Agape, Chionia (Chione) & Irene VV MM (RM)
Died at Thessalonica, Macedonia, April 3, 304. The martyrdom of these three sisters is related in a document that is a somewhat more amplified version of genuine records.
In 303, Emperor Diocletian issued a decree making it an offense punishable by death to possess any portion of sacred Christian writings. Irene and her sisters, Agape and Chionia, daughters of pagan parents living in Salonika, owned several volumes of Holy Scriptures, which they hid. This made the girls very unhappy because they could not read them at all hours as was their wont.
The sisters were arrested on another charge--that of refusing to eat food that had been offered to the gods--and taken before the governor, Dulcetius (Dulcitius). He asked each in turn why they had refused and if they would still refuse. Agape answered: "I believe in the living God, and will not by an evil action lose all the merit of my past life." Some of the transcript follows:
Dulcetius: "Why didn't you obey the most pious command of our emperors and Caesars?"
Irene: "For fear of offending God."
Dulcetius: "But what say you, Casia?"
Casia: "I desire to save my soul."
Dulcetius: "Will not you partake of the sacred offerings?"
Casia: "By no means."
Dulcetius: "But you, Philippa, what do you say?"
Philippa: "I say the same thing."
Dulcetius: "What is that?"
Philippa: "That I had rather die than eat of your sacrifices."
Dulcetius: "And you, Eutychia, what do you say?"
Eutychia: "I say the same thing: that I had rather die than do what you command." Dulcetius: "Are you married?"
Eutychia: "My husband has been dead almost seven months."
Dulcetius: "By whom are you with child?"
Eutychia: "By him whom God gave me for my husband."
Dulcetius: "I advise you, Eutychia, to leave this folly, and resume a reasonable way of thinking; what do you say? will you obey the imperial edict?"
Eutychia: "No: for I am a Christian, and serve the Almighty God."
Dulcetius: "Eutychia being big with child, let her be kept in prison. Agape, what is your resolution? will you do as we do, who are obedient and dutiful to the emperors?"
Agape: "It is not proper to obey Satan; my soul is not to be overcome by these discourses."
Dulcetius: "And you, Chionia, what is your final answer?"
Chionia: "Nothing can change me."
Dulcetius: "Have you not some books, papers, or other writings, relating to the religion of the impious Christians?"
Chionia: "We have none: the emperors now reigning have taken them all from us."
Dulcetius: "Who drew you into this persuasion?"
Chionia: "Almighty God."
Dulcetius: "Who induced you to embrace this folly?"
Chionia: "Almighty God, and his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ."
Dulcetius: "You are all bound to obey our most puissant emperors and Caesars. But because you have so long obstinately despised their just commands, and so many edicts, admonitions, and threats, and have had the boldness and rashness to despise our orders, retaining the impious name of Christians; and since to this very time you have not obeyed the stationers and officers who solicited you to renounce Jesus Christ in writing, you shall receive the punishment you deserve.
"I condemn Agape and Chionia to be burnt alive. for having out of malice and obstinacy acted in contradiction to the divine edicts of our lords the emperors and Caesars, and who at present profess the rash and false religion of Christians, which all pious persons abhor. As for the other four, let them be confined in close prison during my pleasure."
Thus, Chionia and Agape were condemned to be burned alive, but, because of her youth, Irene was to be imprisoned. After the execution of her older sisters, their house had been searched and the forbidden volumes discovered. Irene was examined again:
Dulcetius: "Your madness is plain, since you have kept to this day so many books, parchments, codicils, and papers of the scriptures of the impious Christians. You were forced to acknowledge them when they were produced before you, though you had before denied you had any. You will not take warning from the punishment of your sisters, neither have you the fear of death before your eyes your punishment therefore is unavoidable. In the mean time I do not refuse even now to make some condescension in your behalf. Notwithstanding your crime, you may find pardon and be freed from punishment, if you will yet worship the gods. What say you then? Will you obey the orders of the emperors? Are you ready to sacrifice to the gods, and eat of the victims?"
