Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Martha and invite you to enter into her story with our guest blogger and friend Marguerite ….
Among other things, Saint Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus, is the patroness of single laywomen, butlers, cooks, dietitians, servers, homemakers, innkeepers, travelers, and of the village of Villajoyosa, Spain, which annually celebrates a 250-year old festival commemorating Martha’s resucing the village from an attack by Berber pirates in 1538. According to legend, Martha came to the rescue of the townsfolk by causing a flash flood that wiped out the enemy fleet, thus preventing the corsairs from reaching the coast.
I’ve always admired Martha’s spunk in the Gospel stories found in Luke and John, even though I think that Martha often got the short end of the bargain, as when she asked Jesus to tell Mary to give her a hand in the kitchen, and Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part. Here’s Martha with a houseful of company, and who’s going to feed and take care of them if she doesn’t? On the other hand, what good Jewish woman who keeps a kosher house is going to let all those big fishermen muck about in her kitchen?
She wasn’t shy about making her feelings known, even to Jesus. When their brother Lazarus died, both Martha and her sister Mary were grief-stricken. But while Mary wept, Martha went out to meet Jesus when He arrived at their house, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now, God will give you what you ask.” (John 11:21,32)
And when Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and commands that it be opened, the ever practical Martha says, “Lord, he’s been in there for four days. There will be a stench!”
But have you ever wondered what happened to Martha, Mary, and Lazarus after the Resurrection?
Orthodox tradition says that Martha’s brother Lazarus was cast out of Jerusalem in the persecution against the Jerusalem Church following the martyrdom of St. Stephen. His sisters Mary and Martha fled Judea with him, assisting him in the proclaiming of the Gospel in various lands. The three later moved to Cyprus, where Lazarus became the first Bishop of Kition (modern Larnaca). According to this tradition, all three died in Cyprus.
Saint Martha and the Dragon
But there’s another story, this one from Provence. According to the 13th century “Golden Legend,” around 48 A.D., Martha, Mary, and Lazarus left Judea and went to what is now France, and there they converted the people to the faith. Martha preached to the people, and she was “courteous and gracious to them.” Now, keep in mind that this is a legend, but one with an interesting lesson to it. According to Provençal tradition, after the ascension of our Lord, when the disciples were departed, Martha with her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary and many others, were put into a ship without sail, oars, or rudder, which by the conduct of our Lord they came all to Marseilles, and after came to the territory of Aix, in Provence.
The legend relates that Martha went to Tarascon on the Rhone River, where a terrible dragon, the Tarasque, lay hiding in the woods and lurking in the river, “perishing those that passed by and drowning ships.
At the behest of the people in the region, Martha went into the wood, and found Tarasque eating a man. She cast holy water on the dragon and showed to him the cross. Tarasque was overcome, and while he was standing “still as a sheep,” she bound him with her own girdle, and then he was slain with spears of the people.
According to the story, Martha and Mary lived out the rest of their days in Tarascon, and were daily occupied in daily prayers and in fasting, and thereafter gathered together a great convent of sisters and built a fair church in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Martha’s tomb is located in the crypt of the local Collegiate Church in Tarascon.
I’m intrigued by the legend of Saint Martha and the Dragon. She did not slay the dragon, but rather incapacitated it by the sprinkling with holy water. My mother, my great-aunts, and my cousin Martha tamed many of their own personal dragons (and those of the family, too) by means of prayer and sprinkling with holy water and by the power of faith—and never missed serving up a good meal! I think that the Marthas of this world are still out there, taking care of people, facing down a variety of dragons, speaking their minds, and continuing the work of Jesus in a host of practical ways.
Who are the Marthas in your life, and how do they influence you?
Credits: Wikipedia: Saint Martha
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The Sisters are attending congregational meetings and will be podcasting from the IHM Mothership in Monroe, Michigan. Join them and the A Nun’s Life Community for prayer today at 6 p.m. CST (your timezone)