This famous painting of St Eulalia by John William Waterhouse can be seen in The Tate Gallery, London and according to legend the snow was believed to have been sent by God as a shroud to cover the saint: the dove flying upwards near to the mourners, signified Eulalia’s soul flying up to Heaven and was said to have flown out of her mouth.
Eulalia of Merida was a Roman Christian child martyred in Emerita in Lusitania in Spain during the persecution of Christians from the second century to Constantine, during the reign of emperor Diocletian and his coemperor Maximian. There is, however, an ongoing dispute as to whether Saint Eulalia of Barcelona, whose story is similar, is in fact the same person.
Eulalia was a devout Christian virgin, aged between 12 and 14, whose mother sequestered her in the countryside in AD 304 because all citizens were required to avow faith in the Roman gods. Eulalia ran away to the law court of the governor Dacian at Emerita, professed herself a Christian, insulted the pagan gods.
At her trial, according to the Spanish-Roman poet Prudentius of the fifth century, she said:
|Snow in Santa Eulalia in 2005|
“Isis, Apollo Venus nihil est,
Maximianus et ipse nihil:
illa nihil, quia factu manu:
hic, manuum quia facta colitore”…
“Isis Apollo and Venus are naught,
Nor is Maximian anything more,
Nothing are they, for by hand they were wrought,
He, for of hands he the work doth adore…”
She was then stripped by the soldiers, tortured with hooks and torches and, subsequently, burnt at the stake, suffocating from smoke inhalation. She taunted her torturers all the while, and as she expired a dove flew out of her mouth. This frightened away the soldiers and allowed a miraculous snow to cover her nakedness, its whiteness indicating her sainthood and a shrine over her tomb was soon erected.
Veneration of Eulalia was already popular with Christians by AD 350 with Prudentius’ poem increasing her fame while relics were being distributed throughout Iberia. Bishop Fidelis of Merida rebuilt a basilica in her honour around AD 560 and her shrine was the most popular in Visigoth Spain.
In around AD 780 her body was transferred to Oviedo by King Silo of Asturias where she lies in a coffin of Arab silver donated by Afonso VI in 1075. In 1639, she was made the patron saint of Oviedo, runaways, torture victims, widows and Merida.
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