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“γάλα ἀντὶ αἵματος”—An Unwonted Hagiographic Topos

Faculty of Theology, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, 550179 Sibiu, Romania
Religions 2022, 13(7), 613;
Received: 1 June 2022 / Revised: 17 June 2022 / Accepted: 28 June 2022 / Published: 2 July 2022


Some Christian texts, and especially hagiographic and hymnographic ones, record a miraculous phenomenon at the violent deaths of several martyrs: from the beheaded bodies, milk flows instead of blood. After a superficial reading of the biographical passages in the synaxaria and iambic stichoi recorded in the Menaia, we can identify at least ten such cases, among which we find well-known saints, such as Apostle Paul and St. Katherine. This article attempts to revisit this unwonted topos of Christian literature, and to list its occurrences in the liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church and Acta Sanctorum.

“I have not found a more exciting, more extraordinary reading than the Lives of the Saints. No sensational fact reported today by the press or television exceeds in novelty and sensational what I have already read and learned from the lives of the saints”.
Virgil Gheorghiu, Pourquoi m’a-t-on appele Virgil? (1968)

1. Introduction

At the beginning of 2019, German physicians consulted, in the emergency room of the Uniklinik in Cologne, a patient whose blood had turned milky white and thicker than normal. Tests showed that this thickening of the blood, as well as the abnormal color, were the result of an extremely high level of triglycerides. More precisely, 18,000 mg/dL of triglycerides were found, which is 36 times more than what is already considered a very high and dangerous level (500 mg/dL, while the normal value is 150 mg/dL). Therefore, the diagnosis made by the doctors was hypertriglyceridemia: a condition that is manifested by high levels of fatty triglyceride molecules in the blood. The case of the patient who had “milk instead of blood” made history in the medical world, being the first of its kind ever recorded by clinical research (Koehler et al. 2019, pp. 142–43).
However, Christian texts record this symptom a few times—without it necessarily being an indicator of the same disease—when recounting the martyrdoms of several saints. Upon a superficial reading of the biographical passages from the synaxaria and The Lives of the Saints, we can identify at least ten such cases, among which we find well-known saints, such as St. Paul the Apostle (29 June) and Catherine of Alexandria (25 November). Each time, the “milk” that flows from the martyr’s body (instead of blood or being accompanied by blood or water) has a miraculous character, and it acquires a special meaning in the hagiographic account, becoming an unwonted topos in the Christian hagiography and hymnography.
Although in the last century, a series of studies have been carried out on this subject, they approach the motif from a folkloric (Barry 1914), artistic (Pixley 2012), literary (Harney 2008) or historical (Ghilardi 2012) point of view, distancing themselves from the theological implications and subordinating the theme to a broader cultural framework. Therefore, the purposes of the paper are to underline some of the theological meanings, and to update the list of known sources that mention this phenomenon in order to overcome a fragmented and biased approach.

2. “Milk Flowed Instead of Blood”—The Evidence from the Menaia

In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, this recurring motif can be identified after a brief survey of the Menaia, where a series of martyrs can be found whose violent deaths are associated with this “symptom” (Table 1).
The occurrence of this phenomenon is mentioned mainly in the Synaxarion of the day. With one exception1, the phenomenon is not found in the rest of the other hymnological creations: stichera, troparia, canons, kontakia, ikos. But sometimes the apparition of milk at the moment of a martyr’s beheading is surprised by the iambic verses that precede the synaxaria in the Menaia (the edition published by Bartholomew the Imbrian from Kutlumush, Venice, 1889) (Table 2).
In order to establish a repertoire of this topos in the Eastern Tradition, and to better observe how important this motif of the appearance of milk is in the economy of martyrdom, it is also required that we identify the mentions made in the Great Synaxarion of the Church of Constantinople (Synaxarion periechon holou tou eniautou tōn hagiōn kai tōn hosiōn en syntomō ta hypomnēmata) (Delehaye 1902), where references can be found to this type of miracle for several saints (Table 3).

