St. Santoukhd, the First Martyr
The story of St. Santoukhd, the first Armenian saint, is inextricably bound to that of Saint Thaddeus. Thaddeus, one of Christ’s holy disciples, was charged by Peter, leader of the disciples, to spread Christianity in Armenia in the 1st century A.D.
In his travels to Urfa, St. Thaddeus healed King Abgar, king of the Armenians and Assyrians. This miracle, witnessed by others, led to the king’s conversion as well as the baptism and conversion of all the people of Edessa. Here St. Thaddeus built a church and ordained priests and deacons.
After leaving Urfa, the apostle traveled to northern Armenia, bearing the spear given him by Peter and a letter from King Abgar. He finally arrived at the town of Shavarshan, where King Sanadroug lived in the province of Arda. He preached the Word of Life, performed many astonishing miracles there, and baptized many believers.
One night the young and beautiful Princes Santoukhd, the king’s daughter, went to see Thaddeus and find out about the new religion herself. According to accounts, she changed her royal garments and dressed in ordinary clothes and was led by a servant to a house where these early Christian meetings were held. Santoukhd received instruction from Thaddeus, and when she declared her belief in Christ and was baptized, a sign from heaven designated her as a holy virgin.
Those who witnessed this event immediately believed. The news enraged her father, King Sanadroug, who ordered all believers to be slain. As the soldiers were about to kill Thaddeus, a tremor and bright light streaked across the sky, frightening the unbelievers and sparing the apostle. Some time after this, however, the king’s soldiers came and arrested Thaddeus as well as Princess Santoukhd.
Despite the king’s punitive actions, the number of Christians increased. Even some of the king’s soldiers who witnessed the miracles of Thaddeus became believers and converted. Further enraged, yet feeling some pity for his daughter, the king summoned Santoukhd from prison to give her a last chance to renounce her new faith and to claim allegiance to her father and his pagan gods.
Santoukhd was forced to choose between the crown and the sword. Because of her decision to stand firm in her Christian faith and reject her father’s false gods, she was subjected to torture and ultimately ordered to be executed. During these times when she was weak and at her lowest, she drew strength from St. Thaddeus who encouraged her to hold fast, reminding her that she was a holy virgin and would soon see Christ face to face.
One account of her death states that immediately after one of the soldiers thrust his sword into the holy virgin’s heart “a sweet fragrance filled the air and a light shone from heaven in the form of a fiery pillar that hovered over Santoukhd’s body for three days and three nights.” The more than 2,000 people that witnessed these events, it is said, all converted and were baptized that night. St. Santoukhd’s body was buried and entombed by St. Thaddeus at the same site.
St. Santoukhd was martyred on the 15th of December, and the apostle St. Thaddeus, eight days later.