Irene: "By no means: for those that renounce Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are threatened with eternal fire."
Dulcetius: "Who persuaded you to conceal those books and papers so long?"
Irene: "Almighty God, who has commanded us to love Him even unto death; on which account we dare not betray Him, but rather choose to be burnt alive, or suffer any thing whatsoever than discover such writings."
Dulcetius: "Who knew that those writings were in the house?"
Irene: "Nobody but the Almighty, from Whom nothing is hid: for we concealed them even from our own domestics, lest they should accuse us."
During the questioning Irene told him that when the emperor's decree against Christians was published, she and others fled to the mountains without her father's knowledge. She avoided implicating those who had helped them, and declared that nobody but themselves know they had the books:
Dulcetius: "Where did you hide yourselves last year, when the pious edict of our emperors was first published?"
Irene: "Where it pleased God, in the mountains."
Dulcetius: "With whom did you live?
Irene: "We were in the open air, sometimes on one mountain, sometimes on another."
Dulcetius: "Who supplied you with bread?"
Irene: "God, Who gives food to all flesh."
Dulcetius: "Was your father privy to it?
Irene: "No; he had not the least knowledge of it."
Dulcetius: "Which of your neighbors knew it?"
Irene: "Inquire in the neighborhood, and make your search."
Dulcetius: "After you returned from the mountains, as you say, did you read those books to anybody?"
Irene: "They were hid at our own house, and we dared not produce them; and we were in great trouble, because we could not read them night and day, as we had been accustomed to do."
Dulcetius: "Your sisters have already suffered the punishments to which they were condemned. As for you, Irene, though you were condemned to death before your flight for having hid these writings, I will not have you die so suddenly, but I order that you be exposed naked in a brothel, and be allowed one loaf a day, to be sent you from the palace; and that the guards do not suffer you to stir out of it one moment, under pain of death to them."
Irene was sent to a soldiers' brothel, where she was stripped and chained. There she was miraculously protected from molestation. So, after again refusing a last chance to conform, she was sentenced to death. She died either by being forced to throw herself into flames or, more likely, by being shot in the throat with an arrow. The books, including the Sacred Scripture, were publicly burned.
The one expanded version of the story relates that Irene was taken to a rising ground, where she mounted a large, lighted pile. While signing psalms and celebrating the glory of the Lord, she threw herself on the pile and was consumed.
Three other women (Casia, Philippa, Eutychia) and a man (Agatho) were tried with these martyrs. Eutychia was remanded because she was pregnant. It is not recorded what happened to the others. Agape and Chionia died on April 3; Irene on April 5, which is her actual feast day (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth, White).
In art, this trio is represented generally as three maidens carrying pitchers, though they may be shown being burned at the stake (Roeder). They are venerated in Salonika (Roeder).
Blessed Alexandrina di Letto, Poor Clare (PC)
Born at Sulmona, Italy in 1385; died 1458. At age 15, Alexandrina joined the Poor Clares. After 23 years as a nun she founded a convent of her order at Foligno of which she became its first abbess. Here she initiated a new Franciscan reform, which was blessed and encouraged by Pope Martin V (Benedictines).
Attala of Taormina, OSB Abbot (AC)
(also known as Attalus)
Died c. 800. The Benedictine Saint Attala was monk and abbot of a monastery at Taormina, Sicily (Benedictines).
Burgundofara, OSB Abbess V (RM)
(also known as Fare, Fara)
Born near Meaux; died at Faremoutiers in Brie, France, on April 3, c. 655-657. Sister of Saint Cagnoald, Saint Faro, and Agnetrudis, Fare had been blessed by Saint Columbanus in her infancy during his stay with the family on his way into exile from Luxeuil. Some chroniclers say say was 10 or 15 at the time Columbanus consecrated her to God in a particular manner.
She developed a religious vocation early in spite of the fierce opposition of her father, Count Agneric, one of the principal courtiers of King Theodebert II. He arranged an honorable match for his daughter, which so upset her that she became mortally ill. Still Agneric demanded that she marry.
