The story of Dorothea and Theophilus is typical of the pre-Raphaelite’s attachment to heroic or tragic dramas. Set in the time of The Diocletianic or Great Persecution, which was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire In 303 AD. The Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding the legal rights of Christians and demanding that they comply with traditional Roman religious practices. Later edicts targeted the clergy and ordered all inhabitants to sacrifice to the Roman gods (a policy known as universal sacrifice).
St. Theophilus was a lawyer trying cases before the Roman Courts in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (Kayseri in Turkey today). He was part of the court's examination of St. Dorothy who was persecuted for not worshiping the Roman gods.
Dorothy was a young virgin, celebrated at Caesarea, where she lived, for her angelic virtue. Her parents seem to have been martyred before her in the Diocletian persecution, and when the Governor Sapricius came to Caesarea he called her before him. She was stretched upon the rack, and offered marriage if she would consent to sacrifice, or death if she refused. But she replied that "Christ was her only Spouse, and death her desire." She was then placed in charge of two women who had fallen away from the faith, in the hope that they might pervert her; but the fire of her own heart rekindled the flame in theirs, and led them back to Christ.
When she was set once more on the rack, Sapricius himself was amazed at the heavenly look she wore, and asked her the cause of her joy. "Because," she said, "I have brought back two souls to Christ, and because I shall soon be in heaven rejoicing with the angels." Her joy grew as she was buffeted in the face and her sides burned with plates of red-hot iron. "Blessed be Thou," she cried, when she was sentenced to be beheaded, - "blessed be Thou, O Thou Lover of souls! Who dost call me to Paradise, and invites me to Thy nuptial chamber."
While being condemned, St. Dorothy told the court upon hearing her sentence was to be execution, "I thank thee, for this day shall I be with my spouse in paradise."
Ridiculing the young woman Theophilus said to her, "Going to paradise, Dorothy? Well, send me some of its fruits and flowers; good bye!"
Dorothy replied, "Gladly, Theophilus, will I do what you request."
St. Dorothy was lead out of the court to her execution - beheading by sword. Upon reaching the landing where she was to be executed, she knelt in prayer whereupon a child appeared before her, about five years in age. The child had a cloth in his hand with three different fruits and three magnificent roses. St. Dorothy instructed the child to take these fruits and roses to Theophilus and say to him "Here are the fruits and flowers from paradise which you asked for." St. Dorothy then laid her head down, and was martyred.
Meanwhile Theophilus was joking with his colleagues and telling them of this woman Dorothy; his story was met with hearty laughter and applause for his cutting wit. During the commotion of the laughter the child approached Theophilus. Opening his cloth, the child said, "These are the fruits and flowers you asked the holy Dorothy to send you. I have brought them at her request from the garden of her divine spouse." At once the child, thought to be an angel, vanished.
Stunned, and utterly shocked by the child's appearance with the gifts, Theophilus experienced a sudden conversion. His colleagues jested with him and tried to laugh him to his senses, but he could not shake off what had just happened.
Attempting to reason with his companions Theophilus said "It is midwinter, there are no fruits or flowers like these in February. Our gardens are bare and our fruit trees leafless."
Nothing his friends could say or do would shake Theophilus's new found faith, even though believing in such a faith had just led St. Dorothy to her death; a death Theophilus himself mocked.
Theophilus himself was brought before the same court, but this time not as a lawyer, but as the accused. He stood before the judge charged with being a convert to the new religion Christianity - Theophilus gave witness to the court, whereupon he was summarily condemned to death - the death of a martyr.
She is regarded as the patroness of gardeners. On her feast (February 6) trees are blessed in some places.She is also patroness of brewers, brides, florists, gardeners, midwives, newlyweds and Pescia, Italy
Her feast day was removed from the revised Roman calendar and the cultus suppressed in 1969.
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