Category Archives: Physician Saints

St. Hermione the Unmercenary Physician

I got into a search engine/linkfest today… And it turns out that Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen, and wife of both Neoptolemus and Orestes (doom, doom, doom-doom), was not the only famous Hermione of the ancient world.

As we all know, St. Philip the Deacon had four daughters who were all prophetesses in the Church. But on the Eastern side of things, a lot of folks who get mentioned in passing in the Gospels or Acts do have traditional names attributed to them.

So the daughters of St. Philip the Deacon are remembered to have had the Greek names of Hermione, Eutychia or Euchidia, Irais, and Chariline or Mariamne. They all seem to have taken vows to live as virgins.

St. Hermione seems to have been the eldest. After Philip moved his family to Herod’s port town of Caesarea Maritima, in order to spread Christianity, Hermione studied Jewish and Greek medicine and became a female physician. As mentioned in Acts 21, St. Paul and various of his companions (including St. Luke) stayed at Philip’s house.

Tradition says that after Paul went up to Jerusalem to get arrested, as prophesied by Agabus, the Christians of Caesarea Maritima got driven out.

(The Christians soon came back. According to Eusebius, who was from around there and would know, the first bishop was St. Zacchaeus himself! He was succeeded by Cornelius (maybe that Cornelius) and then by Theophilus (maybe that Theophilus.)

Philip ended up moving to Hierapolis in Asia Minor, a hot springs town still known for its amazing natural rock formations (the Pamukkale). His tomb is there.

At some point, St. Hermione moved to Ephesus along with Eutychia. They were planning to get spiritual guidance from John, but he died shortly before they got there. So they helped out the new bishop by starting a free medical clinic, along with the first known xenodochium, a house of hospitality for visiting Christians that would become common in most large parishes.

Dr. Hermione ran afoul of the authorities during the co-reign of Trajan and Hadrian. Accounts of her life say that she was subjected to various tortures, but just didn’t die. Finally the governor ordered two men to execute her, but at this point they were doubtful that it would work, and sure that the governor would execute them for failure. So they set their problem before the prophetess, and begged her to pray God to take her to heaven. So she took pity on them, and did so, and just died all of a sudden.

Assuming this story is historical, she’d be a confessor, not a martyr. But she’s always been counted as a martyr. Either way, her feast day is September 4.

As for St. Philip’s other daughters, Eutychia/Euchidia seems to have left Ephesus before all this happened, and died somewhere in a way that no story has come down to us. But Irais and Chariline lived out their lives in Hierapolis, and were visited by many Christians who wanted to hear their eyewitness stories. Papias (the bishop of Hierapolis and a historian) took down their accounts extensively, in his lost book, as Eusebius tells us in his own history.

BTW, the people who are counted as the very first early Christian unmercenary physicians are Ss. Zenaida and Philonella, two cousins of St. Paul who set up a free clinic in Thessaly. They were baptized into the faith by their brother Jason, who was then bishop of Tarsus.

(Zenaida, Philonella, and Jason would all be their Greek use names, not their Jewish names. Zenaida means “of Zeus” or “of God.” Philonella is a female form of Philo/Philon, “friendly love.”)

They decided to enter the local philosophical academy and study Greek medicine, and then moved to the area of Thessaly around Mt. Pelion near Demetriada, and near the famous Asclepius temple of healing. Priests and physicians in the area were known sometimes to charge exorbitant prices or demand big donations, and obviously healing included pagan worship and magical amulets and potions.

So they found a mineral spring, set up a Christian chapel and little huts for themselves, and offered treatment for free.

Legend says that St. Philonella was an experimental physician, willing to try to treat people with unknown diseases, and trying to create better treatments through totally natural, non-magical means. St. Zenaida was particularly interested in treating children who were sick, as well as psychiatric disorders. Both of them lived a life of prayer when not treating patients. Later on, a monastery for men was founded nearby, by their students Pateras, Philocyrus, and Papias. (Which is probably how Papias ended up becoming bishop.)

Legends differ as to whether they were stoned to death as martyrs, or whether they lived out their lives in peace. But their feast is October 11.

Other saints classified as “anargyroi” (literally, “no-silvers”) include Ss. Cosmas and Damian the surgeons, St. Pantaleon, St. Tryphon, St. Thaleleus of Anazarbus, Ss. Cyrus and John, St. Samson the Hospitable. But there’s a ton, and of course many religious orders still provide free medical treatment today.

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