3. Acta Sanctorum

The text of the Synaxaria mentioned in the Menaia is generally further developed in (or, rather, is a synthetic abstract of) other extended hagiographic creations in the form of the Lives and Passions of the saints. Thus, references to this miraculous event can especially be identified in the hagiographic dedicated texts. Among these testimonies, we should remember the results of Barry’s study—written a century ago—where he listed, along with some of the martyrs already mentioned, a group of further references in the Coptic hagiography (Table 4) regarding the appearance of milk (Barry 1914, pp. 560–61).
Further echoes of the phenomenon are to be found in the collection Legenda aurea, compiled around 1260 by the Dominican monk Jacob of Voragine (1230–1298), who apotheotically concludes some of the passiones, recording this miracle for Saint Catherine, Saint Victor, Apostle Paul and Saint Christine.
The occurrences of this topos were not as rare as thought, as we can see from the list compiled by Giovanni Bonifacio Bagatta at the end of the 17th century in a special chapter: Sanguis in lac mirabiliter conversus (Bagata 1695, p. 283), where he mentions the following martyrs: Apostle Paul (29 June), Sebastiana (16 September), Acacius (28 July), Victor (11 May), the women from Sebastia (3 February), Menignus (15 March), Martina (1 January), Baudelius (20 May), Catherine (25 November), Christine (24 July), Secundina (15 January), Aemilianus (28 January), Antiochus (16 July), Panteleimon (27 July), Eupsychius (7 September) and Pompeius (10 April). Still, Bagatta left his list open: “similia et al. iis martyribus evenete”.
Other important examples are mentioned by the Bollandists in their monumental hagiographic collections Acta Sanctorum (Table 5) and Analecta Bollandiana (Table 6).
It is obvious that some of the texts have a similar or even identical structure, they are closely related, they are using a common template, or they are simply duplicates. Such a resemblance could be seen between the Passio Sanctae Aekaterinae (25 November) and the Vita Sanctae Martinae (1 January), or in the Vita Sanctae Secundinae (15 January). Phillips Barry considered that the two vitae are closely connected, as well as the lives of St. Panteleimon and Aemilianus of Trevia (28 January)/Aemilianus of Armenia Minor, which follow the same scenario, with only the name, location and a few minor details changed (Barry 1914, p. 567). Even more obvious is the reference to the seven women martyrs mentioned in both the passiones of St. Blase (3 February) and St. Irenarchus (28 November) (Garitte 1955).
Some researchers are tempted to consider the systematic literary testimonies as a later topos introduced by the Bollandists in close connection to the “archeologic” findings of relics consisting of different kinds of vials with martyrs’ blood and milk (ampullae sanguinis) discovered by their fellow Jesuits. According to Massimiliano Ghilardi (2012, p. 1220),
“the archaeological discoveries are authoritatively confirmed in literary sources and literary sources are faithfully reflected in archaeological discoveries. But why, as we have already wondered, is there such an imposing and prolonged explosion of the white-blooded cult of martyrs in the early modern age?”
He considers this congruence of evidence too convenient: the great number of references (ancient passiones) published in Acta Sanctorum should prove a more pragmatical objective, which is, namely, to legitimize and authenticate the relics found (archaeological inventiones) in the Roman catacombs during the 16th and 17th centuries, which were the “the tangible and indisputable proof of the apostolicity of the Church of Rome, rubricata sanguine sanctorum” (Ghilardi 2012, p. 1221).
But these references to the martyrs’ “lactation” are quite old, and they appear in different Christian traditions based on a common belief in the truthfulness of the phenomenon. For example, a similar case is reported by another vita, which is part of the Georgian hagiographic tradition (prior to the seventh century): the Martyrdom of St. Philotheus of Antioch (29 January), where we find the following text:
The soldiers and executioners looked into his face and saw that it was like of an angel of God, and they were frightened by the glory, given to him from God. Then two of them came near and pierced his sides with swords. And from his sides came blood and milk (§8) (Rogozhina 2019, p. 327).
The Coptic version of the same vita (seventh century) differs a little when it comes to this final detail:
But two of them (the soldiers) pierced the blessed one in his sides: one in the right side and the other one in the left. And from his sides came water and blood and milk (Rogozhina 2019, p. 359).
Thus, we should exclude the confessional bias of the Jesuits, at least in this case.
Being hagiographic and hymnographic creations par excellence, with a clear doxological and didactic character, these passages can be regarded with some hesitation, precisely because they would have sprung from an excessive piety that could distort the facts out of the sincere desire to render the biography of “God’s servants” in the most convincing way possible and, therefore, excessively decorated with miraculous details.
On the one hand, in most cases, the phenomenon is mentioned in passing, and the insertion of the topos does not seem to be anticipated by any preparatory element. On the contrary, the sudden appearance, without further insistence on this miraculous fact and the impact that it has on the assistance, indicates the spontaneous/natural character of the event in the narrative structures of the vitae and passiones.
On the other hand, it is obvious that some texts are duplicates or are using elements from previous hagiographic creations. It is not possible to determine with certainty the reason behind the addition of this motif, or whether the martyr’s “lactation” represented the key element of these duplicates or was borrowed with the rest of the original story. Actually, the possibility should not be ruled out that the appearance of the topos may be a consequence of the taking over of the entire hagiographic template (i.e., Panteleimon) used to complete, mutatis mutandis, unknown aspects of a saint’s biography (Aemilianus of Trevia), just as in the case of the Byzantine vita of Maximus the Confessor, inspired by the “life” of Theodorus Studita (Lackner 1967, pp. 294–95).
But the verification of these texts’ veracity does not represent the objective of the present investigation, and therefore we should strictly limit ourselves, for now, to the content and the message pursued, without insisting on the authenticity of the source, manuscript history or critical interpretations. The purpose of this material is, first, an attempt to identify the occurrences of this topos in the cult of the Church.
In a recent article, Eva Kovacheva stated that there are 40 saints whose lives describe that, in their martyrdom deaths from the wounds of their bodies, and especially when they were beheaded, milk was flowing instead of blood. Of the recorded cases, 20 were women and 20 were men, of different ages. According to their passiones and vitae, they lived in the first four centuries of the Christian era, but there are also three exceptions of martyrs in the 5th, 7th and 11th centuries (Kovacheva 2018, p. 79).
It is quite obvious that this phenomenon did not end with Late Antiquity. Phillips Barry and Eva Kovacheva included in their lists St. Godeleva (6 July—AASS, 29:431F), although the nature of the wounds does not fit the profile of the previous martyrs. Instead, there are newer testimonies regarding the emergence of white blood or milk at the beheadings of modern Christian martyrs. An eloquent case is the martyrdom of the Beata Viviana Mun Yeong-in, who, during the Shinyu persecution, was beheaded on 2 July, 1801, in Seoul: “the blood that came out of her during the tortures turned into flowers that flew away with the wind, while the one that gushed from her neck at the moment of her beheading was white like milk” (Flocchini 2014).
By overlapping the data obtained from the previous lists (Table 7), it can be seen that there are still differences between these occurrences, and that the phenomenon of the appearance of milk instead of blood takes various forms.

