Apollonia vs. Zenaida

In yesterday's Clash of the Consonants,  Gobnait stung Hrotsvitha 66% to 34% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. She'll face the winner of Paula of Rome vs. Marcella of Rome.

Here at Lent Madness, we like to say we cover the saints from A to Z. Okay, we've never said that. But if we did, today's matchup would be Exhibit A (to Z). Because we have Apollonia vs. Zenaida -- two early Christian followers of Jesus -- and, in the saintly world, you don't get much more A to Z than that!


Apollonia was a Christian martyr, killed in a local uprising in Alexandria, in the year 249 ce. Scant information is to be found about her life, but her death is well-documented. Historians note that the reign of Philip the Arabian was not the most tranquil for the Roman Empire. During the celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of Rome in 248, a crowd arose in Alexandria that was overcome with nationalistic feelings. In their fervor, they began attacking local Christians as traitors to the emperor.

Dionysius, the local bishop, wrote a letter to Bishop Fabius of Antioch, documenting the attacks; the letter later became part of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, which provides an account of the development of early Christianity. Dionysius describes a general panic in the city, with Christians fleeing to safety if they have the means. Apollonia, however, does not flee and is attacked by an angry mob who punch out all her teeth. The crowd then threatens to burn her alive if she does not echo their denunciation of Christ. Thinking quickly, Apollonia asks to walk a little ahead of her captors, in order to think about her choices, and when they let her go, she throws herself into the fire. She dies rather than give up her faith.

While the story of Apollonia is unfamiliar to us today, it is significant that Dionysius describes Apollonia as “parthénos presbytis.” It can be literally translated as “elder virgin” and seen as a descriptor of Apollonia’s agedness or an explanation for why she didn’t flee the city. Some modern scholars also think the term may denote ordained leaders of the early church. It is therefore possible that Apollonia was an early ordained leader martyred for her faith.

In art, Apollonia is depicted holding a pair of pincers in which a tooth is held. She is the patron saint of dentistry and those who suffer from toothaches because of her unfortunate dental torment right before her death. Her relics are located at the church that bears her name in Rome, as well as in Antwerp, Brussels, Mechlin, and nearly every other major city in Europe. Devotion to Saint Apollonia and fascination with her tooth-healing abilities was widespread during the Middle Ages, perhaps because of the sad lack of flossing.

Collect for Apollonia
Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Apollonia, triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember her in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with her the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Megan Castellan


Zenaida and her sister Philonella were born of a Jewish family in the city of Tarsus around 100 ce. They were baptized into the faith following the evangelism of their brother Jason. They are known in the Orthodox Church as the earliest female physicians to follow Saint Luke in their ministry of the sick, and they were known as “unmercenary” healers, refusing to take payment from their patients for their services.

Like many early saints and biblical figures, little is known about Zenaida. She is thought to come from a well-educated Jewish family with ties to Paul the Apostle. Her brother Jason was one of the first bishops of the church in her native city of Tarsus. Truly, Zenaida and Philonella were descendants of the first members of Christ’s church. They could be considered Christian royalty, if you will. We can also deduce Zenaida was intelligent and well-educated, as she attended formal schooling to study medicine.

Upon completion of her studies, Zenaida and her sister moved their practice to the mountains of Pelion in Thessaly. The area was well-known for catering to the rich and affluent members of society, and Zenaida and her sister were expected to serve only those who could pay for their services. Bucking the prevailing attitudes of society, Zenaida and her sister opened their practice to all, refusing payment and serving the lowliest of the low. They implemented practices that were based in modern scientific principles of medicine and confronted healers in the area who tried to make money off of superstitious amulets and phony charms.

Zenaida was particularly known for her care of children, those with depression, and psychiatric disorders. The sisters combined a love of medicine with the love of God and preached Christ’s love in concert with their healing practices. They believed that salvation in Christ brought some of the most significant healing to their patients. As a result of their ministry, the church named Zenaida and her sister as “Friends of Peace.”

Some accounts say that Zenaida and her sister were stoned to death, while some say they both died peacefully in service to God. Other accounts say Zenaida died after stepping on a nail.

Collect for Zenaida
Merciful God, whose most dear Son came to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and preach the gospel to the poor; Teach us by the example of your servant Zenaida to freely give even as we have freely received; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Anna Fitch Courie

Apollonia vs. Zenaida

  • Zenaida (81%, 6,197 Votes)
  • Apollonia (19%, 1,446 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,643

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Apollonia: By Wolfgang Sauber [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Zenaida: By AnonymousUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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124 comments on “Apollonia vs. Zenaida”

  1. Although, Apollonia's martyrdom is heroic, and the fact that she became the patron saint of dentistry almost amusing (Almost! In a dark, ironic sense), gotta go with Zenaida, the healer who devoted her entire life to the sick, without asking for compensation, i.d., or verification of insurance...

