Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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St. Theodora


WHEN Santa Teodora was young she was married, and lived very happily with her husband, for they were both very fond of each other.

               But there was a count who saw her and fell in love with her, and tried his utmost to get an opportunity of telling her his affection, but she was so prudent that he could not approach her. So what did he do? he went to a bad old woman [1] and told her that he would give her ever so much money if she would get him the opportunity of meeting her. The old wretch accepted the commission willingly, and put all her bad arts in requisition to make Theodora forget her duty. For a long time Theodora refused to listen to her and sent her away, but she went on finding excuses to come to her, and again and again urged her persuasions and excited her curiosity so that finally she consented that he might just come and see her, and the witch woman assured her that was all he asked. But what he wanted was the opportunity of speaking his own story into her ear, and when that was given him he pushed his suit so successfully that it wasn't only once he came, but many times.

               Yet it was not a very long time before a day came when Theodora saw how wrong she had been, and then, seized with compunction, she determined to go away and hide herself where she would never be heard of more. Before her husband came home she cut off all her hair, and putting on a coarse dress she went to a Capuchin monastery and asked admission.

               'What is your name?' asked the Superior.

               'Theodore,' she replied.

               'You seem too young for our severe rule,' he continued; 'you seem a mere boy;' but she expressed such sincere sentiments of contrition as showed him she was worthy to embrace their life of penance.

               The Devil was very much vexed to see what a perfect penitent she made, and he stirred up the other monks to suspect her of all manner of things; but they could find no fault against her, nor did they ever suspect that she was a woman.

               One day when she was sent with another brother to beg for the convent a storm overtook them in a wood, and they were obliged to seek the shelter of a cottage there was on the borders of the wood where they were belated. 'There is room in the stable for one of you,' said the peasant who lived there; 'but that other one who looks so young and so delicate' (he meant Theodora) 'must sleep indoors, and the only place is the loft where my daughter sleeps; but it can't be helped.' Theodora, therefore, slept in the loft and the monk in the stable, and in the morning when the weather was fair they went back to their convent. Months passed away, and the incident was almost forgotten, when one day the peasant came to the monastery and rang the bell in a great fury, and he laid down at the entrance a bundle in which was a baby. 'That young monk of yours is the father of this child,' he said, 'and you ought to turn him out of the convent.' Then the Superior sent for 'Theodore,' and repeated what the peasant had said.

               'Surely God has sent me this new penance because the life I lead here is not severe enough,' she said. 'He has sent me this further punishment that all the community should think me guilty.' Therefore she would not justify herself, but accepted the accusation and took the baby and went away. Her only way of living now was to get a night's lodging how she could, and come every day to the convent gate with the child and live on the dole that was distributed there to the poor. What a life for her who had been brought up delicately in her own palace!

               She was not allowed to rest, however, even so, for people took offence because she was permitted to remain so near the monastery, and the monks had to send her away. So she went to seek the shelter of a wood, and to labour to find the means of living for herself and the child in the roots and herbs she could pick up. But one of the monks one day found her there, and saw her so emaciated that he told the Superior, and he let her come back to receive the dole.

               At last she died, and when they came to bury her they found she had in one hand a written paper so tightly clasped that no one had the strength to unclose it; and there she lay on her bier in the church looking so sad and worn, yet as sweetly fair as she had looked in life, and with the written paper tightly grasped in her closed hand.

               Now when her husband found that she had left his palace the night she went away he left no means untried to discover where she was; and when he had made inquiries and sent everywhere, and could learn no tidings whatever, he put on pilgrim's weeds and went out to seek for her everywhere himself.

               It so happened that he came into the city where she died just as she was thus laid on her bier in the church. In spite of her male attire he knew her; in the midst of his grief he noticed the written paper she held. To his touch her hand opened instantly, and in the scroll was found recorded all she had done and all she had suffered.



[1] 'Vecchiaccia'; the addition accia implies that she was bad: probably a witch was intended.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: St. Theodora
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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