4. Motherhood, Innocence, Testimony

It is difficult to establish the significance of such a miracle to satisfactorily cover all these cases. Therefore, the approach of all occurrences was avoided, the research being limited either to the level of a single source, or to scrutinizing it rather tangentially and only limiting it to cases of female martyrs. We should also mention that the lives and deaths of these martyrs have been analyzed and interpreted almost exclusively by women researchers—an approach that can be included in gender and feminist studies.
What is certain is that the phenomenon is not limited to the martyrdom of the female martyrs, nor is it surprised by a single source. But, before interpreting the data, we should agree that the group of seven women of Sebastia is the same in both cases mentioned above. Likewise, the two Aemilianuses should be regarded as one and the same person, originally from Armenia. This is why these cases will be counted as one “occurrence”.
The type of lesions that cause the milk appearance is not the same either, or, if we resort to a classification of the wounds caused, we also see three different circumstances in which milk appeared instead of blood (Figure 1). Thus, we distinguish between beheadings and other wounds or mutilations.
A common denominator of all these cases is martyrdom. On the one hand, in the age of persecution, when both men and women followed the Savior’s command to leave their loved ones behind in their quest for spiritual perfection, motherhood itself was considered a social bond that was renounced in the name of faith, and that was thus incompatible with the idea of martyrdom (Salisbury 2004, p. 70).
On the other hand, in trying to find metaphors to describe the sacrifice of martyrs, the Christian authors focused on the idea of motherhood, believing that Christ’s confessors play the role of mothers caring for believers, as mothers began to be compared to martyrs for their devotion and self-sacrifice. Joyce Salisbury even claims that the very image of motherhood has changed, just as the blood of martyrs has changed into breast milk (Salisbury 2004, p. 70).
As already mentioned, the category of female martyrs has received special attention so far, emphasizing that, in their case, the physiological manifestation of motherhood (pregnancy) was not required for the appearance of milk when the breasts were amputated, as in the case of Saints Pistis, Cyprilla, Lucia and Christina. Their breasts were cut off—basically a brutal double mastectomy—but, instead of bleeding, “milk” gushed out. For Nicola Denzey, this reversal betrays a rather deep ambivalent sexism that is uncomfortable with the overlapping notion of martyrdom and motherhood (Denzey 2007, p. 170).
But the phenomenon of “lactation” is rather the undeniable proof of their quality as spiritual mothers, and the martyrs have the consciousness of being the “mothers” of the next generations of Christians, converted to the sight of the miracle. Thus, they are considered holy vessels of spiritual food, and even imitators of Christ and the Virgin Mary (Denzey 2007, p. 245). According to Western mysticism in the Middle Ages, the wound on the Savior’s side is perceived as the breast from which the Church is nourished (Bynum 1982, pp. 125–35). Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) points out, in Revelations of Divine Love (ch. 60), this parallel between the milk flowing from the mother’s breast and the blood flowing from the side of Christ, which he describes as a nursing mother. The image had a great impact on Catholic spirituality, and, after a few decades, graphic representations of this breastfeeding with the blood of Christ appeared, such as the scene “The Savior” (1460–1478) by Quirizio da Murano. Following a two-century-old graphic tradition, the Italian Renaissance artist places the wound from the side of Christ high enough to create the image of a breast, drawing the parallel between the saving blood and the breast milk of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
If we take into account this blood–milk relationship, which includes the “maternal nature of Christ’s wound”, the female martyrs come to be perceived—especially in light of the hagiographic depiction of the Golden Legend—as the ones who spring the redeeming power that has its origin in the wounds of Christ (Harney 2008, p. 243).
Becoming imitatrices Christi in this way as well, the bodies of the female martyrs represent the food of the faithful, and the appearance of milk underlines this idea even more deeply, consolidating, at the same time, their status as spiritual mothers of the community. Their blood is redemptive and nourishing milk, a symbol of their spiritual quality.
But it must be pointed out that the number of female martyrs upon whose deaths this phenomenon occurs is about half of the total number of “lactating” martyrs identified so far (Figure 2). Thus, this trope is not related only or mainly to female martyrs, but it is also a topos that is used for both genders in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Therefore, an examination of the significance of this phenomenon in the case of male martyrs is also required. The male martyrs themselves become, through their sacrifice, mothers who contribute to the rebirth of the Church’s new members. They are the exponents of the Church’s motherhood that is manifested regardless of gender. The idea of motherhood expresses the need for Christians to remain united in the love of Christ, and the martyrs come to embody this double image of (a) the sacrificial love manifested by Christ, and (b) the motherhood of the Church. That is why “martyrs served as mothers” (Salisbury 2004, p. 74), and, with a real “maternal affection” (μητρικὰ σπλάγχνα), they interceded for other Christians, “shedding rich tears for them before the Father.” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica, V.2, PG 20:436.)
Intercession thus becomes the attribute of motherhood, and martyrs each incarnate the maternity of the Church through their sacrifice and intercession before God the Father. And if the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians, according to Tertullian’s vision, then they nurture and increase in faith the Christian communities, like loving mothers (Salisbury 2004, p. 75). This role becomes even more evident through the appearance of milk at the beheadings of martyrs.
Such a perspective derives from the belief, manifested in the ancient eastern Mediterranean cultures, that there is a fine distinction between motherhood and womanhood, and Christianity embraced it: “the motherhood is understood as the topos of agapic love, of total devotion to the child, and the womanhood in seen as the archetype of devotion—in love, in family preservation, in the professional activity or in that of personal holiness […] Maternal love is a reflection of the sacredness in the world. The link between motherhood and sacredness is a given, beyond any contextualization” (Pătru 2021, p. 95).
