St. Theodora cheats on her husband, enters a monastery, and is accused of rape

Pocket Bard’s notes: Strangely, this is not the only occasion in The Golden Legend where a cross-dressing woman is accused of rape. It also happens to St. Marina. However, I like St. Theodora’s story better because it’s more complex and more ambiguous. Instead of Marina, who merely followed her father’s wishes, Theodora spends years both in the monastery and exiled outside the monastery as penance for cheating on her husband.

There’s a whole lot of trickery going on in this story, not only when Theodora (a cross-dressing woman) being accused of rape, but all the way through. Theodora is originally tricked into thinking that God can’t see acts that happen at dusk. Later, she’s repeatedly tricked by the devil. And, naturally, all the brothers in the monastery are tricked.

But I think the real victim in this story is Theodora’s husband. Imagine: he comes home one day to find her inconsolable, and then relatively quickly later he comes home to find her gone. An angel tells him he’s going to meet her on the street, but all he sees is a monk. She’s gone for over nine years, and he never knows why! Or where she’s gone! Finally, I assume he has a vision to say she’s dead and finds out that for all this time she’s been living in a monastery with an adopted son. Really! Life doesn’t get any crappier than that! I wonder what this story would be like as a first-person narrative told from the perspective of the husband…


St. Theodora cheats on her husband, enters a monastery, and is accused of rape
The Golden Legend, Volume I, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.365-368

Theodora, a woman of noble rank, married to a wealthy, God-fearing man, lived in Alexandria in the time of Emperor Zeno. The devil, envious of Theodora’s holiness, stirred up lust for her in another rich man, who sent her many message and gifts in order to induce her to assent to him; but she rebuffed the messengers and spurned the gifts. He bothered her so much, however, that she had no peace of mind and her health began to suffer. Finally he sent a certain sorceress to her, who urged her forcefully to have pity on this man and to yield to his desire. Theodora answered that she would never commit so great a sin before the eyes of God who sees all, but the witch added: “Yes, God knows and sees everything that is done by day, but anything committed at dusk and sundown God does not see.” The young woman asked the witch: “Is what you say true?” “It certainly is true!” the witch replied. The young woman was deceived and told the witch to have the man come to her as daylight waned, and she would do his will. When the man received this news, he was delighted, went to the lady at the appointed hour, lay with her, and left.

Theodora now came to her senses and wept bitterly, beating herself on the face and saying: “Alas, woe is me! I have lost my soul, I have destroyed the beauty of my virtue!” When her husband came home, he found her desolate and grieving, and, not knowing the reason, did his best to console her, but she would accept no comfort. The next morning she went to a monastery of nuns and asked the abbess whether God could know about a grave sin that she had committed at eventide. The abbess answered: “Nothing can be hidden from God, who knows all and sees all that is done, no matter the time it is done.” Theodora went profusely and said: “Give me the book of the gospels, that I may draw my own lot!” She opened the book and came upon the passage: “What I have written, I have written.” She went home and, one day when her husband was way, cut her hair, but on men’s clothing, and hurried to a monastery. She asked to be taken in with the monks and her request was granted. Asked what her name was, she said she was called Theodore. Then, as Brother Theodore, she humbly performed all the tasks assigned to her, and her service was welcomed by all.

Some years later the abbot called Brother Theodore and ordered him to yoke a team of oxen and haul a tun of oil out from the city. Her husband had wept much, fearing that she had gone off with another man; but now an angel of the Lord said to him: “Get up tomorrow and stand in the street called the Martyrdom of Peter the Apostle, and the first person you meet will be your wife.” Theodora came along with her camels, saw her husband, recognized him, and said within herself: “Alas, my good husband, how hard I work to be delivered of the wrong I did you!” When she came near him, she greeted him, saying: “Joy to you, sir!” But he did not recognize her at all, and waited all day long and into the night before crying out that he had been deceived. In the morning a voice came to him, saying: “The one who greeted you yesterday was your wife.”

Theodora’s holiness was so great that she performed many miracles. Thus she took hold of a man who had been fatally mauled by a wild beast, and by her prayers brought him back to life, then tracked down the beast and cursed it, whereupon the animal dropped dead. And one time the devil, unable to bear her sanctity, appeared to her and said: “You whore of whores, you adulteress, you left your husband to come here and put me to shame! I shall use my fearsome powers to stir up a battle against you, and if I can’t make you deny the Crucified, you can say that I don’t exist!” But she made the sign of the cross and the demon vanished.

