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Saint Quiteria

Saint Quiteria
  • Century: 5th Century
  • Patronage: rabies, beasts, those thinking about giving-up
  • Feast Day: May 22nd

Little is known for certain about St. Quiteria, except that she was a virgin martyr who existed in the earliest centuries of Christianity; and that she enjoyed a widespread cult throughout southwestern Europe (Portugal, Spain, and France).  Most agree that she died in the early 5th Century.  Plenty of legends surround her name, yet many conflict.  Like so many of the early martyrs of the Church the truth lies somewhere amid all the claims— 

The most widely accepted story about St. Quiteria’s life begins with the amazing circumstances of her birth.  She was the first daughter to emerge from the womb of her mother who gave birth to eight other daughters in her first pregnancy—nonuplet daughters.  The mother was the wife of an pagan and elite Roman governor who looked contemptuously upon whom she bore—comparing the nine baby girls to a litter, she concluded others would compare her to a base animal or lowly peasant.  Too proud for such a comparison, she ordered the maid to take all the babies and drown them.  This bizarre birth was to be kept secret from her husband.

The maid, however, looked favorably upon the girls and resolved to raise them with the help of neighboring peasant women.  All nine girls were kept together or in close community, well-aware they were sisters, and were raised in the Faith.  When they matured the sisters had apparently refused to honor a Roman god and were hauled before the governor (their father) who immediately recognized them through familial likeness.  Having discovered what his wife had done, the father resolved to take the daughters into his home and marry them to well-bred Roman military men.  However, the daughters refused to consent to marriages to pagan worshippers. 

With that, their father had them imprisoned and locked in a tower.  However, the resourceful sisters managed to escape, and in doing so, liberated the prison.  They themselves, alongside the other escapees fled to the mountains from whence waged a guerilla war against the Roman Empire.  In the end, the campaign was unsuccessful.  St. Quiteria was captured and beheaded, a virgin and martyr.  Too, her sisters Ss. Marina and Liberata were also martyr and canonized.  A Portuguese legend furthers the story of St. Quiteria—that after she was beheaded she was thrown into the sea and later emerged holding her head in her hands (a ‘cephalophore’).  Additionally, there is usually iconography of St. Quiteria with a dog, as legend has an account of her keeping two vicious dogs at bay by talking sweetly and softly to them. 

Practical Take-Away: Faithful & Fruitful Marriages

St. Quiteria and her sisters stand as a testimony to two important elements of marriage: the sacrament’s fruitfulness and faithfulness.  Of course, these nine sisters were nonuplets, practically a miracle!  They stand as a shining example of how precious life is; how every life can be sanctified.  Too often our culture, like St. Quiteria’s mother, look degradingly on children and large families.  Instead, may these nine sisters (three of them known saints) keep us marveling at God’s blessings, welcoming and open to life, being overwhelmed by life’s great dignity.

Too, let us remember that fidelity in marriage is not only meant to exclusively be faithful to one another (spouse-to-spouse); but that faithfulness is supposed to be shown to God, as well.  As Bishop Fulton Sheen would say, “It takes three to get married.”  And because the suitors that St. Quiteria’s father chose for her and her sisters were unwilling to recognize and be faithful to the third party (i.e. God), they refused to compromise the fullness of marriage by denying God.  Today marriage is taken too lightly and treated as a casual, disposal item.  To restore the sacrament, we must, indeed, adopt a sacramental attitude toward it.  Let these nine sisters’ defense of marriage embolden us to remember what marriage is meant to be a sign of: Christ’s love for His Church and the Communion of the Trinity.