Simeon Bachos v. Blandina

Welcome back to another FULL WEEK of saintly thrills and spills! Lent Madness XIV continues as Simeon Bachos takes on Blandina. The one known in Scripture as the Ethiopian eunuch vs. a second century martyr.

In Friday's matchup, Bach triumphed over Harriet Monsell 58% to 42% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen against Richard Hooker.

By the way, if you ever want to see an updated bracket, you can simply click the Bracket tab and voila! Our long-time (long suffering?) Bracket Czar Adam Thomas updates in daily.

Now, go vote!

Simeon Bachos

Simeon Bachos is the name that second-century Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon gave to the person Luke calls “the Ethiopian eunuch.” Simeon was someone who today we might call nonbinary or queer—someone considered neither male nor female. Persons born male who, whether by accident or by choice, could no longer beget children were highly regarded as “safe” to serve as officials and servants for royal families in much of the ancient world.

So, Simeon Bachos was an elite: working closely with royalty, wielding political power, and having enough disposable income to travel on personal pilgrimage. However, they were also an outsider: “a dry tree” with a broken body and no family, whose presence in the temple was banned in Deuteronomy 23 (although welcomed in Isaiah 56). They were a foreigner: a Gentile with black skin from a country at the edge of the civilized world.

Simeon is so drawn to the God of the Jewish faith that they’ve traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. And they’re geeky enough that, on the trip home, they’re reading scripture in a moving vehicle! The Holy Spirit takes notice and commands the apostle Philip to chase down this chariot, and Philip hears Simeon reading the scripture aloud.

Phillip asks Simeon: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Simeon replies modestly: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Then, Simeon asks a tender question: “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” And so, Philip proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ to Simeon, right there in their chariot. This seems to be the good news Simeon has been waiting their whole life to hear—perhaps what they had traveled to the temple looking to find—so much so that, when they see water by the side of the road, they want to be baptized immediately.

After the baptism, Philip is whisked away by the Spirit while Simeon is rejoicing. As Willie James Jennings says in his recent commentary: “The eunuch is not left alone. They are left free in their joy” (Acts, 86, pronouns and italics added), to pursue the Christian life. Irenaeus tells us that Simeon returned to Ethiopia and preached the gospel there.

The Episcopal Church celebrated the feast day of Simeon Bachos for the first time on August 27, 2022, after General Convention voted to authorize the commemoration.

Collect for Simeon Bachos

Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Simeon, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— Heidi Haverkamp


Falsely accused of horrible deeds, tortured in the town square, burned, beaten, and flung around by a wild animal, Blandina and the story of her demise is not for the faint of heart. Despite her tragic death, she never despaired or denied her faith.

Born in 162 ce, Blandina was an enslaved woman in Roman Gaul who met her death only 15 years later. Not much is known about her early years other than that she embraced Christianity as a child. Her martyrdom, along with her companions, has earned them the title, the Martyrs of Lyon.

Blandina was murdered in the Roman Empire city of Lugdunum, now known as Lyon, France. This was during the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Christian persecutions were enveloping the entire empire. The torments started slowly with community bans. Christians were prohibited from going into Roman homes, the marketplace, or public baths, and they were publicly attacked with stones and sticks. Many were imprisoned. Lies circulated about Christians, ranging from cannibalism to incest and other unspeakable perversions.

Blandina’s torture, along with that of Deacon Sanctus, Attalus, and Maturus, was part of the entertainment for the August 1 holiday celebrating Rome and the emperor. Their agony was a main event in the city amphitheater. The great Roman historian Eusebius recorded Blandina’s words to her torturers: “I am a Christian, and nothing vile is done among us.”

After repeated beatings and burnings as well as watching her friends suffer and die, Blandina’s final degradation was being wrapped in a net to serve as a toy for a wild bull. She finally died by stabbing. After the bodies were exposed for six days, they were burned with the ashes thrown into the Rhone River.Blandina was the last of 48 Christians martyred in Lugdunum.

While it was well-documented that Emperor Marcus Aurelius did not like Christians, it is unknown whether he knew about these and other tortures. While history may remember him as a philosopher, these public cruelties happened under his rule.

Blandina is the patron saint of servant girls, torture victims, young girls, and those falsely accused of cannibalism. Her shrine is at the Church of Saint-Leu, Amiens, France, and her feast day is June 2.

