Golden Legend: Saint Martha

If you are a fan of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, you already know about the saint's legend of Mary Magdalene which tells how she traveled to France after the death of Jesus. Saint Martha is Mary's sister, and she also traveled to France where she was venerated as a saint. The story of Saint Martha as told in The Golden Legend is rather long, so I have included only the first part here.

Like Saint Margaret, Saint Martha is famous for defeating a dragon, and this particular dragon - the Tarasque - has been named by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. You can read more at Wikipedia about Saint Martha and about the Tarasque. You can also learn more about the parents of the Tarasque dragon at Wikipedia: the dragon is the product of interbreeding between Leviathan and the Bonnacon, a mythical beast that supposedly attacked its pursuers by spewing massive quantities of fiery dung from its behind, as you can see in this image of the Bonnacon:

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Women Saints unit. Story source: The Golden Legend edited by F. S. Ellis (1900).

Here followeth the Life of S. Martha

S. Martha, hostess of our Lord Jesu Christ, was born of a royal kindred. Her father was named Syro and her mother Encharia. The father of her was duke of Syria and places maritime, and Martha with her sister possessed by the heritage of their mother three places, that was, the castle Magdalen, and Bethany and a part of Jerusalem. It is nowhere read that Martha had ever any husband ne fellowship of man, but she as a noble hostess ministered and served our Lord, and would also that her sister should serve him and help her, for she thought that all the world was not sufficient to serve such a guest.

After the ascension of our Lord, when the disciples were departed, she with her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary, also S. Maximin which baptized them, and to whom they were committed of the Holy Ghost, and many others, were put into a ship without sail, oars, or rudder governail, of the paynims, which by the conduct of our Lord they came all to Marseilles, and after came to the territory of Aquense or Aix, and there converted the people to the faith. Martha was right facound of speech, and courteous and gracious to the sight of the people.

There was that time upon the river of Rhone, in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon, a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, and defended him with two wings on either side, and could not be beaten with cast of stones ne with other armour, and was as strong as twelve lions or bears; which dragon lay hiding and lurking in the river, and perished them that passed by and drowned ships. He came thither by sea from Galicia, and was engendered of Leviathan, which is a serpent of the water and is much wood, and of a beast called Bonacho, that is engendered in Galicia. And when he is pursued he casts out of his belly behind, his ordure, the space of an acre of land on them that follow him, and it is bright as glass, and what it toucheth it burneth as fire.

To whom Martha, at the prayer of the people, came into the wood, and found him eating a man. And she cast on him holy water, and showed to him the cross, which anon was overcome, and standing still as a sheep, she bound him with her own girdle, and then was slain with spears and glaives of the people.

The dragon was called of them that dwelled in the country Tarasconus, whereof, in remembrance of him that place is called Tarasconus, which tofore was called Nerluc, and the Black Lake, because there be woods shadowous and black.

And there the blessed Martha, by licence of Maximin her master, and of her sister, dwelled and abode in the same place after, and daily occupied in prayers and in fastings, and thereafter assembled and were gathered together a great convent of sisters, and builded a fair church at the honour of the blessed Mary virgin, where she led a hard and a sharp life. She eschewed flesh and all fat meat, eggs, cheese and wine; she ate but once a day. An hundred times a day and an hundred times a night she kneeled down and bowed her knees.

On a time, at Avignon, when she preached between the town and the river of Rhone, there was a young man on that other side of the river desiring to hear her words, and had no boat to pass over. He began to swim naked, but he was suddenly taken by the strength of the water, and anon suffocate and drowned, whose body unnethe was found the next day.

And when it was taken up, it was presented at the feet of Martha for to be raised to life. She then, in manner of a cross, fell down to the ground and prayed in this manner: O Adonay, Lord Jesu Christ, which raisedst sometime my well-beloved brother, behold my most dear guest to the faith of them that stand here, and raise this child.

And she took him by the hand, and forthwith he arose living and received the holy baptism.

(800 words)

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