Therefore, the concept of motherhood, based on the notions of devotion, intercession and nursing by providing spiritual nourishment, was not limited in early Christianity just to female martyrs, but was perceived as an attribute suitable for all martyrs, regardless of gender.
Unfortunately, under the pressure of the new ideological wave of gender studies, milk has come to be considered as the environment through which a body can change its gender (transgendered)—from female to male, from male to female. Just as cutting off the breasts of virgins would mean changing their bodies into masculine ones, so the gushing out of milk from the bodies of martyrs would turn their masculine bodies into feminine ones (Denzey 2020, pp. 287, 294). The temptation to anachronistically and gratuitously project contemporary concepts is a common practice today, theorizing the “trans* saints’ hagiography” (Godsall 2020, pp. 233–70). But the body’s significance should be understood in terms of the specific characteristics and limits of the original cultural environment in which these texts appeared.
Therefore, the phenomenon of “lactation” must be read in the hermeneutic key that is indicated by sources as close as possible to these vitae and passiones.
What the authors of these studies seem to ignore is that another common denominator of these occurrences is the virginity of both female and male martyrs. The appearance of milk is considered the visible sign of the purity of the soul and body that these Christians have cultivated, devoting their whole lives to God. It is also considered the final proof of the martyrs’ innocence in front of their accusers (Boldetti 1720, p. 137).
More than that, milk is, at the same time, a symbol of spiritual nourishment, and a sign of the imperfection of those who need such a miracle as a testimony or an additional impetus to strengthen their faith. Christians still needed “pure spiritual milk, so that by it may grow up in salvation,” according to the Apostle Peter (NIV 1Peter 2: 2). Therefore, one can guess that there was a pedagogical dimension to this phenomenon, meant to raise the believers to a higher natural spiritual state, as the Apostle Paul pointed out: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” (NIV 1Cor 3: 1–3), for “solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV Heb 5:14).
In his exegesis to these verses, Clement of Alexandria points out even better that the milk can not only be interpreted as testimony and preaching (κατήχησις) (Paedagogus I.VI. 38–50), but it can also be considered, simultaneously, the first food of the soul and the very body of Christ (τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ—§42). Following Empedocles’ and Aristotle’s medical observations, and the Hippocratic gynecological theories regarding the origin of breast milk as concocted or cooked menstrual blood (Tuten 2014, p. 165–67), Clement considered that “the blood is the source of milk” (§45), and “milk retains its underlying substance of blood” (§39), and therefore he “had been equating milk with Jesus’ blood as true drink in order to show that milk as a perfect drink gives us the γνῶσις of the Truth” (Van Eijk 1971, p. 107).
The martyrs’ sufferings often caused the torturers to fear and the witnesses to convert, and thus the miraculous appearance of milk further mediated the γνῶσις shared by those subjected to violence and violent deaths.
Milk itself becomes a form of confession or preaching the faith to an audience still unprepared to comprehend all the meanings of the Gospel (1 Cor 3: 2). The symbolic nature of milk is even better emphasized on other occasions, the saints being considered “the breasts that spring the milk of salvation,” (Men. 30 January), and the “breasts of the Church that spring the milk of good faith and feed the believers,” (Men. 25 October), watering them “with God-inspired intelligible milk” (Men. 30 January). The holy martyrs come to be represented as icons of the Church because, apparently contrary to any logic, they bear fruit and nourish the community precisely by coming out of this life (Isaiah 54: 1).
Beyond the symbolic nature of milk, and taking into account the recent medical research, we must consider the possibility that this phenomenon could be the manifestation of extreme cases of hypertriglyceridemia—induced by certain types of health problems or by the ill treatment suffered by martyrs in prison. Hypertriglyceridemia can be divided into primary and secondary types: the first is determined by genetic factors, and the second is caused by metabolic conditions and is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension and hyperuricemia (Yuan et al. 2007), but it can also be triggered and worsened by traumatic and stressful life events (Anni et al. 2021) and starvation (Urayama and Banks 2008, p. 3595). The torture (physical and mental) is an aggravating factor, which is often described in detail, becoming the core of the martyr’s passio, but the starvation of Christians in prisons was also a common practice (Tilley 1996, p. XXXV) and, although it is not explicitly mentioned in the passiones, it cannot be omitted: “For the prison must become familiar to us, hunger and thirst practiced, and tolerance both for the absence of food and for anxiety about it grasped.” (Tertullian, De ieiunio adversus Psychicos, 12.2, CCSL 2:1270.) Thus, the ill treatment provided aggravating conditions for the development of such a metabolic abnormality.
This medical aspect could shed new light on the biographical accounts of Apostle Paul’s health issues, for example. By placing separate passages side by side, some exegetes came to the conclusion, very popular in the 19th century, that his illness “was acute and disfiguring ophthalmia, originating in the blinding glare of the light which flashed round him at Damascus, and accompanied, as that most humiliating disease usually is, by occasional cerebral excitement” (Exell 1985, p. 291). This condition “would naturally disincline him to the physical labour of writing. When he did write, his letters seem to have been large and straggling (Gal 6:11: See what large letters I use as I write)” (Exell 1985, p. 551). Later, epilepsy was offered as the most likely hypothesis for Paul’s chronic disease, and Pierre Vercelletto suggests the possibility of facial motor and sensitive disturbances coming after ecstatic seizures (Vercelletto 1994). While correlated with the possible hypertriglyceridemia mentioned by the hagiographic sources, the ophthalmologic problem is, rather, a form of retinopathy, which is consistent with diabetes symptoms.

