When discussing Saint Theodora , most people are referring to the rags-to-riches story of the prostitute-come-empress, and wife of Justinian I , who worked to promote women rights in the 6th century. Nevertheless, several Theodora’s have been canonized throughout history.
In the southern Greek Peloponnese, Saint Theodora refers to a Christian Mulan-like figure, who spawned epic folk tales due to her selfless story of martyrdom. Legend has it that her family lived near Vastas, which at the time was part of the Byzantine Empire .
In one version of the tale, Saint Theodora lived in the 11th century, at a time when all families were obliged to pay a tax or send a male to fight for the empire. Being from a humble background, Theodora decided enlist in the army herself under the name Theodore, to save her father from having to go to war.
In her manly disguise, she became known as a fearless soldier. Accused of impregnating a promiscuous woman, and not wanting to reveal her secret, Theodora was sentenced to death for bringing dishonor to her regiment by refusing to marry the woman.
According to the Greek City Times , the legend of Theodora of Vasta has been confused with that of Theodora of Alexandria. It claims that Theodora of Vasta actually lived in the 10th century and that the courageous young girl dressed like a man and was killed while fighting to protect Vasta from bandits.
In any case, both versions end the same. As she lay dying, Theodora said: “Let my body become a church, my hair a forest of trees, and my blood a spring to water them.” On realizing her true identity, locals built a church to commemorate her heroism.
The miracle church of Saint Theodora in Peloponnese, southern Greece. The roof of the church is covered in giant oak trees, seemingly without any roots. ( gatsi / Adobe Stock)
This tiny stone church still exists today, measuring about 4 by 7 meters (13 by 23 ft), and attracts pilgrims from across the globe. Known as the “miracle church,” the Church of Agia Theodora of Vasta is famed for the 17 large oak trees, with an average height of 8 meters (26 ft), which have spontaneously sprouted from its roof. What makes this so remarkable is that they have seemingly grown without any trace of roots.
That the structure hasn’t collapsed under the weight is mind-blowing, and for hundreds of years the miracle church of Saint Theodora of Vasta has been deemed a mystifying mystery. A geophysical report , looking for answers in order to aid with restoration attempts, put an end to the riddle.
By using georadar and electrical tomography, the study somewhat debunked the legend of Theodora of Vasta’s church when it concluded that the tree roots of had actually found their way through the stonemasonry walls to reach underground water below the structure.
Top image: Representational image of Saint Theodora of Vasta. Source: Francis Valadj / Adobe Stock
By Cecilia Bogaard