Saint Apollonia was one of a group of virgin martyrs who suffered in Alexandria during a local uprising against Christians prior to the Decian persecution which occurred in 250 AD, under the Roman Emperor Decius. According to church tradition, Apollonia’s torture included having all of her teeth violently pulled out or shattered. It is for this reason that she is popularly regarded as the patroness of dentistry and those suffering from toothache or other dental problems. French court painter Jehan Fouquet painted the scene of her torture in The Martyrdom of St. Apollonia.
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (OCA) Churches celebrate the feast day of St. Apollonia of Alexandria on February 9, and she is popularly invoked against the toothache because of the torments she had to endure. St. Apollonia is represented in art with pincers in which a tooth is held. She is one of the two patron saints of Catania.
William S. Walsh noted that the major part of St. Apollonia’s relics were preserved in the former church of St. Apollonia at Rome, her head at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, parts of her jaw in St. Basil’s, her arms at the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, and other relics are in the Jesuit church at Antwerp, in St. Augustine’s at Brussels, in St. Cross at Liège, in the Jesuit church at Mechlin, in the treasury of the cathedral of Porto, and in several churches at Cologne. These relics reportedly consist in some cases of a solitary tooth or a splinter of bone. In the Middle Ages, objects claimed to be St. Apollonia’s teeth were sold as toothache cures.
There was a church dedicated to the saint in Rome, near the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, but it no longer exists. Only its little square, the Piazza Sant’Apollonia remains.
In some areas of Italy, she is cast in the role of the tooth fairy, collecting children’s fallen baby teeth while they sleep and leaving a gift in exchange.
There are 52 known images of St. Apollonia in various English churches that survived the ravages of the 16th-century Commissioners.
St. Apollonia’s image is the side support of the arms of the British Dental Association.