When Saint Eustace was returning to the court with her brother Cagnoald from his embassy to Columbanus, he stayed in the home of Agneric. Fare disclosed to him her vocation. Eustace told her father that Fare was deathly ill because he opposed her pious inclinations. The saintly man prostrated himself for a time in prayer, rose, and made the sign of the cross upon Fare's eyes. Immediately her health was restored.
Eustace asked her mother, Leodegonda, to prepare Fare to receive the veil when he returned to court. As soon as the saint left, Agneric again began to harass his daughter. She sought sanctuary in the church when he threatened to kill her if she did not comply with this wishes. Eustace returned and reconciled father and daughter. He then arranged for Fare to be professed before Bishop Gondoald of Meaux in 614.
A year or two later, Fare convinced her father to build her a double monastery, originally named Brige (Brie, which is Celtic for "bridge") or Evoriacum, now called Faremoutiers (Fare's monastery). The chronicler Jonas, a monk in that abbey, wrote about many of the holy people he knew there, including Saint Cagnoald and Saint Walbert.
Although Fare was still very young, she was appointed its first abbess and governed the monastery under the Rule of Saint Columbanus for 37 years. The rule was severe. The use of wine and milk was forbidden (at least during penitential seasons). The inhabitants confessed three times each day to encourage a habitual watchfulness for the attainment of purity of heart. Masses were said daily in the monastery for 30 days for the soul of those religious who died.
Fare was apparently an excellent directress of souls. Many English princess-nuns and nun-saints were trained under her, including Saints Gibitrudis, Sethrida, Ethelburga, Ercongotha, Hildelid, Sisetrudis, Hercantrudis, and others. Once when her younger brother, Saint Faro, was visiting, he was so moved by her heavenly discourses that he resigned the great offices which he held at court, persuaded his fiancé to become a nun, and took the clerical tonsure. After he succeeded Gondoald as bishop, Faro supported his sister against attempts to mitigate the severity of the Rule.
A reference is made to Fare by Bede led long afterwards to the mistaken idea that she died in England; however, she died at Faremoutiers after a painful, lingering illness. Her will bequeathed some of her lands to her siblings, but the rest to the monastery, includng her lands at Champeaux on which a monastery was later erected.
Fare's relics were enshrined in 695 and many miracles were attributed to her intercession. Among them is the restoration of sight to Dame Charlotte le Bret, daughter to the first president and treasurer-general of finance in the district of Paris. At the age of seven (1602), her left eye was put out. She became a nun at Faremoutiers in 1609 and lost the sight in her remaining eye in 1617 due to an irreversible eye disease. Because she suffered terrible pain in her eyes and the adjacent nerves, remedies were applied to destroy all feeling in the area. In 1622, she kissed one of the exposed bones of Saint Fare and touched it to both eyes. She had feeling again. Upon repeating the action, her sight was restored--instantly and perfectly. Physicians and witnesses testified in writing to her state before and after this miracle, which was certified as such be Bishop John de Vieupont of Meaux on December 9, 1622.
The affidavit of the abbess, Frances de la Chastre, and the community also mentioned two other miraculous cures of palsy and rheumatism. Other miracles wrought at the intercession of Saint Fare are recorded by Carcat and du Plessis (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).
Saint Burgundofara is depicted in art as an abbess with an ear of corn. Sometimes she may be shown in the scene where Saint Columbanus blesses a child (Roeder). She is honored especially in France and Sicily (Husenbeth).
Evagrius and Benignus MM (RM)
Date unknown. Martyrs at Tomi on the Black Sea (Benedictines).
Blessed Gandulphus of Binasco, OFM (AC)
(also known as Gandulf)
Born in Binasco (near Milan), Lombardy, Italy; died 1260. Gandulphus became a member of the Franciscan Order while Saint Francis was still alive and spent his life praying and preaching in Sicily. Later in life, he left the friary at Palermo to become a hermit. He is highly venerated in Sicily (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).
