Emily M. DeArdo


St. Martha and the Dragons

Catholicism, women saints seriesEmily DeArdo4 Comments

A continuation of my Female Saints series

Did you know St. Martha fought dragons?

Seriously, guys. She did a lot more than just make dinner for Jesus. (Not that making dinner for Jesus is nothing, right?)

But most of the time being called a "Martha" is a bad thing, and that's always bugged me a little. We tend to just remember her first appearance in the gospels:

Vermeer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

Vermeer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
— Luke 10:38-42 (NAB)

If this was all we knew about Martha, then she wouldn't come off too well, would she? But we can also relate to her. Who hasn't had work to do at a party, worried about dishes and serving and the turkey in the oven, while other people are just sitting around, not thinking about everything that needs to be done? It might not be a good reaction, but it's one that we can relate to. 

Often, this passage is used to illustrate the "active" and "contemplative" ways of life. There's some merit in that. Mary is the contemplative, at the feet of Jesus, lost in prayer, and Martha is the one who serves Jesus, who works in the kitchen and makes the house ready for His visit. Both sides are important in the Christian life, and to have just one side isn't good. 

But Martha is a lot more than just the housekeeper. In the Gospel of John, we see her great faith after her brother, Lazarus, has died: 

And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
— John 11: 19-27 (NAB)

Martha  shows her belief in Jesus here, and testifies, like Peter, that he is the Messiah. She knows who He is. She knows He could have healed her brother if he had been there earlier, but she also accepts Lazarus' death. Her faith in Jesus isn't shaken by this event. 

Martha is strong in both her temperament and her faith. She isn't perfect--Jesus tells her that she has to learn the 'better part' in Luke’s Gospel--but she has many admirable qualities that can be overlooked. She has common sense, strength, a desire to serve and take care of her family, and a concern for others. 

So--what about the dragons? (Come on, Emily, get to the good stuff.)

Well, that's from a French legend: 


...further legend relates that Martha then went to Tarascon, France, where a monster, the Tarasque, was a constant threat to the population. The Golden Legend describes it as a beast from Galicia; a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, that dwelt in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water. Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village.
There Martha lived, daily occupied in prayers and in fastings. Martha eventually died in Tarascon, where she was buried. Her tomb is located in the crypt of the local Collegiate Church.
— Catholic Online

There might not be a lot of dragons around today, but St. Martha is still a good saint to keep in mind when the dragons of chaos and doubt roar in our daily lives. 

She's the patron saint of cooks, and her feast day is July 29.