January 9: St. Marciana, African Virgin and Martyr

Marciana lived in Mauritania (located on the northwest coast of Africa) in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. Little is known about Marciana, except that she was persecuted and ultimately killed for her faith. Butler writes that “rude gladiators” tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to rape Marciana, and during these sexual assaults, she “became the happy instrument of the conversion of one of them to the faith.” Marciana persevered, preserving her virginity and evangelizing gladly, until a leopard and a wild bull tore her to pieces.

If anyone deserves a direct pass to heaven (in Christianity, the putative reward for being put to death for one’s faith), it is certainly Marciana. And I ask: How is God served by the sexual assault and mauling to death of an African girl? How am I supposed to be strengthened by this story of terror and torture?

Yet this line of inquiry begs this question: What purpose does it serve to tell people that they will be greatly rewarded in the hereafter for suffering death in the name or service of one’s faith, be it Christianity or Islam?

Part of the answer may well be that this isn’t designed to be a message for those with first-world options. And perhaps the flip side is that those of us with first-world options cannot fully grasp the appeal that undergoing martyrdom might hold to those who do not have the same choices and opportunities that we have. What I do believe is that the analysis cannot and should not stop here.


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