• Henry Hopwood-Phillips

Golinduch: the Iranian Living Martyr

Few will have heard of Golinduch.[1] She’s not in the western canon and – despite her extraordinary life and “death” – she is not a household name in the manner of Mary of Egypt, John Chrysostom or Simeon Stylites. Perhaps this is not so surprising given she’s Iranian. Abdas, Christina and (Chrysostom’s friend) Maruthas hardly sit on the tip of anybody’s tongue and even in late antiquity the naked fact of their geography bestowed a slight whiff of Nestorianism upon them.

Yet – to my knowledge – Golinduch is the only “living martyr.” Perhaps her closest competition is Basil of Amaseia whose remains (having been beheaded in the reign of Licinius) miraculously reunited in Sinope’s harbour. But though mended Basil did not return to life and he was returned to Amaseia as a relic. Conversely, Golinduch (while not being quite as grim as the Green Knight of the Arthurian cycle or Sleepy Hollow’s protagonist) was still decapitated and had to have her head stitched on – the scars being obvious when she crossed into Roman Mesopotamia having claimed to have suffered martyrdom under Hormizd (579-590).

Welcomed as a guest of Stephen of Hieropolis, the bishop wrote a Syriac life on her that is now lost.[2] Fortunately, however, Eustratius – a priest a Hagia Sophia – wrote a second (Greek) life in 602 that survives.[3] Given the relative ignorance of her story, it’s worth outlining properly.

Golinduch is framed as a God-fearing Iranian noblewoman who despised the marriage she had been forced to contract with a Magian priest. Answering her desire to worship the one true God (a wish probably prompted by Roman prisoners-of-war), the guardian angel of the Iranians appeared to her in a vision and cast Golinduch into a trance that lasted three days. In this state she saw – Dante-style – both heaven and hell and secretly became Christian, taking the name Mary in the process.

When her husband discovered her Christianity he tried to force her to apostasize in vain. Khusro I then (rather egotistically) offered to make her his wife if she abandoned Christ. Having rejected him she was thrown in the melodramatically named “Prison of Oblivion” for 18 years.[4] There she learned to read the scriptures, sing the psalms in Syriac and converted lots of prisoners. Such was her reputation that a Byzantine Ambassador (the ancestor of a particularly garrulous Twitter profile) known as Aristoboulos visited and took chain-filings for blessings.

Under Hormizd, however, Golinduch’s tortures intensified. She was whipped until her breasts split, a boiling sack of oil was wrapped around her head, and she lived in pit with a giant snake. After three months guards dumped her in a house where they planned to rape her. The Lord, however, made her invisible. Despised as a witch, the ruler exiled her and Golinduch – despairing that this deprived her of the fate of a martyr – sought the aid of an angel to decapitate herself. The angel, however, took pity on the Iranian heroine and miraculously reattached her head making Golinduch a living martyr.

Fully repaired Golinduch crossed the Iranian-Roman border c.590 (during the rebellion of Bahram Chobin) claiming she was on a pilgrimage to Palestine. En route she encountered many sectarian tensions. A miaphysite Severian monastery, for example, sent her away as soon it was realised she was orthodox. Passing the shrine of Sts Sergius and Bacchus, she discussed the End Days with a monk in Jerusalem (and prayed with him) before taking up residence at a shrine dedicated to St Symeon in Hierapolis.

It was during this period that Domitian, writing on behalf of the government in Constantinople, invited Golinduch to

“Come to the imperial city of the Christians so that the pious and Christ-loving emperor may greet you and that you may bless him and the city in person. For they, having learnt from your struggles for Christ, are eager to behold your face.”[5]

The Iranian lass declined the invite because – along with the Sassanian Empire’s demise – she saw her own last days approaching. If she had fulfilled the request as Theodore of Sykeon (d. 613) had then she would doubtless have enjoyed what amounted to the modern “state visit.” After all, the Galatian

“Travelled to the God-guarded city and after greeting the most blessed patriarch Cyriacus, the emperor, and the senate, he sat down with them. They all showed him great tenderness and honour… During his short time in the city he performed several great miracles.”[6]

Despite declining Golinduch offered to

“Pray and interceded with God on behalf of the most faithful emperors, the imperial city, and the whole Christian government. This I shall ardently do.”[7]

And she was true to her word. One of her prayers pleaded with God to

“Guard your most faithful [Roman] government, increase the sceptres of your pious and Christ-loving emperors, multiply their victories against the barbarians and hide – Oh, Lord – idolatry from sight.”[8]

[1] Golinduch is probably an error for Golandukht which means 'daughter of roses' in Persian.

[2] Though Stephen’s life is now lost it survives in a medieval Georgian translation, see G. Garitte, La passion georgienne de sainte Golindouch, AB, 74 (1956), 405-440.

[3] A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, Analekta hierosolymitikes stachiologias, IV, St Petersburg (1897), 149-174 and V, St Petersburg, 395-396.

[4] M. Bonner is interested "In the close resemblance between the set-up for the Life and that of the Anush-Zad story. In both cases the story opens with a wife of Khusro I who refused to become a Zoroastrian. He wonders whether the original Syriac story of Golinduch was written under the influence of the earlier story about Anush-Zad's mother. Of course, both stories may have been founded on a common trope."

[5] Eustratius of Constantinople, V. Gol. 23.

[6] Dawes & Baynes, Three Byzantine Saints, 145

[7] V. Gol. 23.

[8] V. Gol. 24.

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