Rhipsime of Armenia

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St. Rhipsime (Armenian:Հռիփսիմէ, died c. 290[1]), also called Hripsime, Ripsime, Ripsima or Arsema, was a martyr of Roman origin; she and her companions in martyrdom are venerated as the first Christian martyrs of Armenia.[2] In the Orthodox Churches, her feast day is September 30.

According to legend, Rhipsime was possibly of noble birth.[3] She belonged to a community of virgins in Rome, numbering 35[4] under the leadership of Gayane. She was known to be extremely beautiful, and attracted the notice of Diocletian. To avoid his advances she, along with her community, fled the city, going first to Alexandria before settling in Vagharshapat.[2] The varying accounts of her martyrdom diverge at this point. One story indicates that Rhipsime again was noticed for her beauty, this time by King Tiridates III, who proceeded to pursue her. Upon being brought before him, she refused his advances and was punished by being roasted alive. Gayane was then put to death by Tiridates' soldiers, as were all the members of her community except for Nune (or Marine), who was later a missionary in Georgia[2] and, as St. Nino, is praised as the founder of the Church of Georgia.

Another version of the saint's Acts indicates that, upon discovering Rhipsime's whereabouts, Diocletian sent a letter to Tiridates insisting that he either send her back or take her for himself. The king's servants found her among her companions, here described as nuns, and urged that she follow his wishes. She responded that she could not marry as she was betrothed to Jesus Christ, as were the others. At this, a voice from heaven was heard, saying, "Be brave and fear not, for I am with you".[5] Upon this, Tiridates ordered that Rhipsime be tortured; her tongue was cut out, her stomach cut open, and she was blinded before being killed. Her body was then cut into pieces. Inspired by her example, Gayane and two other nuns gave themselves over to similar treatment before being beheaded. The rest of the community was put to the sword, their bodies thrown to the beasts to be eaten. Supposedly, Tiridates and his soldiers were then punished by God for their actions; the soldiers were beset by devils, and began to act like wild animals, running through the forests, gnawing at themselves, and tearing their clothes.[5] The legend states that the King was turned into a wild boar for his actions, and had to be saved by the intervention of Gregory the Enlightener.[6] Like many early saints, these accounts can no longer be verified independently, leading many to believe that while certain key elements may be true, other accounts have been fictionalized to one degree or another.[2]

St. Hripsime Church in Echmiadzin (formerly known as Vagharshapat) is dedicated to Rhipsime; the current structure was consecrated in 618, and contains her tomb in the catacombs beneath the building.[7] According to legend, Christ designated the spot for the shrine by descending from heaven in a shaft of light and smiting the ground with a golden hammer until the earth shook.[8] Some of the saint's relics, along with items relating to Tiridates and Gregory the Enlightener, were pillaged by Persians during an invasion in 1604, but were restored in 1638.[9] In the Catholic tradition, Rhipsime and her companions are commemorated with a feast day of September 29;[2] the Orthodox Church in America commemorates them on September 30.[4] The Armenian Apostolic Church remembers Rhipsime and her companions on June 4; Gayane and her companions are commemorated separately, on June 5.[10]

Saint Rhipsime is known as "Arsema" in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and there are a number of churches in her name found in Ethiopia. Among the churches, the oldest one which is found in one of the islands of Lake Tana is known for its miracles. There are also many old paintings in the church portraying how she was killed by Tiridates III (named as Dirtados by Ethiopians) and how the cruel king was changed into a bear after killing her. There is annual pilgrimage by Ethiopian Christians to this church in January. There are also Christian songs that praise her name. Her story is told in the Ethiopian Synaxarium on Mäskäräm 29.[11]

Notes and references

  1. Other sources, such as this one, suggest a date at the start of the fourth century.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 St. Rhipsime - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online
  3. Female Martyrs, Chapter 2
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lives of all saints commemorated on this day - September 30
  5. 5.0 5.1 St. Rhipsime of Armenia
  6. Catholic Encyclopedia: Gregory the Illuminator
  7. Hripsime Cathedral
  8. Gregory The Illuminator - LoveToKnow 1911
  9. Catholic Encyclopedia: Etschmiadzin
  10. Church Calendar
  11. Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church: A Translation of the Ethiopic Synaxarium: Made from the Manuscripts Oriental 660 and 661 in the British Museum. 4 vols Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928.


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