St. Salsa, Pray for Us

No, seriously. In Tipasa (now Tipaza), one of the North African cities, there once was a virgin and martyr whose name was Salsa. She was martyred by pagans at the beginning of the fourth century, and a basilica was built in Tipasa that bore her name.

She may have borne a Carthaginian or other African name, but it may have just been a Roman joke-name for a slave; it meant “salty”, “preserved in salt”, or “witty.”

There is also a text about her, called “Passio S. Salsae”, which comes from a diligent Tipasan hagiographer at the beginning of the fifth century. It says that St. Salsa was the daughter of pagan parents, but became Christian. At the age of fourteen, attending the annual dragon/serpent festival with her parents, she spiced things up by slipping away, getting hold of the city’s serpent/dragon idol, and throwing its head into the sea. A thorough sort of girl, she went back for the rest of the idol, and was caught. Thus she achieved both an exorcism of the city’s Punic god and her own martyrdom by stoning shortly afterward. Her body fell or was thrown into the sea, but was miraculously recovered by the Christians in town and buried.

At this point, without having the actual book to consult, I’m a bit puzzled. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Tipasa says that she was buried up on the hill opposite the big city administration building, the Basilica Alexander, and a chapel was built over her body; then, after the local populace converted to Christianity, they built the big Basilica of St. Salsa in its place. (Possibly going off the 19th century archeology results.) The Persecution of the Jews in the Roman Empire says that “Passio S. Salsae” says the pagan dragon/serpent temple was cleansed and turned into a synagogue, and then later the synagogue was turned into St. Salsa’s Basilica. So I totally don’t know what the deal is.

This basilica was excavated by a 19th century French archeologist named Stéphane Gsell. Unfortunately, most of the place was used as a quarry by the locals (after the Vandals and then the Muslims took over). Camus wrote a book set in the modern town.

Her feastday is on May 20 or May 22, along with that of St. Marcelliosa and St. Victoria, also African virgins and martyrs.

Old newsreel footage of a procession in honor of St. Salsa, at her basilica’s ruins.

YouTube slideshow video: “Tipasa, la ville de Sainte Salsa”. Very beautiful. There are lots of other Tipasa/Tipaza videos online.

St. Salsa’s Basilica in an old lantern slide. And another. Both from U of Notre Dame’s architecture library.

A thread with a bunch of gorgeous but uncaptioned pictures of Tipaza’s ruins. Way down at the bottom, I think the mosaic pictures come from St. Salsa’s.

Stunning picture of the Tipaza amphitheater.

1 Comment

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

One response to “St. Salsa, Pray for Us

  1. And I thought it was interesting when I found out about St. Hedwig!

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