I was named after my great-grandmother, Salomea. Or so my father says. St. Salome has always been my patron, but for most of my life, I did not connect with her. With an abundance of female saints with names similar to mine, and a lack of information on St. Salome, I could not make myself interested in her. 

However, that’s not fair to her. Just because I know nothing about her, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to learn more. So I have resolved to looking into her life, and finding out as much as I can about my patron saint. I was named after her for a reason, and I need to feel close to her and ask for her intercessory prayer. It is God’s will.

A basic search on “Salome” reveals that the name has Hebrew origins, which I suspected. It is derived from “Shalom”, which means “peace”, “harmony” and “wholeness”. These are all characteristics which I strive towards.

Searching deeper, I looked at biblical canon. She is mentioned in the Bible four times. She was daughter of St. Joseph the Betrothed and his first wife (also named Salome). The Theotokos was her step-mother, she was a female disciple of Christ, and she was one of the myrrh-bearing women. She was the wife of Zebedee and mother to Apostles James and John (known to the church as “the sons of thunder”).

She is the one who asked Jesus, "Command that these two sons of mine might sit, one on thy right hand and one on thy left, in thy kingdom" (Mt 20:20,21). She originally believed that the rule of the Lord would be civic, but later accepted Christ as the Messiah.

And this is where I hit a wall. This tells me merely about her lineage, and not about her as a person. Being a female disciple and myrrh-bearing woman are great accolades, but there were many women who followed this path. I got stuck, not knowing where to look next.

Then I remembered that a certain “taboo” existed. Apocryphal texts. These include books of the Bible that are omitted in Protestant iterations of the Bible, as well as other texts whose authorship could be called into question, such as the Protoevagelium of James. They are not to be confused with pseudoepigrapha, which the Orthodox Church acknowledges as false. The Orthodox Church was responsible for compiling the books of the Bible. I trust that the church fathers of the time exercised the utmost scrutiny when deciding to include these books. They were closer to Christ and His disciples than ourselves or any church reformer that came after them.

While these are not preached upon during Divine Liturgy, we Orthodox Christians rely on parts of them to flesh out our theology. Parts of these texts also influence Christian beliefs as a whole. Still, some Christian sects choose to ignore these all together. I argue that just because we do not know who wrote them, does not mean they cannot contain truth, and I need to know the truth of St. Salome as a person.

The apocryphal books of the Bible (Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Maccabees, 1st and 2nd Esdras, Prayer of Manasses, Enoch, Jubilees, Jasher) do not have much, if anything, to do with St. Salome. So I moved on to the next “taboo” text. The Protoevangelium of St. James. Ortho-Wiki provides this explanation on the Protoevangelium of St. James:

“The document presents itself as written by James: "I, James, wrote this history in Jerusalem." Thus the purported author is James the Just, the brother of Jesus… The echoes and parallels of the Old Testament appear to derive from its use of Septuagint phraseology… (I)t dedicates a significant portion not to the circumstances of Jesus' birth, but to the birth and life of Mary. This is the earliest text that explicitly claims that Joseph was a widower, with children, at the time that Mary was entrusted to his care.”

St. James is the brother of Salome, the step-son of the Theotokos and the step-brother of Christ. He of all people would know more about St. Salome than any other biblical author. Note, he was also the first to state that Joseph was a widower with children, which is a truth held by all right-believing Christian sects. If we can hold one truth from this text, surely more can be found.

Immediately, I discover that St. Salome was not only present at Christ’s death, but His birth! This makes sense, as she is the daughter of St. Joseph. If he is called to partake in the census, then so were St. James and St. Salome. St. James describes her conversation with the midwife present at the Nativity.

“(Ch XIX, 3) And the midwife went forth of the cave and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, a new sight have I to tell thee. A virgin hath brought forth, which her nature alloweth not. And Salome said: As the Lord my God liveth, if I make not trial and prove her nature I will not believe that a virgin hath brought forth.”

This proclaims not only the virgin birth of Christ, but also St. Salome’s presence and her doubts! And not only is she mentioned in the text, but she is also present in some Nativity icons. Often, she is seen standing beside the midwife.

St. Salome in a Nativity Icon

Salome (right) and the midwife "Emea" (left), bathing the infant Jesus, is a common figure in Orthodox icons of the Nativity of Jesus; here in a 12th-century fresco from Cappadocia

As I delve even further, I come across St. Salome repenting for her doubts in regards to the virgin birth.

“(XX. 1) And Salome made trial and cried out and said: Woe unto mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God, and lo, my hand falleth away from me in fire. And she bowed her knees unto the Lord, saying: O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob: make me not a public example unto the children of Israel, but restore me unto the poor, for thou knowest, Lord, that in thy name did I perform my cures, and did receive my hire of thee. 3 And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared, saying unto her: Salome, Salome, the Lord hath hearkened to thee: bring thine hand near unto the young child and take him up, and there shall be unto thee salvation and joy. 4 And Salome came near and took him up, saying: I will do him worship, for a great king is born unto Israel. And behold immediately Salome was healed: and she went forth of the cave justified. And lo, a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell none of the marvels which thou hast seen, until the child enter into Jerusalem.[2]”

So not only does St. Salome doubt Christ’s virgin birth, but she is forgiven of it, and is given the privilege of holding her Savior at His birth! What an honor she had! I can’t imagine how she felt as she held God incarnate in her arms, after receiving  His abounding forgiveness. I can only hope to come close to such a feeling  one day.

I would also like to draw attention to this portion of her prayer: “for thou knowest, Lord, that in thy name did I perform my cures,”. St. Salome, while it is unclear if she performed true miracles in the name of the Lord, was given the gift of healing by Him. 

With this information, I am able to find some common ground with her. I used to work in the medical field. I worked in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), as well as the ER and the medical examiner's office. I’ve witnessed the miracle of birth and the devastation of death. I’ve had my doubts and fears, but been able to experience deep repentance and abundant forgiveness. Despite living thousands of years apart, she and I aren’t as different as I expected us to be.

So, to recap, St. Salome was a myrrh-bearing woman, who was of relation St. Joseph, the Theotokos, and Christ. She was a wife, a mother, and a female disciple. She was present at Christ’s birth and His death upon the cross. She had doubts, but also great faith. She was a healer. She was repentant. She was much more than I thought she would be. My relationship with her has grown thanks to the “taboo” of apocryphal texts. 

And this is only scratching the surface. I wanted to publish this post before her namesday, August 3rd. But just know, my research has only just begun. Within the next year, I want to set aside more time to learn about St. Salome, and share what I find with everyone. And, if you have a lesser known saint as your patron, I encourage you to do the same. The wealth of knowledge we could amass would be astonishing, and the stories we could uncover would be incredibly edifying! So please, take time out of your schedule to appreciate your saint. I highly recommend it.

(Also, if anyone is interested in adding St. Salome and a midwife to their Nativity set, please let me know. We can start a petition.)