Blessed John of Penna, OFM (AC)
Born at Penna San Giovanni (near Fermo), Ancona, Italy, c. 1193; died at Recanati, Italy, April 3, 1271; cultus approved 1806 by Pope Pius VII. Blessed John joined the Franciscans at Recanati about 1213, was ordained a priest, and was sent to France, where he worked for about 25 years in Provence, founding several Franciscan houses. About 1242, he returned to Italy, where he spent his last 30 years mainly in retirement, although he did serve as guardian several times. He experienced visions and had the gift of prophecy, but was also afflicted with extended periods of spiritual aridity. His life is described in chapter 45 of The Little Flowers of Saint Francis (Attwater2, Benedictines, Delaney).
Nicetas of Medikion, Abbot (RM)
Born in Caesarea, Bithynia; died at Constantinople on April 3, 824. The father of Saint Nicetas entered a monastery a few years after his mother died when he was just a week old, and he was raised in the monastery. He became a monk at Medikion Monastery at the foot of Mount Olympus, Bithynia, was ordained in 790 by Saint Tarasius, and in time became abbot.
When Nicetas and a group of other abbots refused the demand of the iconoclastic Emperor Leo the Armenian that they recognize the intruded Theodotus as patriarch of Constantinople, who Leo had appointed to replace the exiled Patriarch Nicephorus, Nicetas was exiled to Anatolia (Turkey), where he was subjected to ill treatment.
When he was brought back to Constantinople, he accepted Theodotus as patriarch and was returned to his monastery. He soon repented publicly, withdrew his allegiance to the patriarch, and denounced iconoclasm. He was then exiled to the isle of Glyceria in 813, released when Michael the Stammerer became emperor in 820, and lived as a hermit near Constantinople until his death there (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).
Pancras of Taormina BM (RM)
(also known as Pancratius)
1st century; also July 8. Saint Pancras is the subject of a bizarre Greek legend. According to the story, he was an Antiochene by birth, whom Saint Peter consecrated bishop and sent to Taormina (Tauromenium) in Sicily, where he was stoned to death by brigands after a career of preaching and miracle-working. Saint Pancras was immensely popular in Sicily, and his cultus spread early to England and Georgia (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Farmer).
Richard Backedine B (RM)
(also known as Richard of Wyche, of Droitwich, of Chichester, of Burford)
Born at Droitwich (formerly called Wyche), Worchestershire, England, in 1197; died at Dover, England, 1253; canonized 1262.
"Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults
Which Thou has borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly,
Day by day. Amen."
--Saint Richard of Chichester.
Richard's surname was Backedine, but he is better known as Richard Wyche or 'of Wich.' He was born into a family who held property and were counted among the minor nobility. Even as a toddler Richard haunted holy Mass. At five, standing on a chair, he was already preaching sermons: "Be good; if you are good, God will love you; if you are not good, God will not love you." A little simplistic but what do you expect of a five-year old? His knowledge of Latin amazed the pastor and the fervor of his prayers confounded his mother. His parents decided that the fruits of the earth would go to the eldest son, but those of heaven would go to the youngest--he would belong to the Church.
Richard's parents died while he was still small, and the heavily mortgaged family estate was left to his elder brother, who had no gift for management. The brother allowed the land to fall into ruin. When Richard was old enough, he served his brother out of kindness as a laborer to help rebuild the estate. He actually tilled the land for a time, and directed the replanting of the ruined gardens.
In time his management paid off, and the property was restored to its former value. His brother wanted to give it to Richard, but Richard only wanted to spend time with his books. Abandoning the estates and the possibility of a marriage to a wealthy bride, Richard went off to the newly opened Oxford University to finish his studies. At Oxford he became acquainted with the Dominicans who had arrived in 1221, Franciscans such as Grosseteste, and Saint Edmund Rich, who was then chancellor of the university and became one of Richard's lifelong friends.
