Water, Margaret, and Thecla: A Follow-Up

I wrote this paragraph intending to include it in my first post about The Old English Life of St. Margaret and the story of Thecla from The Acts of Paul, but it didn’t seem to fit into what was already a very long post! So, I figured I would post it as a separate follow-up! You might want to glance at the first post to understand why I’m comparing these two texts.

 

In foreshadows of the climactic baptisms, a kind of preliminary salvation through water occurs in both texts, albeit in very different ways. While Margaret’s torturers successfully burn her skin, Thecla’s prayers save her from burning, bringing a “cloud full of water and hail [that] overshadowed the theatre from above, and all its contents were poured out so that many were in danger of death” (22). The effects of this water are felt communally and simultaneously, by Thecla as well as the onlookers; the rain diffuses throughout the theatre, and although its effects are saving or threatening in accordance with the individual’s righteousness, the corporal sensation of water hitting the skin is shared by everyone present. I think a productive comparison can be made between this rainstorm and the way that “the executioners beat [Margaret’s] tender body so that her blood flowed on the ground as water does from the purest spring” (9). Though this beating obviously does not save Margaret’s life, the beautiful similarity of Margaret’s blood to pure spring water serves as a visual testament to her exemplary purity and emphasizes the evil of her torturers, which converts multitudes of onlookers and later readers to the salvation of Christianity. Thus, the saving water of Margaret’s blood leaves her individual body and brings salvation to others through visual engagement, while Thecla’s storm flows over the bodies of all. The communal experience of Thecla’s preliminary baptism mirrors the direct involvement of other women throughout her story; there is the sense that Margaret alone experiences her tortures and salvations while others witness, while Thecla’s story is enacted on and through the bodies of a community of people—especially women. 

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