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The holy and right-believing Empress Theodora of Arta was the wife of Michael II Komnenos Doukas who was the ruler (Emperor) of Epiros in the thirteenth century, during the time of Latin rule of Constantinople. She endured suffering from abuse by her husband, being forced into exile without complaint, and maintained a life of humility, asceticism, and charity. She is commemorated by the Church on March 11.
What is known of the life of Theodora is from a vita contained in a fifteenth or sixteenth century manuscript attributed to a monk named Job. In view of the many errors of chronology and genealogy in the vita, as well as its style, the attribution of the vita to a Job Iasites has been questioned.
Theodora was the daughter of John and Helena Petraliphas. John Petraliphas was a sebastokrator and ruler of Macedonia and Thessaly. Theodora is thought to have been born about 1225 as Theodora Dukaina Petraliphaina. She married Michael II Komnenos Doukas Notho Angelos shortly after he became ruler of Epiros about 1231 (about the age of 6, uncanonical for marriage). Through this marriage they had six children, including Nikephoros I Komnenos Doukas, Anna (Agnes) Komnenodukaina, Lady of Kalamata and Clermont, who married Prince Guillaume II de Villehardouin of Achaea and then Nicholas II of Saint-Omer, Lord of Achaia.
She was noted as a person who was not carried away with her new position as empress nor with her luxurious life. Early in their marriage, Michael II became enamored by a noblewoman, causing Michael to reject Theodora. She was banished under a decree that she was not to be supported. She existed in exile by living "off the land" in the open for five years, nobly enduring her life without complaint. During her exile she maintained her virtue, although reduced to picking wild greens for food and while caring for her son whom she bore in exile. A priest from the village of Preniste found her while she was collecting wild greens, and after getting her to identify herself, he took her, with her son, under his care and concealed her until court officials drove the wicked noblewoman out and returned Michael to his senses.
Michael then took Theodora back into his house. Until Michael died, the couple lived virtuously in peace and love, raising their family of children. Michael established two monasteries, Pantanassa and Panagia, while Theodora founded a women's monastery dedicated to the great martyr George, that later was named for St. Theodora.
After the death of her husband, about 1267 or 1268, Theodora entered monasticism and lived a pious life of praying, attending vigils, serving orphans and widows, and the other nuns. She is closely associated with Ss. Athanasia of Aegina and Theodora of Thessalonike, as well as Ss. Matrona of Chios, Thomais of Lesbos, and Mary the Younger who like her suffered abuse at the hands of their husbands.
Theodora foresaw the time of her death; her tomb attracted popular veneration soon after her death and continues to do so to this day.
- Life of St. Theodora of Arta (PDF) from Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints' Lives in English Translation
- The Angelos family including Theodora Dukaina Petraliphaina (A1, B1, C7, D5)
- Michael II Komnenos Doukas