Santa Marta: Wonder Worker in Gallia

No doubt you've heard of Santa Marta (Saint Martha), patron saint of cooks, dietitians, housekeepers, housewives, hostesses, innkeepers, and travelers, who cooked dinner for the Lord and his apostles, and let him lodge in her house. The French call her Sainte Marthe. She sailed with her sister, Santa Maria di Betania (Saint Mary of Bethany) to southern France. She had fled Palestine with only a cooking pot and a ladle.

As saints go, Santa Marta was a practical sort, hard working, often desiring to serve whenever possible, help when needed, and solve problems as she found them. In iconography, she was often depicted bearing on her girdle a bunch of keys, holding a ladle and a cooking pot of water, with a dragon subdued beneath her feet. Though sometimes she is called Santa Marta Bella, she is clad in humble garb of green and/or white. She does not carry a palm or wear a martyr's crown, since there is no official record of the manner of her death.

Legend states she lived long in her service to this world until the age of 79.

Perhaps you have not heard how she defeated the Tarascurus, a winged dragon? The beast had the head of a horned lion and a long serpentine tail with a poisonous barb. The monster's teeth were sharper than swords and it was as wide as an ox. The beast's hide was harder than a turtle shell and its breath burned with flame. Santa Marta di Betania is famous for overcoming the Tarascurus.

The Tarascurus, or Taraque, terrorized the town of Nerluc along the Rhone between Arles and Avignon.
It is said 16 local stout young men, armed with whatever weapons they had, confronted this monster and tried to destroy it. Eight were instantly incinerated when the Tarascurus belched flame at them. The other eight returned home, severely injured by the flame, but still alive.

When Santa Marta arrived in Nerluc, she saw everyone in mourning and tears. When she asked why, she heard the tale of the dragon, which emerged from its swampy lair from time to time to snatch another child. It had just recently taken a young herdsman. The townsfolk despaired of every being rid of the beast.

Resolved, Santa Marta took her pot and sought out the Tarascurus. Where the dragon dwelt, the woods were shadowy and still. Human bones, gnawed with teeth marks, were strewn along the path. The water of the swamp was black with a malodorous stench.

Wisely, Santa Marta chose to lure the beast from its fetid lair with a tantalizing treat.

Some will tell you that when the dragon came forward, she stood her ground, firm in her faith and resolution to help the people of the town. She splashed the beast with holy water, dousing its flaming breath, and bound it with her girdle, to lead it docile and powerless back to town.

Others say the tantalizing treat was fresh meat and fat wrapped around pitch covered with lambskin. The Tarascurus, having gobbled the lure whole, fell at her feet and burst asunder in flame. Others insist she cooked dragonroot and other herbs into a savory meat stew, the smell of which drew out the monster. The dragon ate its fill and licked the pot clean. The monster grew docile and lay down at her feet. Santa Marta poured holy water over the vicious beast. It grew still and died.

In any case, the townsfolk rejoiced at the liberation of their town from this monster that routinely devoured the town's children. They marveled at the perseverance, courage, and faith of this good woman.

The town is now known as Tarascon and there is a church dedicated to Santa Marta or Saint Martha. The town of Tarascon holds an annual festival to celebrate the saint's defeat of the dragon. The townsfolk say the saint is buried there.

Ah, but I will tell you another story of Santa Marta. After the fame of her dominating the dragon spread, she retired from the area--at least for a time. This saint prefered a humble life.

Where I do not know, but Santa Marta and a few other women set up a household together so that they might maintain themselves as honorable lay women who had no husbands.

Santa Marta was a hard worker and kept an orderly household. The women washed laundry, baked bread, grew vegetables, and mostly supported themselves with spinning and weaving. The women also daily occupied themselves with prayers.

Yet, one season, the saint's household was tormented by a bevy of mice.

These mice gnawed holes in the walls, chewed on clothing, and nested in the yarn spun by the women. They were everywhere and got into everything.

One morning, Santa Marta went to the kitchen to prepare the meals and discovered the mice had gotten into the flour, causing it to spill everywhere. They ruined practically all they had not eaten by defecating all over it.

As she began to sweep up the mess, she spied several more making off with other foodstuff. The situation had become intolerable.

She went out to the yard and summoned all the mice. The many mice gathered at her feet. Santa Marta reprimanded them severely for their bad behavior.

She explained that she was putting her foot down. The mice would all have to leave or she would deal with all of them as sternly as she had with the Tarascurus.

