. She survived him thirty years.

Apollonia was extremely compassionate to the poor persecuted Christians; she was the hope and consolation of all in suffering. Her nurse also suffered martyrdom shortly before her in an insurrection, during which the dwellings of Chrsitians were plundered and burned, and many of the occupants put to death. - Later on, I saw Apollonia herself arrested in her house by the judge's orders, led before the tribunal, and cast into prison.

Again I saw her brought before the judge and horribly maltreated, on account of her severe and resolute answers. It was a heart-rendering sight and I cried bitterly, although I had witnessed with less emotion even more cruel punishments; perhaps it was her age and dignified bearing that touched me.

They beat her with clubs, and struck her on the face and head with stones until her nose was broken. Blood flowed from her head, her cheeks and chin were all torn, and her teeth shattered in her gums. She wore the open white robe in which I have so often seen the martyrs, and under it a coloured woollen tunic. The executioners placed her on a stone seat without a back, her hands chained behind her to the stone, her feet in fetters. Her veil was torn off, and her long hair hung around her face, which was quite disfigured and covered with blood.
One executioner stood behind and violently forced back her head, whilst another opened wide her torn mouth and pressed into it a small block of lead. Then with great pincers he drew out the broken teeth one after the other, tearing away with each a piece of the jaw-bone. Apollonia almost fainted under this torture, but I saw angels, souls of other martyrs, and Jesus Himself strengthening, and consoling her.

At her own request, the power was conferred upon her of relieving all pains of the teeth, head, or face. As she still continued to glorify Jesus and insult the idols, the judge ordered her to be thrown on the funeral pile. She could not walk alone, she was half dead; consequently, two executioners had to support her under the arms to a high place where a fire burned in a pit.

As she stood a moment before it, she appeared to pray for something; she could no longer hold up her head. The pagans thought she was about to deny Jesus, that she was wavering, and so they released their hold upon her. She sank on the ground as if dying, lay there a moment, and then suddenly arose praying, and leaped into the flames. - During the whole time of her martyrdom, I saw crowds of the poor whom she had befriended wringing their hands, weeping, and lamenting.

Apollonia could never have leaped into the fire by herself. Strength came to her with the inspiration from God. She was not consumed, but only scorched. When she was dead, the pagans withdrew; and the Christians, approaching stealthily, took the holy body and buried it in a vault."

The Life of Anne Catherine Emmerich Vol 2 pages 456 - 458

I believe there is a St Apollonia listed who was virgin and martry but Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (247–265), relates the sufferings of his people in a letter addressed to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, of which long extracts have been preserved in Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiae, mentions that:

"At that time Apollonia, parthénos presbytis (by which he very probably means not a virgin advanced in years as is generally reported, but a deaconess)"

This historical text gives more weight to Anne Catherine Emmerich's description.

I pray that on reading the life of this saint that you will spread devotion to her to those who find themselves in a dental chair (and that's about everyone!)


Lucy said...

I love the idea of St Apollonia as a sort of tooth fairy. I knew I wanted to mark the loss of baby teeth, but didn't know how...maybe we could swap the teeth for some money that could be sent to one of the charities that does free dental care in Africa or something like that.

Anne (aussieannie) said...

Sounds great Lucy!

Willa said...

Oh, I too love the idea of St Apollonia gifts rather than the tooth fairy. Very interesting background information!

Clare Marie-Therese Duroc said...

St. Apollonia has become one of my special friends over the past year... I'm counting on her intercession when I have my oral surgery this Wednesday (ugh).

Anne (aussieannie) said...

Clare, I am praying to St Apollonia at present, so I'll remember your intentions as well at present!

Casey said...

This is the first I've heard of St Apollonia (not surprising if you knew me) but I think that having her be a sort of tooth fairy is a great idea, especially since my 8 year old love wiggling the baby teeth until they fall out a little earlier than they should. When you come up with a good craft I'd love to see how it works.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reminder! I had forgotten St. Apollonia... and I had a tooth worked on just this morning! (ouch)

Elena said...

I love the idea of St. Apollonia as a tooth fairy too! Glad I have at least one more little one to go through this with.

I know this isn't very charitable of me but I certainly hope there is a special place in hell for someone who would torture an elderly woman like this! Well, who knows... maybe he had a great conversion later. Still how anyone could be that cruel to another human being is beyond me.

Liz said...

Do you happen to know the chaplet for St. Appolonia? My 13 month old granddaughter just got diagnosed with cavities in her top teeth. Her parents are using xylitol and fluoride toothpaste, but I figure that the intercession of Saint Appolonia could lend some extra boost to these treatments.

Caroline said...

I want to thank you and your mom for sharing this. I was looking for the Novena of St Apollonia and your blog caught my interest. She deserved to be remembered. Yes I will spread devotion to St Apollonia. I have her image in my dental clinic. God Bless