Today is the feast day of Saint Apollonia, patroness of dentists and tooth problems. You might be wondering why I mention this. Likely it will become clear as you read…
Before she was a Saint, Apollonia was simply a persecuted Christian cruelly tortured for her beliefs. In the midst of her durance, her jailers inflicted their torture by violently shattering the poor lady’s teeth. A few teeth were extracted with pincers. After enduring this, the martyr was burned to death.
Or so the story goes.
In truth, the story is far stranger.
Apollonia was one of a number of ladies suffering during an outbreak of violence against Christians in the city of Alexandria, Egypt in the third century. After enduring the painful dental destruction, Apollonia seized the opportunity to throw herself on a mound of flamming coals. But she was not the only one. Using the cover of the others, Apollonia secretly escaped from the fiery pit.
With no dental records to prove she had perished in the fire, and, for that matter, no teeth, Apollonia wandered the streets of Alexandria by night, looking for a solution to her toothless existence. She stayed out of the sight of the living, both for fear of recognition, and out of embarrassment for her current state. One night, she learned of a child who had lost his tooth. His family simply discarded it. Apollonia was thrilled! Perhaps she could fashion some sort of device to help her, made of discarded teeth!
Soon she was searching everywhere for the baby teeth, until she was spotted one night pulling a prize specimen from the refuse heap behind a row of houses.
The small girl whose tooth it had been, looked curiously at the woman, toothless and scarred by flame. She looked frightened.
At this moment, Apollonia spoke. “Do not be afraid. I am the tooth fairy. I bring you a gift in trade for your lost tooth.” and she pulled out a small coin. “Tell all your friends that if they simply leave their teeth under their pillows at night, I will find them and leave an offering in its place.”
All fear lost, the child did as she was asked.
Apollonia, for her part, was pleased to be able to give small offerings of food in exchange for teeth. She was careful to never again be spotted about her nightly visits.
I think this one has disturbed even me. No, I know it has.
Although, come to think of it, isn’t the idea of a tooth fairy pretty creepy anyway? What does she want with baby teeth? Never mind. I don’t want to know. Yuck.
durance / DURR – ants / imprisonment