Today, May 22, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Quiteria (2nd century), virgin martyr for the faith. Depending on which account of her life you read, Saint Quiteria and her sisters were soldiers for Christ—traveling the countryside, freeing Christians from imprisonment, and smashing pagan idols. Her courageous proclamation of the Gospel led to her eventual capture and death, although her faith never wavered. Quiteria and her sisters demonstrate that from the direst of circumstances, the Lord can create miraculous moments of love and truth!
Quiteria was born into royalty, the daughter of a Galician prince. She was one of nine daughters born together (nonuplets). Her mother, Calsia, was disgusted at the fact that she had produced nine daughters (rather than sons), and suffered through nine childbirths. Viewing the experience as a waste of her time, she ordered her maid, Sila, to take the nine girls to the river and drown them. Sila, however, was a Christian, and secretly refused the task, instead delivering the infants to a Cistercian monastery to be raised in community.
Quiteria and her sisters were raised by monks, baptized as Christians, and embraced the faith. Quiteria was the most dedicated of her sisters, studying and practicing the tenets of the faith, reading the Gospel, praying, and developing a profound devotion to Our Blessed Mother. The monks, placing a strong premium on truth, informed the girls of their royal lineage when they were old enough to understand. Yet, none of the girls wished to return to the palace or live a luxurious lifestyle. Instead, they became warriors for Christ, forming a “gang” who traveled the country, breaking Christians out of jail, proclaiming the Gospel, and smashing pagan idols.
The gang survived for a few years, but were eventually caught and brought before the King, their father. Recognizing his daughters, he requested that they give up their reckless ways and come live in the palace with him. This they did, but only to witness to the royal court. The sisters converted their rooms into prayer halls, and spent their days praying and praising the Lord. When the king realized they were Christians, he ordered them to renounce their ways, sacrifice to the Roman gods, and marry pagan husbands.
The sisters refused, led by Quiteria. They were immediately jailed, but their imprisonment did little to lessen their faith or joy in the Lord. In jail they praised and glorified Jesus, and eventually an angel came and proclaimed to Quiteria, “Happy and fortunate you are, for you deserved to find grace in front of God, so that God has chosen you as his spouse. It is God's will, that you are to live in solitude in the Mount Oria and there you will exercise in oration and contemplation.”
Released from imprisonment by the angel of God, the sisters split up, escaping by each traveling in a separate direction. It is said that they were each eventually killed for their Christian faith. Quiteria, for her part, followed the angel and did as instructed, forming a small community of women on the hills of Mount Oria, and living for a brief time in peaceful contemplation of the Lord. She was eventually captured, and subsequently freed from imprisonment again by an angel. In the process of her imprisonment, she converted many, and her community continued to grow.
Eventually, Quiteria encountered the powerful ruler of the city of Aufragia, Prosen Lastiano. She successfully converted him to Christianity, but a few days later he reverted to his pagan beliefs. Humiliated in front of his people, he ordered Quiteria tracked down and killed. His soldiers tracked her to her hillside community, but upon approach, Prosen suffered inexplicable injuries, including the loss of feeling in his hands and legs. Quiteria prayed for him, and his senses and movements were restored. Again, he converted to Christianity, this time filled with the faith of God. Many of his followers did the same, which infuriated the king.
Under his order, Quiteria was found and beheaded for her Christian faith. Prior to beheading, she is said to have kept the king’s vicious attack dogs at bay, with simply a gentle word. For this reason, she is often invoked against rabies, and frequently pictured leading a dog. (In rural Spain and France, farmers continue to lead their livestock to a bridge that is said to contain a relic of Saint Quiteria. Passing the animals over the bridge is said to protect them from contracting disease). Each of the women who had found refuge in her community was beheaded as well. Legend states that following her martyrdom, Saint Quiteria walked to the Church of the Virgin Mary, carrying her head in her hands. There, at Airein Gascony, her relics were interred (until later scattered by the Huguenots), and she continues to be venerated in southern France and northern Spain.
The live of Saint Quiteria, while possibly pious legend, is one of struggle for the faith. Despite a chance at a luxurious lifestyle, this lovely young woman and her sisters instead chose to fight for the truth of the Gospel, forsaking her family, her comfort, and eventually her life. Saint Quiteria’s courage and faith remind us that in our moments of difficulty, we need only turn to the Lord for inspiration and support, and that He will send His angels to protect and assist us. We pray today for the confident faith in Christ, as exemplified by so many of the saints and martyrs that have come before us!