The life and martyrdom of St Basilisa is celebrated on 3 September.
Basilisa lived in Nicomedia, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Emperor Diocletian (284-305) and Galerius (305-311) were both based at Nicomedia during their times as Emperor and persecuted the Christians in Nicomedia. John Julius Norwich observes, that
“…we must assume that Constantine witnessed, in 303, the deliberate burning of the newly completed Cathedral at Nicomedia – the dramatic inauguration of those famous Persecutions that were to rage, scarcely controlled, for the next eight years.”
It is thought that the burning of the Cathedral was in retaliation for a fire at the imperial palace which the Christians were accused of starting.
As many as twenty thousand Christians lost their lives in this fire
Basilissa was nine years old when she was arrested and tortured for her faith. She was tortured to make her renounce her faith in Christ. But the young girl stood firm in her faith although she was subjected to prolonged and intense torture. Despite the torture she didn’t die and this made an intense impression on the Governor of Nicomedia Alexander who in the face of her faithfulness became a Christian himself and was later baptised by Bishop Anthimus and lived in deep repentance then shortly after his conversion died. The cause of death is not given.
Although Basilissa was only nine years old it could have been that she was called to account because she had resisted being married to a pagan or declaring that she wanted to remain a virgin as had been the case with the Martyr St Agnes in Rome.
The cause of St Basilissa’s death does not seem to be directly the result of torture but seems to have happened sometime later although her suffering must have weakened her body. She is referred to as a martyr in the Orthodox Church Calendar.
During my researches I have been impressed with the large numbers of Christians who suffered for their faith in the Nicomedia area. Probably because the Emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire lived in Nicomedia.
With the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine and Emperor Liciniusin 311 persecution of Christians came to an end. Later in the Eastern Roman province in which Nicomedia lay but nevertheless persecution ceased and Christians could live at peace.
St Agnes was executed during persecution of Christians by Diocletian in 304.
Licinius promulgated the Edict of Milan on 13 June 311 in Nicromedia.
John Julius Norwich, Byzantium The Early Centuries
(London: Penguin, 1990) p. 45
Copyright © 2018 Rev Ros Wilkinson