Roman Empress Pulcheria of Constantinople/Istanbul (AD 399-453)

Aelia Pulcheria was the daughter of emperor Arcadius and empress Aelia Eudoxia, and the older sister of Theodosius II. When her father died in 408, Pulcheria became co-ruler with seven-year-old Theodosius II. Even though Theodosius II became sole ruler in 416, Pulcheria continued to influence her brother and the direction of the Roman empire in its relationship with Christianity. There was often tension in the imperial court between Theodosius II’s wife, Eudocia, who was a supporter of Monophysite Christianity, and Pulcheria, who strongly advocated for Nicene orthodox Christianity. She commissioned the building of many churches, hospitals, houses for pilgrims, and gave money to ministries of charity.

Pulcheria took a vow of virginity at an early age and was deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the mother of God. Because of this, Pulcheria established an alliance with bishop Cyril of Alexander in opposition to the teaching of Nestorius, who insisted on calling Mary Christokos, the mother of Christ, instead of Theotokos, the mother of God.

Pulcheria’s brother Theodosius II supported the Monophysite teaching of Eutyches during Ephesus’ “Gangster Council” in 449. However, after Theodosius II’s sudden death following a horse accident in 450, Pucheria returned to the imperial court and married the new emperor Marcian. They convened the Chalcedon Ecumenical Church Council in 451 that reversed the support of Eutyches’ teaching.

In the development of the early church, Pulcheria was crucial in establishing Nicene orthodox Christianity in the Roman empire. Without her leadership, the outcome of the church councils in 431 and 451 could have been quite different. Pulcheria died in 453.