Later, he went to Paris as a student of theology, and was so poor that he shared a room with two others. They lived on bread and porridge, and having only one good coat between them, they could only go one at a time to lectures, wearing it in turn, while the others remained at home. After taking his degree in Paris and finishing his master's degree at Oxford, he studied Roman and canon law at Bologna for seven years. There he received his doctorate and the esteem of many.
When one of his tutors offered to make Richard his heir and give him his daughter in marriage, Richard, who felt called to a celibate life, made a courteous excuse and returned to Oxford at age 38. In 1235, he was appointed chancellor of the university and then of the diocese of Oxford by Saint Edmund, who had become archbishop of Canterbury.
Richard remained in close contact with Saint Edmund during the long years of Edmund's conflict with the English king and, in fact, followed him into exile in France and nursed him until Edmund's death in 1240 at the Cistercian monastery of Pontigny. After Edmund died, he taught at the Dominican house of studies in Orléans for two years, where he was ordained a priest in 1242 and lived in the Dominican community until his return to England in 1243. At which time he served briefly as a parish priest at Charing and at Deal.
Those were the days when Henry III created great difficulties for the Church by encroaching on her liberties, seizing her revenues, and appointing to ecclesiastical vacancies his own relatives and followers. Crowned at the age of nine, when the barons had made an impetuous attack on his power, the Church had come to the aid of the frail child because God establishes all authority. Henry had acknowledged this service until he reached manhood. Then the king forgot his debt to the Church. He surrounded himself with favorites from the Continent: Bretons, Provençals, Savoyards, and natives of Poitou to "protect himself from the felony of his own subjects."
In 1244, Ralph Neville, bishop of Chichester died. Thus it came about that the king nominated a courtier, Robert Passelewe, to the bishopric of Chichester and pressured the canons to elect him. However, the new archbishop, Blessed Boniface of Savoy, refused to confirm appointment and called a chapter of his suffragans, who declared the election invalid. Instead they chose Richard Backedine, who had been chancellor to archbishops Edmund Rich and Boniface of Savoy and who was the primate's nominee, to fill the vacant see.
This roused the anger of the king, who retaliated by confiscating the cathedral revenues. It was a case in which retreat would be pure cowardice, so Richard accepted the unwelcome office and set about doing his best with it. At first he was almost starved out of office because the king, who already had the church revenues, forbade anyone to give Richard food or shelter. No bishop dared to consecrate him and, after a year of mendicant existence, he went to receive episcopal consecration from Pope Innocent IV, who was presiding over the Council of Lyons, on March 5, 1245.
But Richard, receiving the powerful support of the pope, though deprived of the use both of the cathedral and the bishop's palace, took up his residence at Chichester, and on a borrowed horse travelled through his diocese. He was given shelter in a country rectory by Father Simon of Tarring, and from this modest center Bishop Richard worked for two years like a missionary bishop, visiting fisherfolk and peasants, and cultivating figs in his spare time.
He called many synods during his travels, and drew up what are known as the Constitutions of Saint Richard, statutes that address the various abuses that he noticed in his travels. The sacraments were to be administered without payment, Mass celebrated with dignity, and the clergy to remain celibate, practice residence, and wear clerical garb. The laity were obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days and to memorize the Hail Mary, Our Father, and Creed. With great charity and humility he carried on his work until the king reluctantly yielded to a peremptory order of the pope to restore the revenues of the bishopric.
With his temporalities restored, Richard had the means to become a great alms-giver. "It will never do," he said, "to eat out of gold and silver plates and bowls, while Christ is suffering in the person of His poor," and he ate and drank always out of common crockery. His early poverty and recent experiences made him eschew riches. Whenever he heard of any fire or damage to his property, Saint Richard would say to his stewards, "Do not grieve. This is a lesson to us. God is teaching us that we do not give enough away to the poor. Let us increase our almsgiving."
Nor would he allow any quarrels over money or privilege to stand in the way of fellowship and charity. When an enemy came to see him, he received him in the friendliest manner and invited him to his table, but in matters of scandal and corruption he was stern and unyielding. "Never," he said of one of his priests who was immoral, "shall a ribald exercise any cure of souls in my diocese of Chichester."
