Orthodox icon of Saint Pelagia of Tarsus who is revered as a virgin martyr by the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Her life, often wrapped in layers of legend and hagiographic tradition, is celebrated for her piety, steadfast faith, and ultimate sacrifice.
Pelagia was born in the late 3rd century AD in Tarsus, a prominent city in Cilicia, present-day southern Turkey. She was raised in a wealthy pagan family but was drawn to Christianity at a young age.
Her life took a significant turn when the Roman Emperor Diocletian visited Tarsus. Struck by her beauty, he desired to take Pelagia as his wife. Pelagia, however, had committed herself to Christ and to preserving her virginity. She rejected the Emperor’s advances, steadfast in her commitment to her faith.
Faced with the Emperor’s wrath and the prospect of forced marriage, Pelagia chose to escape. According to some accounts, she disguised herself in male attire to flee, but was eventually captured. She was then brought before Diocletian, who was unaware of her identity and, impressed by her eloquence and knowledge of philosophy and rhetoric, ordered her to be kept in custody.
When her true identity was discovered, Diocletian renewed his marriage proposal, but Pelagia refused once again, declaring her unwavering commitment to Christ. Enraged, the Emperor ordered her to renounce her faith, threatening severe punishment if she did not comply.
Showing remarkable courage, Pelagia refused to renounce her faith and was subsequently condemned to death. According to the tradition, she was allowed to return to her home one last time, where she climbed onto the roof and threw herself into a burning pyre, choosing martyrdom over apostasy.
Saint Pelagia of Tarsus is commemorated on May 4 in the Orthodox Church and on October 8 in the Roman Catholic Church. She is often invoked as a protector of chastity and is venerated as a model of courage and steadfast faith.