Lions, Bears and Burning Bulls. Just an everyday story of Roman folk

When Paul was run out of Antioch he went to the city of Iconium (modern day Konya) which is where I am tonight

Which reminds of the unlikely but entertaining story of Thecla and St Paul

Thecla was something of a beauty , the 18 year old daughter of a rich Iconium man and -this is important – engaged to be married to a frankly green eyed insecure bloke called Thamyris

Paul was preaching the word in a courtyard across the street from Thecla’s mansion. He was waxing lyrical about chastity.
Looking at the pictures of St Paul, i suspect abstinence was probably a subject close to his heart.

A description at the time has him short in stature, bandy legs, eyebrows that joined and balding
In fact he looks a bit like a bearded Phil Collins.

I digress. So enchanted was Thecla with the words of Paul as she listened at her window that she was unable to move for three days.

Her mother and betrothed were so incensed they had Paul imprisoned
Coming out of her stupor , this latter day groupie stole out of the house and , bribing the guards, entered his cell …”kissing his chains”. Hmm

Paul was whipped (he’d get used to that) and kicked out of the city. Again

Thecla , at the insistence of mummy and boyfriend , was condemned to be burned at the stake. (Thanks mum)

But a great, localised , storm broke and (together with the help of a “sound from under the earth” ) the fire died and Thecla was saved.

This was the first but not the last thwarted attempt on the virgin’s life

Paul and Thecla made their way back to Antioch on the eve of a festival of wild animals in that amphitheatre I’ve sat in.

It seems one high priest – Alexander – took a liking to Thecla and (not realising the kind of teenager he was dealing with) made unwelcome advances

Like any strong willed teenager who’s been chatted up by a middle aged lecher, she probably uttered the Ancient Greek equivalent of “That is soooo ,like, gross and I’m not even joking..”
She then adds injury to insult by pulling off his garland and ripping his cloak.
At which all the townspeople start sniggering.
But attacking a priest was no joking matter and -guess what?- she is sentenced to death… Much against the protestations of the city’s womenfolk

No doubt bearing in mind Thecla’s previously demonstrated asbestos -like qualities – the authorities come up with a more exotic final end.

In the amphitheatre a fierce lioness is set upon her.
Except the lioness lies down at her feet.
Alexander and the Roman governor overseeing this spectacle don’t give up easily unlike the pathetic fire starters back in Iconium

They send in a bear to rip Thecla apart.

But up jumps the lioness and duly kills the bear.
“No worries,” says Alexander through gritted teeth, I’ve got another cunning plan

So he sends in his own specially trained man-killing lion.
And the lioness kills that too. Although perhaps not unsurprisingly the lioness gives her own life during this magnificent act of loyalty.

At this point it’s tempting to think of Alexander standing there like a frustrated Wily Coyote as yet another plan fails

Now a whole host of “other beasts” are sent to attack. But Thecla just stretches out her hand and they back off.

Now Alexander and the Governor are probably rolling their eyes and waving their arms at each other

“You said that Lion of yours had killed 50 gladiators!”

“Yeah well you said you’d carried out dozens of these executions back at the colosseum and it would be ‘easy peasy’ ”

Thecla meanwhile, probably bored , has jumped into a giant tank of water to baptise herself , unaware that the tank contains the latest batch of fierce beasts


Yes seals

I’m not sure what they were supposed to do…flipper her to death I guess.

“Ok , ok here we go,” giggles an increasingly hysterical Alexander, rocking back and forth in his chair and clapping his hands together “let her get out of this one”

So now there is a flash of light. Cue a pool full of dead seals

“Oh for f…s sake!” shouts the governor, no doubt worried that his own place in the ampitheatre awaits if this gets back to the boys in Rome

Now “other more fearful” beasts are thrown into the mix.
Yes I know. I’m having a hard time imagining what could be more fearful than seals. Attack penguins perhaps?

Now the women of the city get in on the act and start protecting Thecla by throwing leaves and balsam. God knows what kind of beast would be scared by leaves.

Anyway all this leaf and balsam throwing produces “odours” so that the beasts are rendered unconscious.

Alexander and the Gov probably now have their eyebrows raised so high they are disappearing down the back of their necks

I can hear the gov sighing as Alexander says he’s got yet another sure fire winner

“Go on…”

And this is a direct conversation quoted from the Acts of Paul and Thecla.

Alexander:”I have some bulls, exceedingly fearful, let us bind the criminal to them, ”

“And the governor , FROWNING, allowed it saying :’Do that thy wilt”

It’s as if the governor just shrugs and says “Yeah, whatever”, knowing full well what’s going to happen

So. She’s tied by her feet to the bulls.
And just to make really, really sure, they put hot irons on the stomachs of the bulls “that they might be more enraged and kill her”

But as the bulls charge the flames burn through the ropes and she’s freed.

The governor probably pissed on wine now , calls her before him and in a scene which calls to mind that bit between Schwarznegger and the Predator asks in a clearly plaintive tone :” Who are you?”

Thecla is freed.

We never learn what happens to the governor or Alexander ….

This is Paul



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