5. Conclusions

Observing the magnitude of this phenomenon, we can consider that the martyrs’ “lactation” is much more than the result of a folklore heritage or tradition, nor is it limited to a certain cultural area (Egyptian, Mediterranean or even European), such as Barry seemed to believe. His thesis, “in the traditions of the saints, lived on the mythology and folk-lore of the old gods”, appears to establish a plausible relation between the “lactation” of Egyptian goddesses (Ivanova 2009, pp. 12–22) and the miraculous milk spilled from the beheaded bodies of martyrs, considering “the martyr-cult, a tribute of the church to latent polytheism” (Barry 1914, p. 561). But this premise fails to apply to the eastern and northern Mediterranean areas, and there is no common ground to link the phenomenon in a similar way to other pre-Christian traditions. On the other hand, the antiquity of the hagiographic testimonies places the development of this topos before any attempts of denominational definition, and independent of the systematization of the archeological testimonies, realized in the 16th–17th centuries, as Ghilardi suggests. Therefore, the criteria of the antiquity and general spread of this topos in the Christian tradition represent sufficient arguments that the phenomenon’s occurrences are neither perpetuations of some ancient Egyptian traditions, nor recent invetiones.
In addition to the symbolic value of the milk’s appearance, which has been interpreted arbitrarily in recent decades, it must be borne in mind that the phenomenon is not just a literary cliché, and it could correspond to a real event, a symptomatology that can be documented with the support of recent medical discoveries. It is true that we cannot prove with certainty whether true milk appeared at the martyrs’ deaths, or whether these were just extreme cases of hypertriglyceridemia—induced by certain types of health problems and extreme stress.
And even if a medical term were applied to these situations, it does not then mean a contestation of the miracle itself, and a possible explanation does not underestimate the value of confession, nor does it diminish the virtue of martyrdom, just as the definition of “hematidrosis” does not at all change the conviction that the soul-stirring of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane was as real as could be: “and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”(NIV Lk 22:44). Likewise, Christ’s diagnosis of traumatic serous pericarditis and hemopericardium (Malantrucco 2013), as evidenced by the fact that “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (Jn 19:34), only further confirms the reality of Christ’s death on the cross, dispelling any suspicion of fainting or simulated death.
From a theological point of view, “γάλα ἀντὶ αἵματος” is more than a hagiographic trope based on “pious” fabrications. The appearance of milk is an iconic phenomenon that expresses, in a symbolic manner, the martyrdom–motherhood relationship. This miracle is a visible sign of the maternal vocation proven by those who devoted their lives to Christ and suffered death for their faith. The martyrs, regardless of gender, incarnate the maternity of the Church through their sacrifice and intercession before God, and so the miraculous milk becomes the attribute of this sacred motherhood.


This research was financed by Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu and Hasso Plattner Foundation research grants LBUS-IRG-2021-07.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Data is contained within the article.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


The kanon of St Eupsychius (9 April) states that: “Thy divine head was cut off with a blow from a sword, O valiant martyr, and instead of blood thou didst miraculously pour forth milk and water, and didst draw the ignorant to understanding, receiving ineffable glory and granting great mercy to all by thy divine mediations.”