Collect for Blandina

Almighty God, who gave such courage and endurance to Blandina and her companions that by their deaths many hearts were turned to you; Grant that we, in accordance with their example, may also gladly endure all that is required of us as we witness to you in our own day; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Neva Rae Fox


Simeon Bachos: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Blandina: Lucien Bégule, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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143 comments on “Simeon Bachos v. Blandina”

  1. I wasn't going to comment on this, but the Simeon situation really got under my skin and this is why:
    The far-right is currently using the argument, "your gender is what is in your pants," as a way to bar transgender and gender-nonconforming people from existing in public in places like Tennessee. Saying that Simeon is nonbinary and changing the pronouns to they/them due to Simeon being a eunuch actually propagates that ideology, even if it was well-intentioned.
    I don't have a problem with putting Simeon under the queer umbrella, but equating that with being nonbinary just really does not sit right with me. Maybe Simeon would have been nonbinary or used they/them pronouns, but I really don't think that's something we should get to decide, especially based on what was given in the prompt. If there is more that wasn't written here that gives evidence to Simeon identifying as such, that would change things, but as of right now...I'm sorry but this isn't true allyship. We don't get to dictate the gender identity of others based off of physical appearance or societal ranking/class structure.

    1. There are three reasons to use "they/them" pronouns. One is because those are the pronouns the individual prefers. Another is to avoid making assumptions an assigning gender. I agree with those who say any assumption that the Ethiopian Eunuch (as known from Scripture) would use modern news is reading the current age into the story. At the same time, if Simeon lived today we do not know what pronouns would be preferred. The traditional reason for using they/them pronouns, of course, is to refer to a group in the plural. The Oxford English Dictionary notes the use of the singular they in the 19th century, so it's not exactly a novel or improper use, just uncommon until recently.

      1. Yes, using they/them when the gender identity is not known and we are not able to ask is totally valid. My issue was more with the nonbinary label being assigned for the reasons I stated above. There are also plenty of nonbinary people who choose not to use they/them pronouns, as well as cis-gendered individuals who feel more comfortable using they/them or some combination, but that may be a bit outside the realm of this current topic of conversation.

  2. Given the attacks the rights of trans and non-binary people happening in so many states, often using “Christian” rhetoric, voting for Simeon, honoring Simeon’s faith feels really important today.

  3. As one who went to 16 years of Catholic Schools, I didn’t date very much and never quite figured out why until I dated my first woman and understood I was a lesbian. For the LGBT community, my vote goes to Simon Bachos.

    I served in the military as it shifted to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). Not being able to honor myself because I was told to stay in the closet. After going to Desert Storm, the military drew down its troops and I was included in the draw down.

    I jumped out of the closet and decided never to go back in. I wandered from Church to Church attempting to find Spiritual comfort. I met the woman I would eventually marry, who brought me to the Episcopal Church. When we had our Unions Ceremony during the time of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)was active in our Church, our community celebrated with us to have a ceremony that honored us, but was not recognized by the State or Federal government.

    Move forward a few years. We moved to a State where once DOMA was shot down we wanted to marry and it was illegal in our State and illegal as a resident to leave the State just to get married. To complicate things further, I had returned to the Reserves where DADT was still active and marriage being a public act violated that. However, after being activated for Afghanistan, we decided to violate State and Federal laws to marry. Our first Episcopal Church published our bands and our Priest came and blessed our wedding bands that we bought for my deployment.

    Move forward three months where I got shot four times at Fort Hood, five of the people I trained with died, and my unit (whom I am very proud to have been in) still went to Afghanistan to do their duty while I stayed home to recuperate. My wife and family came to my bedside. Despite me exclaiming to the world my love for my wife - the military said “while you were heavily medicated you expressed things against military protocol. Stop it now that you are off that medication.”

    With the continued need for support for my LGBT community … Simon gets my support.

  4. Sorry Blandina, you didn't deserve that horrible brutality. Still Simeon you got my vote because of your commitment to share your faith with joy. Not all saints are martyrs.

