Hard as it may be to believe, Herod Antipas, the adulterous murderer of St. John the Baptist, had saints among his friends and family. In the Roman Martyrology — the Roman Church’s official catalogue of principal martyrs and saints for each day of the year — we find this entry for May 24: “At Antioch, the birthday of St. Manahen, foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch. He was a doctor and prophet under the grace of the New Testament, and his remains now lie in the city of Antioch. Also, blessed Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, mentioned by the evangelist St. Luke.” (Note: “Birthday” in the Roman Martyrology is the day of the saint’s death , when he was “born” into Heaven.)
St. Manahen, or Manaen, is mentioned by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles: “Now there were in the church which was at Antioch, prophets and doctors, among whom was Barnabas, and Simon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manahen, who was the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch , and Saul. And as they were ministering to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: Separate me Saul and Barnabas, for the work whereunto I have taken them” (Acts 13:1-2).
St. Luke, who was also from Antioch, may have relied on St. Manahen as one of the “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” he interviewed (Luke 1:2) when composing his Gospel, which contains details about Herod’s household not found in the other Gospels. It is also likely that St. Manahen was one of the founders of the church at Antioch, being one of those “dispersed by the persecution that arose on the occasion of Stephen” and who “entered into Antioch, spoke also to the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:19-20). St. Manahen is believed to have died at Antioch.
Of St. Joanna, we know a little more. St. Luke speaks of her as one who served Our Lord: “And [there were with Jesus] certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities; Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth, and Joanna the wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward , and Susanna, and many others who ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:2-3).
St. Luke also tells us (24:10) that Joanna was one of the women with Mary Magdalen, Mary, the Mother of James the Less, and others not named, who discovered the empty tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning. Because of this honor, these three saints are called the “Myrrh-bearers” in the Christian East, where the feast of St. Joanna the Myrrh-bearer is kept on June 27. Another Eastern tradition has it that she gave the head of St. John the Baptist an honorable burial, having removed it from the filthy place where it was thrown after Herod’s banquet.
In art, she is depicted in various ways: with an ointment box, with a cross in her arms and a lamb standing nearby, carrying a pitcher in a basket, or standing with her husband among court ladies hearing Our Lord. The Jesuits have a special devotion to St. Joanna.