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Figure 1. Classification by type of lesion.
Figure 1. Classification by type of lesion.
Religions 13 00613 g001
Figure 2. Classification by gender.
Figure 2. Classification by gender.
Religions 13 00613 g002
Table 1. References in Synaxaria (Menaia).
Table 1. References in Synaxaria (Menaia).
No.Name of MartyrDay of CelebrationYear of DeathPlace of DeathPersecutor Emperor
1Eupsychius7 September2nd centuryCaesarea of CappadociaHadrian (117–138)
9 April362–363 A.D.Julian (361–362)
2Pistis (Faith)17 September2nd centuryRomeHadrian (117–138)
3Sebastiani24 October1st centuryMarcianopolisDomitian (81–96)
4Terentius28 October250CarthageDecius (249–251)
5Bonifacius19 December303–305 A.D.Tarsus Diocletian (284–305)
6Pompios/Pompeius5 April (and 10 April)250 CarthageDecius (249–251)
7Anect27 June303–305 A.D.Caesarea of CappadociaDiocletian (284–305)
8Paul29 June67 A.D.RomaNero (54–68)
9Christina24 July Tyre
10Panteleimon27 July303 A.D.NicomediaMaximian (285–305)
11Acacius the Young28 July303–305 A.D.ByzantiumMaximian (285–305)
Table 2. References in Stichoi (Menaia).
Table 2. References in Stichoi (Menaia).
No.Name of MartyrDay of CelebrationMenaia Stichoi
1Sebastiani24 October (also 16 September)Σεβαστιανὴ τῆ τομῆ βλύζει γάλα,
Oὐκ αἷμα καὶ σάρξ ὥσπερ οὖσα πρὸς ξίφος.
2Terentius28 October (also 5 and 10 April)Τέμνουσι Τερέντιον, ὅς Βλύσας γάλα,
Ἔδιξε καινὸν καὶ τετμημένος τέρας.
3Pompios/Pompeius5 April (also 28 October and 10 April)Ὡς ζῶν πρόβατον Πομπῆιε Κυρίου
Χέεις, ἀμελχθεὶς αὐχένα ξίφει, γάλα.
4Panteleimon27 JulyΓαλακτόμικτον Μάρτυς αἵμα σῆς κάρας,
Δἰ ἣν ὑδατόμικτον ὁ Χριστὸς χέει.
Φάσγανον ἑβδομάτῃ λάχεν εἰκάδι Παντελεήμων.
Table 3. References in the Great Synaxarion.
Table 3. References in the Great Synaxarion.
No.Name of MartyrDay of CelebrationThe Great Synaxarion of the Church of Constantinople
1Eupsychios7 Septemberκαὶ αὐτίκα ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα καὶ ὕδωρ ἐρρύη. (col. 24)
2Pistis 17 Septemberῥαβδίζεται καὶ μέρη τινὰ τοῦ σώματος ἀφαιρεῖται σιδήρῳ, ἑξ ὧν ἀντὶ τοῦ αἵματος γάλα ἔρρευσεν. (col. 51)
3Sebastiani24 Octoberτὴν διὰ ξίφους ὑπέμεινεν ἐκτομήν, ἐξ ἧς καὶ λέγεται ἀντὶ αἵματος ῥυῆναι γάλα. (col. 162)
Synaxaria Selecta: Καὶ τούτων ῥυσθεῖσα, τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀπετμήθη·καὶ ἔρρευσεν ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα. (col. 161–62)
4Menignus22 NovemberSynaxaria Selecta: εἶτα μαχαίρᾳ τοὺς δακτύλους τῶν χειρῶν αὐτοῦ ἔκοψαν, ἐξ ὧν ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα ἔρρευσεν·καὶ δὶς καὶ τρὶς καὶ πολλάκις ξεσθεὶς τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ ἐμβάλλεται. (col. 247–48)
15 MarchSynaxaria Selecta: Καὶ εὐθέως τοὺς δέκα δακτύλους τῶν χειρῶν αὐτοῦ ἐξεθέρισαν ἐκ τῶν ἔσω ἁρμῶν· καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα. (col. 539–40)
5Ap. Paul29 JuneἘκ δὲ τῆς πληγῆς ἀπορρεῦσαί φασιν αἷμα σὺν γάλακτι· εἰ δὲ καὶ ὕστερον ἐτελειώθη ὁ μακάριος Παῦλος τῷ χρόνῳ, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἑνὶ τόπῳ ἐτέθη αὐτῶν τὰ λείψανα. (col. 779)
30 JuneSynaxaria Selecta: Ἑπεὶ δὲ τὸν τῆς τελειώσεως τόπον κατέλαβε, σχηματίσαντες τὸν ἀπόστολον τῷ σουδαρίῳ τῆς γραός, τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς τούτου περικαλύπτουσι· καὶ τῆς τιμίας κάρας τῷ ξίφει ἀποτμηθείσης, γάλα ἀντὶ αἵματος εἰς τοὺς χιτῶνας τούτου κατέρρευσεν. (col. 787–88)
6Cyprilla4 Julyκαὶ κατεφλέχθη τὴν χεῖρα ὑπὸ τῶν δημίων κρατουμένην· μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα κρεμασθεῖσα ἐπὶ ξύλου ξέεται, καὶ ἀπὸ μὲν τῶν πληγῶν αἷμα, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν μασθῶν γάλα ἔρρεε· καὶ οὕτως παρέδωκε τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτῆς τῷ Κυρίῳ. (col. 798)
7Lucia5 JulySynaxaria Selecta: ἐπὶ ξύλου ἀναρτηθεῖσα ξέεται, καὶ λιποψυχήσασα καὶ αἷμα μὲν ἀπὸ τῶν πληγῶν, γάλα δὲ ῥεύσασα τῶν μασθῶν, τὸ πνεῦμα τῷ Κυρίῳ ἀπέδωκεν. (col. 799–800)