  5. I liked the write-up for Simeon and they have my vote today. But I was troubled by the phrase that eunuchs became such "by accident or by choice" -- with the implication that it was by *their* choice. As others have pointed out, often, likely very, very often, the choice for castration was made by someone who had power over the boy or young man so treated -- quite possibly, their enslaver. Simeon may have been "an elite: working closely with royalty, wielding political power, and having enough disposable income to travel on personal pilgrimage;" and also "an outsider: “a dry tree” with a broken body and no family... a Gentile with black skin from a country at the edge of the civilized world; AND they may have been enslaved. The Greco-Roman (and maybe Ethiopian) world included enslaved people who also had elite roles of power within their enslaver's household. I'm grateful to Heidi Haverkamp for helping me see Simeon's complex story in new ways, but I wish she had acknowledged the fuller range of complexity in their life.

    1. I challenge the assumption that he was an outsider at all. There's no basis for it in the Judea of that time. He went up to Jerusalem to worship -- did he take that long journey to get there, only to discover he couldn't worship? Of course not. There was a Court of the Nations/Gentiles, where he would have been welcome, if he was, in fact, not a Jew -- which he very well might have been. Ethiopian tradition traces Jewish migration to that region back to the 8th-6th centuries BCE. As for eunuchs being outcasts, see Isaiah 56:3-7, which wasn't quoted in the "bio." And skin color was not a basis for discrimination in the ancient Mediterranean basin, according to historians. There were and are Jews of all colors.

  6. Just curious…on what was the scripture written that St Simeon Bachos was reading in this story and how was he so privileged to be carrying scripture with him in a chariot? A little “fantastical”? Blandina seems possibly well documented, historically. Do Saints have to documented?

    1. The passage in Acts says he was reading from a scroll of Isaiah. But, for sure, that would have cost a considerable amount of money. And the stuff about him being an outcast is just anachronistic, with no basis whatsoever. Very disappointing.

  7. Excellent biographies today about 2 saints I didn’t know. March is coming in like a Lyon today, both worthy candidates having ties to the city or it’s inhabitants. To break the tie between these 2, I will as usual, go with the young lady whose name we know.

  8. I can not believe what I am seeing. A maytered girl who was publicly slaughtered versus a person who read the Bible aloud and was baptized and he is ahead in votes. Can someone explain why to me? Is this group being honest in their votes or political? Do we put a mayter behind someone who did nothing exceptional except not be willing or able to produce children? Well guess what Blandina never got that chance either.

    1. Given that he was mentioned in the Bible. He was a man of great power and he choose to worship the true God. He went as far as to purchase a scroll. Scrolls were not easily attained. Most Israelites did not have one. It is surprising that someone actually sold him one. They must have been quite impressed with him.
      Also, seeing the large Orthodox Ethiopian church that still exists today, I am sure he had much to do with there establishment of the church there.

  9. Why the switch from they to him in the write up and prayer for Simeon? No matter, Blandina has my vote… young girls are tortured worldwide in this day and age physically, emotionally and spiritually. In unimaginable horror, they have Blandina to pray for them.

  10. The immediate translation of Simeon the eunuch into transgender or non-binary feels like an over projection... basically cultural isogesis (reading into a story something we want to find there) vs. exegesis (drawing out of the story what it is trying to tell us).
    The story of Simeon stands on its own as an instance of openness to the gospel for all, Jew and gentile (everyone else, of all sorts and conditions, as the old BCP prayer put it) alike...
    Using the story as a vehicle for personal affirmation, rather than as an affirmation of the power of the gospel to attract all people, feels a bit forced.

    1. There's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the Ethiopian would have been made to feel like an outcast. In fact, his journey to Jerusalem to worship may indicate that he was, in fact, an Ethiopian Jew. He even spent what must have been a considerable sum to purchase a scroll of Isaiah. Why would he have made such a journey if he wouldn't have been able to worship there? Really nonsense.

      And were he not a Jew, he would have worshiped in the Court of the Nations/Gentiles, and gone on his way. And since there's no indication that skin-color prejudice existed among the peoples of the Mediterranean at that time (quite the opposite), that's just a projection of our modern problems onto the past. I voted for Blandina.

  11. This was a tough one for me. I thought their merits were pretty even. In the end I went with Simeon because I'm a an ally for queer folk.

    Also, I didn't know that there were enough people that were being falsely accused of cannibalism that they needed a patron saint!

  12. John Cabot I am sure I am not alone in hoping you are well. We are missing your limerick this morning

    1. John is away from home at the moment and may not have had the time to get a limerick written and posted this morning. I'm sure when he gets a chance he will weigh in.