Another time, when she was on her way back with the camels and stopped someplace overnight, a girl came to her and said: “Sleep with me!” When Theodora spurned her, she went and lay with a man who was resting in the same place. When her belly grew big, she was asked who had got her pregnant, and she said: “That monk Theodore slept with me!” When the child was born, they turned it over to the abbot of the monastery. The abbot upbraided Theodore, who begged for forgiveness, and the abbot laid the baby boy on his shoulders and expelling him from the monastery.

Theodore—Theodora, after her expulsion, stayed outside the monastery for seven years, nourishing the child with milk from the herd. The devil, envious of such patience, transfigured himself, assuming the likeness of her husband, and said to her: “What are you doing here, my lady? Behold, I have pined for you all this time and have found no consolation. Come then, light of my life, because I forgive you even if you have lain with another man!” But Theodora, thinking that this was indeed her husband, told him: “I shall never again live with you, because the son of John the knight slept with me, and I wish to do penance for the sin I committed against you!” And when she prayed, he vanished and she knew it had been the devil.

At another time the devil, wishing to terrorize her, sent demons against her in the likeness of fierce beasts, and a man goaded them on and said: “Devour this whore!” But she prayed and they disappeared. Again a large troop of soldiers came, led by a prince to whom the others offered worship, and the soldiers said to Theodora: “Rise and adore our prince!” She answered: “I adore the Lord God!” When this response was reported to the prince, he ordered her to be brought and beaten until she was thought to be dead, after which the horde vanished. Still another time she saw before her a large quantity of gold, but she crossed herself and fled from the gold, recommending herself to God. Then one day she saw a man carrying a basket filled with all sorts of delicious food, and the man said to her: “The prince who had you beaten says to accept this food and eat it, because he did that unknowingly.” But she crossed herself and the man disappeared instantly.

When seven years had passed, the abbot, impressed by Theodora’s patience, reconciled with her and took her and her boy back into the monastery. After she had lived a praiseworthy life there for two years, she took the lad into her cell and closed the door. This was made known to the abbot, who sent some monks to listen attentively to what she might say to the boy. She embraced him and kissed him, and said: “My sweetest son, the term of my life is nearing its end. I leave you to God: you are to have him for father and helper. Sweetest son, persevere in fasting and prayer, and serve your brothers with devotion!” With these words she breathed her last and fell asleep happily in the Lord about A.D. 470, and the child, seeing her dead, wept floods of tears.

That very night a vision was shown to the abbot. He saw preparations being made for a great wedding, to which came the orders of angels and prophets and martyrs and all the saints; and behold, in their midst walked a woman alone, enveloped in ineffable glory. She came to the wedding site and sat on a bridal bed, and all stood around her and called upon her. Then a voice was heard saying: “This is Brother Theodore, who was falsely accused of fathering a child! Seven years have elapsed since then, and she has been punished for sullying her husband’s bed.” The abbot woke up, hurried with the monks to her cell, and found her already dead. They went in and uncovered her, and saw that she was a woman. The abbot sent for the father of the girl who had defamed her, and said to him: “Your daughter’s husband has died!” The father put aside the clothing and saw that the husband was a woman. A great fear came upon all who heard this.

An angel of the Lord now spoke to the abbot, saying: “Get up quickly, mount your horse, and ride into the city. If anyone comes to meet you, take him up and bring him here!” As the abbot rode along, a man ran to meet him. The abbot asked him where he was going, and he answered: “My wife has died, and I am on my way to see her.” The abbot took him up on his horse, and when they came to Theodora’s body, they both wept abundantly. Then they buried her with many praises.

Her husband then occupied Theodora’s cell and lived in it until he fell asleep in the Lord. Her son followed his foster-mother’s example and lived her virtuous life, and when the abbot of the monastery died, the monks unanimously elected him to be their abbot.

1 Comment

  1. August 16, 2015 at 9:04 am

    […] as Brother Eugene is falsely accused of raping Melancia. The lives of Saint Margaret (Pelagius) and Saint Theodora present transvestite women saints falsely attributed paternity. These lives can be found in the […]


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