8Antiochus16 JulyΞίφει οὖν τὸν αὐχένα τέμνεται, ἐξ οὗ αἷμα σὺν γάλακτι ἔρρευσεν. (col. 825)Synaxaria Selecta (15 July): Καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἀπετμήθη τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ ἔρρευσεν ἐκ τοῦ τραχήλου αὐτοῦ σὺν αἵματι γάλα. (col. 821–22)
9Christina24 JulyΦυλαχθεῖσαν δὲ ἀβλαβῆ ἑρπετοῖς ἰοβόλοις [ἰοβ. ἑρπετοῖς βρωθῆναι Mc.] καταδικάζει καὶ πρὸς τούτοις ἐκτμηθῆναι τοὺς αὐτῆς κελεύει μαστούς, ἐξ ὧν ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα ῥυῆναί φασιν. (col. 839)
10Panteleimon27 JulyΤότε ὁ ἅγιος μάρτυς ἑκουσίως τὸν αὐχένα προτείνας ἐτμήθη τὴν κεφαλήν. Λέγεται δὲ ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα ἐκχέαι καὶ τὸ φυτὸν τῆς ἐλαίας, ᾧ προσεδέθη, ἀθρόως τελεσφορῆσαι καρπόν. (col. 848)
11Acacius the Young28 JulyἈχθεὶς δὲ καὶ εἰς ἕτερον εἰδωλικὸν ναὸν τῶν εἰδώλων καὶ τὰ ὅμοια δράσας τέμνεται [(τὰ-τέμνεται) τούτους διὰ προσευχῆς καταρράξας καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐταῖς καθελὼν καὶ λεπτύνας εἴδωλα τέλος ἐτμήθη] τὴν κεφαλήν, αἷμα καὶ γάλα τῆς τομῆς ἐκβλυσάσης [(αἷμα-ἐκβλυσάσης) καὶ ἀπο τῆς τομῆς λέγεται ἐξελθεῖν αἷμα καὶ γάλα]. (col. 854)
Table 4. References in Coptic hagiography.
Table 4. References in Coptic hagiography.
No.Name of MartyrDay of CelebrationTestimony
1George Megalomartyr23 Parmuti (18/23 April)“And they took off his holy head, and there came forth water and milk”. The Martyrdom of St George (p. 235).
“he straightway stretched out his neck and the soldiers took off his holy head, and there came forth from it blood and milk”. The Encomion of Bishop Abba Theodotus (p. 323).
2Anub24 Epip (18 July)“A headsman came… and severed his neck, blood and milk issued therefrom”.
3Epime8 Epip (2 July)“they cut off his blessed head. Blood and milk flowed from his body”.
4Isaac6 Pashons (1 May)“they cut off his holy head... And there came forth blood and milk”.
5Sarapamon28 Hathor (24 November)“When Orion the guardsman cut off his head, water and milk flowed.”
Table 5. References in Acta Sanctorum (AASS).
Table 5. References in Acta Sanctorum (AASS).
No.Name of MartyrDay of CelebrationAASS (Volume/Page)Reference
1Martina 1 January1:13Inciso autem corpore eius emanabat lac pro sanguine: et odot magnus factus est, sicut vas aromatum eiusdem ore effusum
2Secundina 15 January2:279Illud etiam mirabile contigisse fertur, quod pro sanguine ex eius corpore lacero lac profluxit et suavissimus odor exhalabat.
3Aemilianus of Trevia28 January3:449Ex cuius corpore, lac pro sanguine fluxisse…
47 women from Sebastia (St Blase)3 February4:342CVidebant autem milites illi, quod pro sanguine lac carnes earum stilladant et carnes earu, sic erant tamquam flamma ignis, et ut nix dealbabantur.
5Aemilianus of Armenia Minor 8 February5:159EProque sanguine lac cervice praecisa emanavit…
6Menignus15 March8: 385E vestigio igitur articulos ad usque metacarpion resecant, qui pros sanguine lacteum liquorem profudere.
7Victor14 May16:268Et quando decollatus est S.Victor, exivit de collo eius lac et sanguis.
8Baudelius of Nimes 20 May18:25sanguis Martyris, e vulnere manans, in lac conversus
9Heliconis 28 May19:735Fκαὶ οὕτως ἀπέτενεν τὴν ἁγίαν αὐτῆς κεφαλήν· καὶ ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα ἕρευσεν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος αὐτῆς
10Cantius, Cantianus, Cantianilla31 May20:422FPorrigentes sibi invicem osculum pacis, ponentes genua, susceperunt gladium, acceperunt coronas sempiternas: et ecce sanguis eorum tamquam lac videntibus apparuit.
11Sebastiana of Heraclea 7 June22. AppVII:12FἙξῆς καὶ λέγεται ἀντὶ αἵματος ῥυῆναι γάλα.
12Aquilina13 June23:171B/Eτότε ἀφεῖλεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτῆς, διὰ τὴν κέλευσιν τοῦ Ἀντυπάτου· ἀντὶ δὲ αἵματος γάλακτος ῥύσις ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐγένετο
