Towards an ecology of suffering: How Late Antique martyrsí relationships with the natural environment shaped Christian religious identity: the Act of Shirin

  • Aitor Boada-Benito


Many Late Antique hagiographic testimonies narrate the extraordinary relationship of the martyrs with their natural environment and how they communicate with mountains, animals (Salter 2001) or climate. But what are these relationships like? And, above all, what are the consequences of these representations? This article, therefore, will take account on how the experience and relationship with the environment described in these texts helped to define and legitimize a Christian religious identity in a specific context. For this, the author will analyse the Act of Shirin, a hagiographic text written in Greek around the early VII Century in Sasanian Iraq (ed. Devos 1946). This text narrates the birth, conversion to Christianity, and subsequent capture and execution of Shirin, a young Zoroastrian aristocrat born in present-day Kirkuk North East Iraq. In this Act, the climatic phenomena always favour the young martyr and, what is more important, they are the irrefutable evidence of the capacity and the positive consequences of her faith and conversion to Christianity. In a social landscape where Zoroastrianism encompassed religious and political hegemony, other identifications Judaism, Manicheism, Mazdekism, the different Christian groups, etc. were relegated to a place of dissent, so Shirin's relations with the landscape were one of the many pieces in the identity engine that helped to (re)define and develop a religious identification in continuous interaction almost confronted with other identifications.