DIMYANAH AND HER FORTY VIRGINS
Dimyanah, or Damiana, is one of the most highly revered and cherished female saints and martyrs of the Coptic church. She was martyred with forty virgin companions in the third century during the reign of Emperor DIOCLETIAN (284-305). Their story is detailed in the Arabic SYNAXARION under the date of 13 Tubah, the date of their martyrdom for standing firm by their Christian faith against their persecutors. She was the sole daughter of Marcus, the Roman governor of the districts of Parallus (al-Burullus), Za’faran, and Wadi al-Saysaban in the northern Delta of the Valley of the Nile.
She was born at an unknown date in the third century in a Christian family, and at the age of one year, she was taken by her father to the monastery of al-Maymah to receive the blessings of the holy fathers. When she reached the age of fifteen, her father wanted her to get married, but she refused and informed him that she had already made a vow of becoming the bride of Jesus Christ, a decision that delighted her pious father. She asked him to build a special place for her retirement with her virgin companions, where they spent their days reading the scriptures and in prayer.
Diocletian brought Marcus to Rome and requested him to offer incense and libation to his idols. After some hesitation, to save his life, Marcus decided to accept the imperial command by worshiping his idols, and thus was left free to return to his province. On hearing this, Dimyanah went to her father and chided him for abjuring the faith of the creator of all the world to idolatrous beliefs. She also told him that she would have rather seen him dead than apostatizing. Marcus was deeply moved by his daughter’s protest and returned to Diocletian to declare the reality of his Christian faith. When the emperor failed to deflect him from Christianity to the idols of Rome, he ordered him decapitated.
Diocletian discovered that Marcus’ affirmation of his Christian faith had been encouraged by his daughter. So he sent one of his generals with a battalion of a hundred soldiers to her residence in Egypt. These were armed with instruments of persecution, but they tried first, without avail, to win her to the state religion by means of persuasion. Ultimately, the general ordered four of his men to place her between two iron sheets equipped with pointed spikes and squeeze her between them until her blood ran. Her forty virgins watched this atrocity, crying. When she was confined to prison, the angel of the Lord appeared to her and remedied her wounds. Consequently, her body was dipped in boiling oil and lard and her flesh was torn by instruments of torture, and every time the Lord returned her safe and sound. When in the end the general despaired from forcing her to apostatize, he ordered her and all her companions decapitated, and thus all of them won the crown of martyrdom.
Dimyanah’s story is recited in the liturgies of the Coptic church on the day of her commemoration, and the traditional site of her residence, now a nunnery, is a pilgrimage area for throngs of Copts every year.