tamen, juxta manatum Proconsulis, ejus caput abscidit, ex quo pro sanguine lac in terram defluxit
13Anect/Anicet27 June27:229Fγάλακτος ἀντί αἵματος τῆς τομῆς ἐξελθόντος,
14Ap. Paul29 June27:397Major auctoritas foret pro alia Traditione dicentium, amputato Apostoli capite pro sanguine lac effluxisse
12Christina24 July32:528ALapideum cor et abominabile, mammillas meas abscindere iussisti; respice et vide, quia pro sanguine lac in terram defluxit.
13Panteleimon27 July33:420ALac enim fluxit protinus pro sanguine, et planta oleae, cui fuerat alligatus, conspecta est tota fructu onusta.
14Acacius junior (τοῦ νέου)28 July33:547EEt postquam iterum contrivisset idola, capite minutus est, sectione reddente sanguinem et lac.
15Gratilianus12 August36:729FFactus est vero, ut decollaverunt eos, sanguis qui egressus est de corpore B. Gratiliani albus, sicut nix.
16Eupsychius7 September43:7AΚαὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ αὐτίκα ἄντι αἵματος γάλα καὶ ὕδωρ ἔγγυς·
9 April10:820ENam loco sanguinis, dum caput ejus abscinderetur, effluxit lac et aqua
17Sophia (in Sicily)23 September46:572ADicitur, resecto capite, lac pro sanguine fudisse, ac imperatori patri suo apparuisse, eumque ad fidem convertisse.
Table 6. References in Analecta Bollandiana (AB).
Table 6. References in Analecta Bollandiana (AB).
No.Name of MartyrDay of CelebrationAB (Volume/Page)Reference
1George Megalomartyr23 April28:270Et porro accedentes, praeciderunt caput invicti martyris Christi. Atque ex collo eius exiit sanguis et aqua [exivit aqua et lac de corpore eius].
2Victor14 May2:299Itaque sicut jussum fuerat decollatus est, et de colli ejus vulnere lac et sanguis profluxit.
3Agatonica22 August2:114lac pro sanguine stillavit super vestes eorum qui caput amputabant ei
4Katherine 25 November26:32Et appropinquans lictor, cervices feriit benedictae Catherinae exiitque lac pro sanguine
57 women with St. Irenarchus28 November73:46Ὁ δὲ ἅγιος Εἰρήναρχος, θεασάμενος ὅτι ἀντὶ αἵματος γάλα ἔρρεον, καὶ αἱ σάρκες αὐτῶν λαμπραὶ ἧσαν ὡσεὶ χιών, τότε ὑπέθηκεν σκάφος δέχεσθαι το αἷμα αὐτῶν καὶ παρεκάλει τοὺς δημίους λέγων
Table 7. General overview of the phenomenon.
Table 7. General overview of the phenomenon.
No.Name of MartyrDay of CelebrationMilk and Water Instead of BloodMilk Instead of BloodBlood and MilkWater with Blood and MilkType of Wound
1Martina 1 January X body
2Secundina 15 January body
3Aemilianus of Trevia28 January X beheading
4Philotheus29 January X (arm.) X (copt.)body
57 women with Blaise3 February X body
6Aemilianus of Armenia Minor 8 February X beheading
7Menignus 15 March, 22 November X beheading
8Pompios/Pompeius5 April (28 October, 10 April) X beheading
9George Megalomartyr23 Parmuti (18/23 April)X (vita) X (encom.) beheading
10Isaac6 Pashons (1 May) X beheading
11Victor14 May (11 November) X beheading
12Baudelius of Nimes 20 May X beheading
13Heliconis28 May X beheading
14Cantius, Cantianus, Cantianilla31 May X beheading
15Aquilina13 June X beheading
16Anectus27 June X beheading
17Paul29 June XX beheading
18Epime8 Epip (2 July) X beheading
19Viviana Mun Yeong-in2 July X beheading
20Cyprilla4 July X breast
21Lucia5 July X breast
22Antiochus16 July X beheading
23Anub24 Epip (18 July) X beheading
24Christina24 July XX breast
25Panteleimon27 July X (Syn.)X (Stich.) beheading
26Acacius the Young28 July X beheading
27Gratilianus12 August X beheading
28Agatonica22 August X beheading
29Eupsychios7 September (9 April)X beheading
30Pistis17 September X breast
31Sophia (in Sicily)23 September X beheading
32Sebastiani24 October (16 September and 7 June) X beheading
33Terentius28 October (5 and 10 April) X beheading
34Quintinus31 October x beheading
35Sarapamon28 Hathor (24 November)X beheading
36Catherine25 November X beheading
377 women from Sebastia (St Irenarchus)28 November X body
38Bonifacius19 December X beheading
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