      But don't worry, he is well, just busier than usual.

  13. I voted for Blandina simply because the pronouns employed in Simeon's write-up were so convoluted I couldn't follow exactly who she (they) was (were) talking about. What have we done to our language?

  14. Simeon's story of a sweet traveler trying to find their place in the world spoke to me today, but I also have to say I have trouble voting for martyred kids. Yes, their faith is worthy (and yes, being the patron saint of those falsely accused of cannibalism is metal af), but really when we're dealing with those below what we consider the age of consent today it is hard to see a willing martyr instead of just seeing child abuse and violence against young girls who could not defend themselves. Which makes a vote for her more about what was done TO her, less about what she did, and that didn't sit well with me. So I was Simeon all the way

  15. I voted for Simeon because I have always been attracted to his story in Acts and chose them for my Lenten series on "secondary characters" of Scripture before I knew they were a part of Lent Madness this year. Our votes do nothing to indicate the worthiness of any of those in the bracket, simply how they speak to us in our lives. God has already found them worthy through the love of Christ on the cross, so that is all that really matters in the eternal scheme of things.

  16. I’m not sure a eunuch (a surgically altered male) qualifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. This person was born a male but was neutered so that he could fulfill a role in the Royal hierarchy either by his own choice or that of others. This is quite different from the genesis of LGBTQ persons where the scientific mechanisms at play are not well understood. This is probably an unpopular opinion but nonetheless I’m voting for Blandina. That has no bearing on my support for LGBTQ human beings.

  17. Tough choice today. I gave my vote to Simeon to honour my friends on the LGBTQ2S spectrum and to give thanks that the Anglican Church of Canada is inclusive and recognizes that we are ll children of a loving God.

  18. Although I voted for Simeon Bacos, I was struck by this piece from the hagiography of Blandina, which seems to parallel the current moral panic about trans folk:

    “This was during the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Christian persecutions were enveloping the entire empire. The torments started slowly with community bans. Christians were prohibited from going into Roman homes, the marketplace, or public baths, and they were publicly attacked with stones and sticks. Many were imprisoned. Lies circulated about Christians, ranging from cannibalism to incest and other unspeakable perversions.”

  19. Regarding Simeon Bachos: The bio/mythos mentions Isaiah, but doesn't quote him. Why?
    Isaiah says that God explicitly *welcomes* eunuchs to worship "in My house and within My walls," telling them *not* to regard themselves as a dry tree. Why was this phrase twisted to make Simeon seem to have been an outcast?

    Chapter 56:
    3 ¶ Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from His people." Nor let the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree."
    4 For thus says the LORD, "To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant,
    5 To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
    6 "Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant;
    7 Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples."

    In Jewish tradition, people who, for whatever reason, don't have biological children, but who care for, teach, or mentor others, is considered to have spiritual children, so they fulfill the first Torah commandment to be fruitful and multiply. As Isaiah said, eunuchs who keep the Sabbath and the other commandments will have progeny and will be remembered in an "everlasting" way.

    Within the Second Temple in Jerusalem, in Jesus' time, there was a specific area -- the Court of the Gentiles (just as there was a Court of Women) within which they could worship. So Simeon was not an outcast, neither for being a non-Jew (although that's an assumption, see below), nor for being a eunuch. And Jews often mixed with non-Jews outside the Temple, both socially and to do business. This has been well-documented. In Isaiah, God explicitly welcomes non-Jewish worshipers to His house.

    According to Acts, the Ethiopian was *leaving* Jerusalem, having already worshipped there. So how was he an outcast? Indeed, why would he have made that journey in the first place, if he would have been unable to participate in worship there?

    So, the description of the Ethiopian as being "a Gentile with black skin from a country at the edge of the civilized world," as though this made him an outcast, is without foundation.

    According to what I could find using various websites, the Bible's references to Ethiopia refer to the area south of Egypt, also known as Cush. Whether or not this was the case, there's an Ethiopian tradition that Jews settled in Ethiopia as early as the 8th century BCE, pre-dating Christianity. It makes sense, then, to speculate that the Ethiopian who went up to Jerusalem to worship was actually a Jew.

