Salsa of Tipasa
A young girl stood up for what she thought was right, and fought a demon snake, in addition, she protected her home town from invasion. What may sound like the plot of a superhero movie is indeed the story of young Salsa, an early 4th century martyr who became the centre of a vivid cult in the coastal town of Tipasa in the African province of Mauretania Caesariensis. The Passio sanctae Salsae was presumably composed in the 5th century by an anonymous author.
The story of her martyrdom begins after her parents brought the fourteen-year-old to a religious feast to honour the pagan god Draco. Due to her Christian devotion, it was impossible for Salsa to participate in the impious behaviour surrounding her: A large number of the party were drunk, vomiting or had already lost consciousness. Eventually with divine help, she tore off the head of the idol and threw it into the sea. However, after she pushed the rest of the statue over the cliff, the community realized what she just had done and an angry mob tore her limp to limp and threw her dead body into the sea as well.
Here the author could have ended his report, but interestingly he did not. A certain Saturninus, a Gallic tradesman anchored with his ship, over the still lost body of Salsa, near the docks of Tipasa. After a sudden storm almost capsized his ship, the instruction to recover the body of the saint and bury it came to him in a dream. Eventually he pulled out the body and the storm stopped immediately. Saturninus and his crew brought Salsa onto land and buried her in a chapel nearby the city. The third and last part of the passion refers to a wonder performed by these relics. When the Moorish king Firmus was revolting against the emperor and ravaged through the Roman provinces he also besieged Tipasa. In his arrogance, he aimed to gain the support of Salsa by sacrificing in her chapel. As could be expected, the saint refused the sacrifice. He became furious and started to destroy the grave of the saint; again without success. Ultimately, he fell from his horse, which he brought into the chapel. This was to be an early sign that he was about to lose the war and his life, and all without being able to take Tipasa, since the saint placed the city under her protection.
Here the passion ends. Concluding the text illustrates that Salsa did not suffer her martyrdom during the persecutions, but in a battle with the devil himself – in the form of a pagan idol. This battle, in combination with the fact that the text also depicts her as remarkably pious and chaste made her the perfect 5th century saint, whose relics were able to work miracles and protect her hometown. The narrative reaches its climax in the episode starring Firmus, in which not only the miraculous power of the relics is confirmed and thus an already existing cult is legitimized, but also the community is called to faith and strength against a common enemy - in the 5th century probably no longer Firmus, but rather the invading Vandals.
The local meaning of her veneration is as important as the ones of her male counterparts and was manifested in a beautiful basilica dominating the eastern necropolis of Tipasa. One thing is clear; even though the local bishop Potentius described her in an inscription as dulcior nectare semper (sweeter than nectar), it is obvious that the young martyr was not to be underestimated.
Nathalie Klinck, M.A. (Universität Hamburg)