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SS. AZADES, THARBA, AND MANY OTHERS, MARTYRS IN PERSIA
From their genuine acts, by St. Maruthas, in Assemani’s Acta Martyrum, t. 1, p. 42.
A. D. 341.
IN the thirty-second year of king Sapor II., (which Sozomen and others from him call, by an evident mistake, the thirty-third,) on Good Friday, which fell that year on the 17th day of April, according to our solar year, the same day on which St. Simeon and his companions suffered, a most cruel edict was published in Persia, inflicting on all Christians the punishment of instant death or slavery, without any trial or form of judicature. The swords of the furious were everywhere unsheathed; and Christians looked upon slaughter as their glory, and courageously went out to meet it. They had even in this life the advantage of their enemies, who often trembled or were fatigued, while the persecuted professors of the truth stood unshaken. “The cross grew and budded upon rivers of blood,” says St. Maruthas; “the troops of the saints exulted with joy, and, being refreshed by the sight of that saving sign, were themselves animated with fresh vigor, and inspired others continually with new courage. They were inebriated by drinking the waters of divine love, and produced a new offspring to succeed them.” From the sixth hour on Good Friday to the second Sunday of Pentecost, that is, Low Sunday, (the Syrians and Chaldeans calling all the space from Easter-day to Whitsun-day Pentecost,) the slaughter was continued without interruption. The report of this edict no sooner reached distant cities, than the governors threw all the Christians into prisons, to be butchered as soon as the edict itself should be sent them: and upon its arrival in any place, whoever confessed themselves Christians were stabbed, or had their throats cut upon the spot. The eunuch Azades, a very great favorite with the king, was slain on this occasion; but the king was so afflicted at his death, that he thereupon published another edict, which restrained the persecution from that time to the bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. Great numbers also of the soldiery were crowned with martyrdom, besides innumerable others throughout the whole kingdom. Sozomen computes the number at sixteen thousand; but an ancient Persian writer, published by Renaudot, makes it amount to two hundred thousand.*
The queen, in the mean time, fell dangerously ill. The Jews, to whom she was very favorable, easily persuaded her that her sickness was the effect of a magical charm or spell, employed by the sisters of the blessed Simeon, to be revenged for their brother’s death. One was a virgin, called Tharba, whom Henschenius and Ruinart corruptly call, with the Greeks, Pherbuta. Her sister was a widow, and both had consecrated themselves by vow to God in a state of continency.† Hereupon the two sisters were apprehended, and with them Tharba’s servant, who was also a virgin. Being accused of bewitching the queen, Tharba replied that the law of God allowed no more of enchantment than of idolatry. And being told they had done it out of revenge, she made answer, that they had no reason to revenge their brother’s death, by which he had obtained eternal life in the kingdom of heaven: revenge being, moreover, strictly forbidden by the law of God. After this they were remanded to prison. Tharba, being extremely beautiful, one of her judges was enamored of her. He therefore sent her word the next day, that if she would consent to marry him, he would obtain her pardon and liberty of the king. But she refused the offer with indignation, saying, that she was the spouse of Jesus Christ, to whom she had consecrated her virginity, and committed her life; and that she feared not death, which would open to her the way to her dear brother, and to eternal rest from pain. The other two judges privately made her the like proposals, but were rejected in the same manner. They hereupon made their report to the king, as if they had been convicted of the crime; but he, not believing them guilty, was willing their lives should be spared, and their liberty restored to them, on condition they would offer sacrifice to the sun. They declared nothing should ever prevail on them to give to a creature the honor due to God alone; whereupon the Magians cried out, “They are unworthy to live by whose spells the queen is wasting in sickness.” And it being left to the Magians to assign their punishments, and determine what death they should be put to, they, out of regard to the queen’s recovery, as they pretended, ordered their bodies to be sawn in two, and half of each to be placed on each side of a road, that the queen might pass between them, which, they said, would cure her. Even after this sentence, Tharba’s admirer found means to let her know, that it was still in her power to prevent her death, by consenting to marry him. But she cried out with indignation: “Most impudent of men, how could you again entertain such a dishonest thought! For me courageously to die is to live; but life, purchased by baseness, is worse than any death.” When they were come to the place of execution, each person was tied to two stakes, and with a saw sawn in two, each half, thus separated, was cut into six parts, and being thrown into so many baskets, were hung on two forked stakes, placed in the figure of half crosses, leaving an open path between them; through which the queen superstitiously passed the same day. St. Maruthas adds, that no sight could be more shocking or barbarous than this spectacle of the martyrs’ limbs cruelly mangled, and exposed to scorn. They suffered in the year 341