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Sindecuse Museum

St. Apollonia

Patron Saint of Dentistry

The exhibition, St. Apollonia, features art in the Museum's collection related to this iconic figure. As the ecclesiastical writer Eusebius explains, Apollonia was an old woman who fell victim to Roman persecutors of the 3rd century AD in Alexandria, Egypt. Her jaw was battered until all her teeth were knocked out. When pushed to renounce her Christian faith, Apollonia chose instead to martyr herself on a pyre. And thus, on February 9th, 249 AD, was born the saint and icon of comfort for any who suffer a toothache. Additional sources reveal that she was likely targeted because she was a successful deaconess of a small Christian church and her last trevails were preceded by earlier incidences with Roman sympathizers.

The exhibit unveils a previously unknown oil portrait of a youthful St. Apollonia, likely completed by a European artist as part of a church alterpiece. In the 1960s the painting was donated to the School of Dentistry and later was transferred to the Museum. In 2005, this painting underwent treatment by Kenneth Katz, of Conservation and Museum Services in Detroit.

The exhibit also features a bronze sculpture completed in 1981 by Carmen M. Nolla depicts St. Apollonia with an angel. See the Artifact Catalog below for more information about this and other objects featured in the exhibit. 

Exhibit case featuring St. Apollonia artifacts listed below.
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Research and selection was completed in 2005 by graduate student fellow in Classical Art and Archaeology, Karen Johnson. See Artifact Catalog below for more information about the artifacts in this exhibit.

Artifact Catalog

Color painting reproduction of St. Apollonia holding forceps over a toothache sufferer

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St. Apollonia Reproduction Print

SMD 11.8b

This illustration of Apollonia depicts her with her insignia, a tooth held by a forceps. It is unusual, however, since it shows the saint in sympathetic gaze with a toothache sufferer. Typically, Apollonia stands alone. The wood cut was inspiration for the stamp issued below.

Three pairs of dental forceps

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SMD 327.7, SMD 426.1b,SMD 161.204

Dental forceps are often considered the oldest tools of the trade whatever their shape or size, the function remains the same—for extraction. These three examples are some of the earliest in the Museum collection. The smallest pair was used by a traveling dentist in Ohio during the mid-19th century.

Stamp depicting the color painting of St. Apollonia standing over a toothache sufferer

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St. Apollonia Commemorative Stamp

SMD 632.1a

This stamp commemorates the 13th Biennial Congress of Dentists, from the collection of Zelma R. Myers, former Registrar, U-M School of Dentistry.

Bronze sculpture of St. Apollonia

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Bronze sculpture of St. Apollonia, 1981

SMD 161.1

As dentistry coalesced into a formalized profession especially throughout the 19th century, so too did it inherit a patron saint in Apollonia. Dr. Nolla, the artist of this piece, received an MS in Pedodontics from the University of Michigan in 1952.

Portrait of St. Apollonia before restoration

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Portrait of St. Apollonia after restoration

Oil Painting of St. Apollonia

SMD 1.43a
Mid-19th Century, Northern Europe

This painting portrays Apollonia as a young woman, the persona that quickly came to be associated with the saint. Images such as this were common in churches throughout Europe from the 14th century AD onward. Interestingly, evidence on the canvas itself suggests this portrait was part of a larger ensemble, perhaps an altarpiece.

These two photos illustrate before and after conservation treatment on the St. Apollonia portrait.