Saint Thais of Roman Alexandria was another Mary Magdalene. Although her feast remains on October 8, it is now thought that she may only have been a legend.
Thais was born during the 4th century, probably around the year 320. She was a native of Egypt and was raised as a Christian. When she became a woman, however, she fell into sin and became the most famous courtesan of the century.
It was most likely because she led so many others into sin that Saint Paphnutius (unknown), the bishop of the Thebaid, set out to convert her.
Paphnutius disguised himself as a “customer” and was able to gain access to Thais’ bedchamber. Once there, he began to preach the Gospel. He soon discovered that Thais already knew about God and Heaven and Hell. After he warned her that this knowledge made her sins even more deadly, she realized that her soul was in peril.
That very day, Thais dragged all her finery out into the street and started an enormous fire. After asking all who had sinned with her to join in her repentance, she went with Paphnutius to a convent in his diocese.
Once they reached the convent, Paphnutius sealed her into a cell leaving only an opening for food to be passed in. Thais remained in this cell for three years.
Because of the severity of her sins, Paphnutius was not sure how long she would have to do penance. After three years, he sought the advice of his spiritual father Saint Anthony of the Desert (c. 251-356). Anthony, in turn asked the advice of another of his spiritual sons Saint Paul the Simple (unknown-c. 339). Paul was an older man who had become a hermit after his wife committed adultery. He was blessed with several supernatural gifts and Paphnutius believed him when he said that Thais was forgiven.
Saint Thais was released from her prison. Her penance, however, had severely injured her body and she died fifteen days later.
The majority of Christians know about Saint Thais only because of Jules Massenet’s 1893 opera based loosely on her life and conversion. In the opera, Thais is converted by a monk named Athanael who is warned by his superiors to leave her alone. After Thais enters the convent, Athanael falls desperately in love with her. The opera’s ending is rather disturbing because Thais is redeemed and Athanael denies God. However, the world-famous Meditation is, without a doubt, a little piece of Heaven.
Sources: Butler’s Lives of the Saints
Simon, Henry W. “100 Great Operas and Their Stories”