And always he rose early, long before his clergy were awake, passing through their dormitory to say his morning office by himself. He encouraged the Dominicans and Franciscans in his diocese, who aided him in reforming it.
His final task was a commission from the pope to undertake a preaching mission for the Crusade throughout the kingdom. He saw this as a call to a new life, which would also reopen the Holy Land to pilgrims, not as a political expedition. He began preaching the Crusade in his own church at Chichester and proceeded as far as Dover, where, after he had dedicated a church to his friend Saint Edmund and sung matins, he was taken ill, and died at the Maison- Dieu, a house of poor priests and pilgrims, in his 56th year. Among his last words, as he turned his face, lit up with peace, to an old friend, were: "I was glad when they said to me, We will go into the house of the Lord."
If Richard was a thorn in the side of an avaricious king, he was a saint to his flock, whose affection he won during his eight-year episcopate. Many miracles of healing were recorded during his lifetime, and many more after his death. Richard was deep in the hearts of his people, the sort of saint that anyone can recognize by his simplicity, holiness, and endless charity to the poor.
Richard built a magnificent tomb for his friend, Saint Edmund, and was himself buried there after his death. In 1276, his body was translated to a separate tomb that erected for him behind the high altar of Chichester cathedral, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage places in England. It was utterly destroyed in 1538 by the Reformers, and his body was buried secretly.
Legend says that Richard Backedine was a third order Dominican, though there is no positive proof. One tradition says that he was actually on his way to join the Dominican house in Orléans, when the letters came appointing him bishop. In the early days of the Order of Preachers, the name of Saint Richard was inserted as a saint to be commemorated among their feasts, a fact that offers strong evidence that Richard himself was a member of the order. His biography was written by one of his clergy, Ralph Bocking (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Capes, Delaney, Dorcy, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Gill, Walsh).
In art, Saint Richard is portrayed as a bishop blessing his people with a chalice by him, because he once dropped the chalice during a Mass, which remained unspilt. He may be shown (1) with the chalice at his feet; (2) kneeling with the chalice before him; (3) ploughing his brother's fields; or (4) blessing (Roeder). Unexpectedly, he is the patron of the coachmen's guild in Milan, Italy, presumably because he drove carts on his family farm (Farmer). His feast is observed in the dioceses of Southwark, Westminster, and Birmingham (Attwater2).
Sixtus I, Pope M (RM)
(also known as Xystus)
Born at Rome; died 127. After the death of Pope Alexander I, when the emperor Trajan ruled the Roman Empire, it was virtually certain that anyone who succeeded the pope would suffer martyrdom, for this was an age when Christians were savagely persecuted. Sixtus I took the office c. 117 knowing this, and survived as pope for about 10 years before being killed by the Roman authorities.
As well as displaying great bravery, Sixtus I must have been much concerned with the liturgy of the church as the Liber Pontificalis details three ordinances. It anachronistically says that at the Eucharist when the priests came to the words 'Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might; heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest,' Sixtus decreed that all the people in the church should join in as well. (Unfortunately, this cannot be true because the Sanctus was not added to the liturgy until a much later date: it was not included in the Mass of Hippolytus. Therefore, it is unclear how accurate the balance of the entry is.) It relates that he issued a decree that only the clergy should touch the sacred vessels and that bishops called to Rome should not be received back by their diocese unless they present Apostolic papers.
The Roman Martyrology says that Sixtus I was killed by the pagan Romans in the year 127 under Antonius the Pious, but there are no acta (Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia).
Vulpian of Tyre M (RM)
(also known as Ulpian)
Died c. 304. Saint Vulpian was a Syrian who was martyred in Tyre, Phoenicia. Because he firmly confessed Jesus as Lord before the judge Urbanus, his joints were dislocated on the rack. Thereafter, he was sewn into a leather sack with a dog and a wasp (or serpent), and drowned in the sea, according to Eusebius (De Mart. Palest., ch. 5) (Benedictines, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).
About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.