Saint of the Day – 10 September – Saint Pulcheria (399-453) Virgin Empress, Widow, (remaining chaste during her marriage), Defender of the Faith against heresy, Apostle of the poor. Born on 19 January 399 and died in July 453 of natural causes. Patronages – against in-law problems, against the death of parents, empresses, orphans, people in exile, victims of betrayal. Also known as – Pulqueria.
The Roman Martyrology states: “At Constantinople, Pucheria, Virgin and Empress, distiniguished by her piety and zeal for the True Faith.“
The daughter of Arcadius and Aelia Eudoxia, the Emperor and Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire, Pulcheria was an exceptional woman. Her mother lived the life one would expect of royalty — not immoral in our sense,but luxurious and gaudy. She (Eudoxia) ran afoul of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, who declared that a silver statue of the Empress (and the unveiling celebration for it) dishonoured the Church. John had already been exiled and recalled once for criticising Eudoxia — his comparison of her to Herodias and himself to John the Baptist earned him exile to the Caucasus. When he was writing letters, critical of the Imperials, they further relocated him to Georgia, but he died on the way.
Eudoxia, died not long after, soon followed by her husband. Pulcheria, who was still a minor and her younger brother, who became Emperor were governed by regents who were appointed to administer the kingdom. These were veteran Palace administrators, loyal and wise but Pulcheria, even at fifteen, was a woman who knew her on mind.
One of the regents offered to arrange a marriage for her, perhaps to his grandson. But Pulcheria was determined to consecrate her virginity to God. Having come of age, she thanked the regent for his good service and appointed herself regent for her younger brother and set about training him in all ways to be emperor, instituting a monastic way of life in the Palace. Pulcheria insisted on chanting and praying and fasting for herself, her sisters and all the servants of the Palace. They gave up the jewelry and finery, preferred instead to provide food and clothing for the poor. This and the restoration of honours for St John Chrysostom, after his death, led to her being much admired by the Church.
Pulcheria arranged a marriage for her brother when he was twenty but the young wife was always jealous of her sister-in-law’s influence over Theodosius and the two quarreled. When Theodosius died on 26 July 450, Pulcheria married Marcian, allowing her to continue to rule in place of her brother, while simultaneously not violating her vow of virginity. She died three years later, in July 453.
Pulcheria influenced the Church and its theological development by being involved in the Council of Ephesus and guiding the Council of Chalcedon, in which the Church ruled on Christological issues.
Pulcheria also engaged in a fierce battle with the Nestor, the Archbishop of Constantinople, who accused her of adultery. Eventually, in the arguments over the human nature of Christ, Nestor was vanquished and exiled. There is no doubt that Pulcheria was in the thick of fight against his heresy.