While tracking down the Santa Vittoria stories, which have been changed over and over through the telling, especially during Medieval era, one question that keeps popping up for me is why a female archetype of Late Roman Antiquity would choose virginity as a lifestyle and why that
choice would become integral to her myth.
Part of the answer lies in Christian mysticism, which in Santa Vittoria’s time allowed her to free herself from the evil, excessive, falling-apart-chaotic time she lived it. ( The Roman Empire was a mess.) She, like other early Christians, probably viewed life as an either-or choice. The notion of the “two ways”: the way of life and the way of death. Purity of heart was especially important. Ironically, Early Christians related Purity of Heart to the old Roman way of being true and faithful to the Roman gods, and by doing so keeping them in your favor. ( In a previous blog I write about this phenomena.)
BTW, The saint I am tracking down died by being stabbed in her Pure Heart, rather than embrace evil.
Contrast this notion of purity, with the age-old notion of being emancipated and liberated from the duties of a rigid female role. For a Roman Noble woman in 230AD, marriage and becoming a householder included a strict and long list of rules and duties. Many women died in childbirth. There was no organization to support a non-Christian woman who choose celibacy,
Santa Vittoria chose virginity and, supposedly, formed a community of virgin women in the rural mountains then known as the Sabine Hills, today known as Abruzzi. I imagine her, and her accolades having thrown off their bejeweled garments of rigidity and conventionality. They dance in the forest wearing loose clothing and no shoes. Their hair is free flowing and unkempt over their shoulders. They might weave ivy-wreaths around their heads. In a natural setting, that is ‘pure’, they practice a natural expression of self, emancipated from the city and its social strictness.
Christians at the time, reflected on the flaws of Roman society; it was flawed and best not to perpetuate. It was better to save yourself and other souls already in existence than to involve yourself in reproduction and the cares of the worlds. So for S. Vittoria to choose a virgin lifestyle meant freedom from anxiety about a family and triumph over the downward drag of fallen human nature.
It is a crucial moment of mankind, a reawakening to the beauty of undistorted humanity.