Saint Apollonia was an elderly virgin and deaconess of Alexandria, whose martyrdom was described by Saint Dionysius of Alexandria (October 5) in one of his letters.
When Decius became emperor in 249, he launched the greatest attack upon Christianity up to that time, becoming the first emperor to call for its total extermination. Saint Dionysius says that the persecution started at Alexandria a year before it began in other places, incited by a certain “prophet and poet of evil,” who stirred up the people against the Christians.
Backed by the power of the government, the pagans massacred Christians, believing that they were serving their false gods by doing so. The “aged and excellent virgin Apollonia” was seized and struck in the face until all her teeth were knocked out. The mob built a fire outside the city and threatened to burn her alive unless she agreed to worship the idols and sacrifice to the emperor’s genius.
Saint Apollonia asked the pagans to let go of her for a moment so that she could pray. As soon as they did, she leaped into the flames and was consumed, receiving a double crown of martyrdom and virginity. Because of the nature of her torments, she is sometimes depicted with a golden tooth hanging from a necklace, or holding a tooth in a pair of pincers. She is invoked by those suffering from toothache.