    Zenaida! She's the one who'll aid ya,
    even without medicaid-a!

  2. I really don't like saying it was a "no contest" day for me, but Zenaida had it pretty much out of the gates. After personally being impacted by healthcare costs for the first time in my life, I hold nothing but reverence for a woman delivering care to the least of us free of charge around 100 CE; will we never learn?

  3. Why so few votes for Apollonia?? The poor woman had her teeth knocked out AND she was burned alive! She deserves to win for just one of those hideous events, let alone two!!!

  4. Umm - I do believe that may be Philonella's picture, not Zenaida's. The remainder of the picture from which the above extract was taken shows a woman sitting on the ground, her foot bleeding from a cut caused by a nail. That woman would be Zenaida, right?

  5. A woman giving out medical care for free gets the vote of this retired nurse! Besides she was a Christian in Tarsus where my American great-grandfather and his wife spent many years ministering to the Armenian Christian community during the genocide. However, I do like the write up about Apollonia, now I know who think of as I sit in the dentist’s chair!

  6. My vote goes to the early church physician, Zenaida. The description of her and her sister's exercise of "modern scientific principles" in their medical practice brought a smile, given the state of medicine in the first century CE.

  7. Why doesn't Zenaida's sister have a name? Zenaida, Zenaida, Zenaida.... It's always about her.

  8. I had to vote for Apollonia because I once had a Lab who would have been named Apollonia if she hadn't come with a name. She chewed so many things that I used to tell her that she was in danger of having all her teeth pulled out.

  9. I love Zenaida and what she represents to those of us today who desire medical care availability for all. she's my "Top Doc."

  10. As a retired female child psychiatrist, I had to vote for Zenaida. I wish I had known of her when I first became a physician many years ago, when women were just starting to be admitted to the professions and Freud’s teachings were gospel. Religion was supposed to be for those who were mentally immature, and intellect had primacy. I actually felt guilty that I was a committed follower of Jesus! That changed over the years, especially when I attended ANTS to see if I could figure this problem out...

      1. I think it’s the second one down:
        Acronym Definition
        ANTS A New Tax System (Australia)
        ANTS Andover Newton Theological School
        ANTS Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés (French national security agency)
        ANTS Algorithmic Number Theory Symposium
        ANTS Autonomous Nanotechnology Swarm (NASA)
        ANTS 8-Aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-Trisulfonic Acid
        ANTS Adult Non-Traditional Student (various schools)
        ANTS Administrative Notes Technical Supplement (US GPO)
        ANTS Advanced Networks and Telecommunication Systems (symposium)
        ANTS Anglo-Norman Text Society
        ANTS Active Network Transport System
        ANTS AT&T/Novell Telephone Services
        ANTS Airborne Night Television System
        ANTS Automatic Navigability Testing System
        ANTS Advanced Naval Training School
        ANTS Army NBCCS Tracking System
        ANTS Adaptive Networks, Threats and Solutions (US Army)
        ANTS Antenna Subsystem
        ANTS Approximate Non-Deterministic Tree Search
        Copyright 1988-2018 AcronymFinder.com, All rights reserved

  11. I feel bad for Appolonia, getting blown up by a car bomb. Oh, wait! Wrong Appolonia.
    But the female doctor got my vote.

  12. In the spirit of Zenaida, but with due reverence to Apollonia per her Collect,
    Oh that modern day dentists would follow the example of Zenaida's so that we could affordably .... receive with her [Apollonia] the crown of life.

  13. That's Appollonia. In the end, Michael is alone. Crime doesn't pay. Neither does medicine, apparently, unless you get your tetanus shot. Go, women physicians.

  14. My vote is for Zenaida and her desire to make medical treatment available to all drew me; especially living in Idaho which has a high Medicaid gap where a large number of citizens either don't make enough to qualify for regular insurance, but also make to much to qualify for Medicaid. Although the issue has also been going on for many years, Idaho just did vote for Medicaid expansion this year although it too doesn't begin until 2020. Although I thought Appolonia's martyrdom very heroic, thinking about how much this particular issue has hit locally as well with the local Free Clinic backed up, and a local clinic which has a sliding scale and at least three different branches having the same issue I couldn't help but think how much in our present day that there need to be more Medical Professionals like Zenaida!