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January 2: The Empress Eudocia in Jerusalem

January 2, 2016

800px-Alexander_Nevsky_Cathedral_E1Aelia Eudocia, a pagan Greek aristocrat who converted to Christianity in 421 when she married the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, was declared ‘Augusta’ by her husband on this date in 423, a title that elevated her power in the royal court. In 438, Eudocia Augusta journeyed to Jerusalem, where she would ultimately live the final years of her life after being banished by Theodosius five years later. On this first visit, while he was back home announcing legislation to exclude Jews from all political and military functions in lands under Byzantine rule, she arranged for Jews to be able to pray at the site of the Jerusalem Temple for the first time since its destruction by Rome in 70 CE. Her action, however, encouraged the migration of several thousand Jews to Jerusalem in hope of seeing the city resurrected as a Jewish homeland. They were subjected to stoning and stabbing by Christian monks, who killed several of the Jews. The eighteen monks who were brought to trial were acquitted when witnesses testified that the killing stones had fallen from heaven. “At her palace in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem,” according to De Imperatoribus Romanis, “[Eudocia] continued to receive petitions and sought to alleviate the persecution of the Jews, in spite of the unpopularity of such a stance. With her wealth she endowed the city of Jerusalem with a new set of walls and erected numerous other buildings throughout the Near East.”

“Byzantine history offers few so strange or picturesque stories as that of the little pagan Athenian who, after having been mistress of the civilized world, ended her days as an ardent mystic, almost a nun, by the tomb of Christ. Eudocia wrote much poetry. As empress she composed a poem in honour of her husband’s victory over the Persians; later at Jerusalem she wrote religious verse...” —Catholic Encyclopedia