    The people of Ethiopia/Cush were said to have dark skin; however, there's no evidence that ancient Jews (or anyone else in the ancient Mediterranean region) used skin color as a reason to exclude or include people. Quite the opposite, as many scholars have commented.

    This description of Simeon Bachos seems to be imposing modern biases and suppositions onto ancient peoples, and I don't understand why. There's absolutely no evidence of the Ethiopian in Acts having been made to feel like an outcast.

    Blandina for me.

  20. Nothing bland about Blandina's torturing! My God! I fear I would lose my faith through such attrocities.
    While I'm thrilled that Simeon Bachos finally has his own Feast Day (long overdue), I had to go with Blandina's suffering.

  21. I have always loved the story of Philip and the eunuch. I did not know his name till now. We are assaulted so frequently by the verses in Leviticus and Romans damning LBGT and non-binary people, this is the one story that affirms us in the love of God.

  22. This was really tough, and I hate that one of these saints is going to fall by the wayside. In the times in which we're living, both stories are important and need to be heard. Thank you, bloggers.

  23. While I try very hard to get people's preferred pronouns right, including those of my own children's nonbinary friends, I highly doubt that a first-century eunuch, likely forcibly castrated as a child, would choose to give up the pronouns of his birth when so much had already been taken from him. That the Isaiah passage he is pondering includes "In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." is shatteringly poignant. He longs to know: can this refer to Jesus? Did God take flesh and endure human suffering -- so that the Maker of the universe might actually know and understand and love and embrace him, in his own sufferings and loss?

    Descendants were everything in the first century -- one's name, future, and legacy. Though his position gave him some privilege, he had none of those things (not even a name in the scriptures; I guess I am glad tradition gave him one), no heirs, no posterity. He was regarded as damaged, unclean, not fully human.

    Yet with his desire to know Christ, and baptism with water from a roadside ditch, he got a name and a legacy -- and embodies forever a Gospel message to all who are cast out and bullied and regarded as somehow unworthy and less than human: the Love of God in Christ draws a circle and takes you in. Welcome, brothers, sisters, siblings, friends!

    So Simeon -- or whatever his real name was -- gets my vote today. And I must admit, where Blandina is concerned, that the detailed torture stories of the early martyrs give me pause. Recalling them always feels to me somehow voyeuristic, mawkish, even a bit bloodthirsty. Yet we do have a name with which to remember her steadfast faith for which she suffered and died.

    So remembering both of today's nominees, let us remember and support those whose lives and/or legacies and opportunities have been limited or cut off by persecution, bigotry, and hate. Say their names: Emmett Till. Matthew Shepard. Breonna. Tyre. And remember those whose names were not even recorded. Honor those struggling to live full lives despite bullying, racism, and ostracism, and step up to help make a safer, kinder, more loving world. Do ask. Do tell. Call people what they wish to be called. Use their pronouns. Welcome them all -- sisters, brothers, siblings, friends -- into the Beloved Community of all of God's precious children.

    1. Thank you for this very thoughtful, graceful, and balanced comment in the midst of all the comments arising out of people's buttons being pushed.

  24. The declaration of the sexual identity of Simeon has absolutely Nothing to do with his desire to read and understand the scriptures in his possession.
    I find nothing in the Bible that suggests Simeon was anything other than a man with his genitals removed. If defining someone as trans is that simple then I, and millions of other women, shall be considered transgender because of hysterectomies.
    The write up is no more than TMZ-style writing, done to grab you by the scandal and then give the pertinent information in 2 small sounds bites. This Man deserves more.
    I will not vote for him, no matter how deserving, because he is being used as a virtue signal and not being treated as a true (and while) person.

  25. Blandina got my vote today, even though I found both lives compelling. The lives of slaves in Rome were horrific, particularly for women. And to face death in such a brutal manner, and hold on to your faith is inspiring.

  26. To the people who commented with surprise that there is a patron Saint for people falsely accused of cannibalism -- I note that apparently there is a need for such a patron in 21st century United States since there is a segment of the electorate who accuse Democrats of cannibalism and other atrocities against children, and reportedly there are many who believe those accusations.

    My vote went to Blanding, as the patron saint of young girls and those falsely accused of cannibalism.

    1. Ah, the lack of an edit feature...Blanding should have been Blanding. I suspect auto-correct.

    2. Ah, the lack of an edit feature...Blanding should have been Blandina . I suspect auto-correct.