She also said, "I will set out some food for you on the far side of the garden wall. You must depart and do not return." She gathered some of the flour the mice had spilled and carried it far from the household.

She returned to the kitchen and finished cleaning. She blessed it with holy water and then blessed the whole house, and rubbed everthing down with peppermint oil.

It is said the mice did indeed depart. From that day forward, no mouse was ever seen in the household again. Apparently they, too, had heard of the fate of the Tarascurus.

2008 Myth Woodling

Myth's notes:

There is a strong tradition that St. Martha can be petitioned for help in mundane but physically important daily matters. One of her Latin titles is Auxilatrice which means "helper, assistant, aid." I thought it good to have a story that addressed the two different sorts of things for which this saint could be petitioned.

There is a Catholic tradition that after the crucifiction, St. Martha of Bethany-- sister of St. Mary and St. Lazarus--traveled to France. There is more than one legend relating to her life in Southern Gaul.

For example, one French legend credited the saint with raising a young man from the dead who had drowned near Avignon. The young man had tried to swim across the Rhone to hear the saint's words as she spoke of the Resurection and the Life. Out of compassion, Sanite Marthe prayed: "O Adonay Lord Jesu Christ which raisedst sometime my well beloved brother Lazarus, behold my most dear guest to the faith of them that stand here, and raise this child. Amen."

The most famous legend was that of her subduing the dragon, known as the Tarasque or Tarasqurus. The story is recorded in Vorangine's Legenda Aurea (Golden Legends) much as I have retold it here. Over the years, I remember reading more than one version of how St. Martha overcame the dragon, hence the additions.

By subduing the Taraque, St. Martha joined the ranks of Godly individuals who overcame dragons, including St. George, St. Margaret, St. Michael the Archangel, and Daniel (Daniel 14:22-26 Vulgate). In her iconography, St. Martha is depicted with a dragon at her feet.

The French town of Tarascon does hold an annual festival, established in 1474, to celebrate St. Martha's overcoming the Taraque.

Due to the legend of the dragon, St. Martha can be invoked as Martha Dominadora in Santeria and Espiritismo. In Italy, she may be called as Marta Dominatore or Marta Dominadora. It is said she can be a powerful ally when you need to dominate a problem or to bind or compel someone who is threatening others.

Anyone needing protection from danger, or comfort from difficulties, can pray to Santa Marta or Saint Martha the Dominator on Tuesdays while lighting a candle or an oil lamp as an offering.

Many people are familiar with the legends of St. George and St. Michael, but not as many are familiar with the story of Daniel and the Draco. I include it so people can compare it with the Taraque legend.

And there was a great dragon [draco magnus] in that place, and the Babylonians worshipped him. And the king said to Daniel: "Behold, thou canst not say now, that this is not a living god [deus vivens]: adore him, therefore." And Daniel said: "I adore the Lord, my God [Dominum Deum]: for he is the living God [deus vivens]: but that is no living god [deus vivens]. But give me leave, O king, and I will kill this dragon without sword or club." And the king said, "I give thee leave." Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and boiled them together: and he made lumps, and put them into the dragon's mouth, and the dragon burst asunder. And he said: "Behold him whom you worship." Daniel 14:22-26, Vulgate version.
I should add that the second part of the story mice as recounted is entirely my own addition. To my knowledge, there is no legend about St.Martha overcoming mice. It's just my opinion that the patron saint of cooks, housekeepers, maids, etc, ought to be able to overcome mice--particularly if she already overcame a fire-breathing dragon.

To be honest when I wrote it in 2008, I was dealing with an infestation of field mice in my own home. I also had not yet learned of St. Gertrude of Nivelles, who is another saint associated with hospitality. St. Gertrude of Nivelles is particularly invoked against field mice. Nevertheless, if St. Martha of Bethany is the Auxilatrice and can be invoked to overcome practical difficulties, she can also be invoked to overcome the practical difficulties of a severe mice infestation.

copyright 2011 Myth Woodling

Praying to Saints and Folk Magic: Santa Marta di Betania
Useful Prayers: Novena to St. Martha of Bethany
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St. Martha the Auxiliatrice
UsefulPrayers: Prayer to Glorioso Santa Marta
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St. Martha
Useful Prayers: Short Prayer to Santa Marta Bella
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St. Martha Patron Saint of Waitresses
Bella Marta and the Young Contadino
Praying to Saints and Folk Magic: Santa Gertrude di Nivelles

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