Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

A woman’s role model. Thecla’s countenance radiates from this fifth-century roundel now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Thirty inches across, this large sculpture was probably an ornament from an Eastern—perhaps Egyptian—church.

The lion and lioness at Thecla’s feet—frequently occurring among her saintly attributes (see the lion in the El Greco)—refer to the climax of her story at Antioch, where she has traveled with Paul. The local authorities have condemned Thecla to death “by the beasts,” but the lioness sent to devour her simply licks her feet and then helps defend her from the other animals sent in, including a lion and a bear. The women in the crowd are thrilled. Cheering for her, they throw into the arena flowers whose fragrance tranquilizes the remaining predators.