-by Mark A. McNeil, a former Oneness Pentecostal, was received into the Catholic Church in 1999.
“Although the modern spectacle of Halloween has for most eclipsed the day’s original case for celebration, the Eve of All Saints (All Hallows Eve), I’d like to propose that families consider a devotion placed by the Church on the same day, honoring a relatively unknown Jesuit brother: St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532-1617). In his life, we see that it is possible to have a powerful impact for Christ even while we perform simple, humble daily tasks with great love. No matter their mission, saints are always uniquely attractive.
The first half of Alphonsus’s life was full of tragedy. His poor father, a wool trader, died when Alphonsus was young. Years later, Alphonsus married Mary Suarez, though she would live for only five more years. Only one of their three children outlived Mary. Tragedy struck again within two years of her death when Alphonsus’s mother and remaining son both died.
Who wouldn’t be consumed by bitterness and anger in the face of such miserable misfortune? For the young widower, however, Alphonsus’s losses birthed a desire to consecrate his life completely to God. After his wife’s death, he immersed himself in intense prayer and rigid bodily disciplines.
As a young boy, Alphonsus briefly studied under Jesuit teachers. After the deaths of his loved ones, he sought to enter the Society of Jesus but was rejected because of his age, ill health, and lack of education.
Undeterred, Alphonsus enrolled in Latin school and found himself surrounded by students half his age who ridiculed him mercilessly. Still, he persisted, and after graduating at the age of forty, Alphonsus again sought to become a Jesuit priest. Impressed with his persistence if not his intellectual abilities, the Jesuits accepted him as a brother of the order, assigning to be a porter in the newly founded Jesuit school of Majorca.
Such a lowly role might have discouraged many, especially after everything he had been through. But Alphonsus made the most of his opportunity to serve and pursued his task with great care and devotion. As the years passed, his evident holiness and humility inspired many to seek spiritual counsel from the relatively unschooled porter.
Although most stories of Alphonsus’s life understandably focus on his prayerfulness and continual consciousness of God’s presence, others reveal his deeply human struggles with scrupulosity and agitations of mind. Obsession with rules can lead to mental torment about past and present sins and shortcomings. In this struggle, Alphonsus followed St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, who almost lost his battle with scrupulosity.
Ignatius was so tormented by his many sins that he came close to taking his own life during his stay in Manresa, the same place where he would begin to develop the highly influential Spiritual Exercises. For both Ignatius and Alphonsus, the crucible of interior pain would give birth to a path to hope and love for countless others influenced by them.
Of the many who were profoundly influenced by St. Alphonsus, St. Peter Claver is perhaps the best known. Claver, after receiving counsel from Alphonsus, devoted his life to tireless missionary work among the victims of the slave trade. Both Alphonsus and Claver would later be recognized by their order as models of what became a common refrain for Jesuits, “a man for others,” a phrase intended as a stark contrast to the temptation to be men “for ourselves.”
We can think of these opposing possibilities as forces that we can yield to or resist. One pulls us toward satisfying our own appetites and desires, whereas the other draws us to offer ourselves as a gift to others. The theme is evident throughout Scripture and Church teaching.
The seven deadly sins, for instance, are all self-centered distortions of human freedom. Beginning with a disproportionate and unrealistic sense of our own importance, pride stealthily lays the foundation of other sins of self-absorption and excess. The opposite is seen most clearly in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, which draw a person out of himself and toward God in prayer and in service to those made in his image.
We can choose to stay closed in upon ourselves, with one inevitable effect being a need to control and use others. The irony and tragedy, however, is that our own humanity is undermined in the ugliness that follows from such egoism. The Church offers a starkly different path by pointing us to the supreme Man for others: Jesus Christ.
St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, like all the saints, models the supreme Man for others he faithfully followed. On a day that now serves as an occasion for endless parades of ugliness and pride, he presents a beautiful example of the holy and humble faith that gives shape to his life. Like all the saints, Alphonsus shows us that Christ-like love and service are the most attractive witness of the gospel.”
Some saints attack the world head-on, like St. Peter Claver, SJ, the friend and disciple of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ. Others like Alphonsus himself fight personal battles against failure, loss, temptation, disease. Crucibles of interior pain that give birth to paths of hope and love. We tend to admire more activist champions such as Peter Claver, who worked among slaves for forty years. But why should we think any the less of saints such as Alphonsus, who was more like us in his ordinariness and suffering? And who showed us how to be faithful in long lasting spiritual and personal struggles?
“Another exercise is very valuable for the imitation of Christ—for love of Him, taking the sweet for the bitter and the bitter for sweet. So, I put myself in spirit before our crucified Lord, looking at Him full of sorrow, shedding His blood and bearing great bodily hardships for me.
As love is paid for in love, I must imitate Him, sharing in spirit all His sufferings. I must consider how much I owe Him and what He has done for me. Putting these sufferings between God and my soul, I must say, “What does it matter, my God, that I should endure for your love these small hardships? For you, Lord, endured so many great hardships for me.” Amid the hardship and trial itself, I stimulate my heart with this exercise. Thus, I encourage myself to endure for love of the Lord Who is before me, until I make what is bitter sweet. In this way learning from Christ our Lord, I take and convert the sweet into bitter, renouncing myself and all earthly and carnal pleasures, delights and honors of this life, so that my whole heart is centered solely on God.” -St Alphonsus Rodriquez, SJ
In his old age, Alphonsus experienced no relief from his trials. The more he mortified himself, the more he seemed to be subject to spiritual dryness, vigorous temptations, and even diabolical assaults. In 1617 his body was ravaged with disease and he died at midnight, October 30.
“Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
Jerzy (George) Popieluszko was born on September 14, 1947, in the village of Okopy near Suchowola in Poland. His parents were farmers. During his youth, while attending school, he kept a desire for the priesthood secret lest he be singled out by the Communists and victimized socially and academically. By the 1950s the Church in Poland was undergoing a vicious persecution. In 1953 the Cardinal Primate, Stefan Wyszynski, was arrested along with his auxiliary bishop and other immediate associates. Seven bishops were imprisoned, more than two thousand Polish priests were imprisoned, deported, or made to flee into exile, and thirty-seven of those priests were put to death. Nearly half the religious houses in Poland were closed, and more than seventy percent of the Catholic schools.
The persecution continued into the 1960s, however, realizing that they could not destroy the Church by blood and labor camps, the Reds employed other techniques against the clergy, such as monitoring sermons for “political” content, excessive taxation, and late-night arrests and interrogations. Then, in 1965, a schismatic National Catholic Church was established that would be subordinate to the atheistic government. It was a total failure. This was the year that eighteen-year-old Jerzy entered one of the seminaries that had not been forced to close. That freedom didn’t last long; his entire class was conscripted into the army. Many times the seminarian had to suffer for his Faith in this compulsory service. One time, an officer discovered his rosary and ordered him to grind it into the ground. Jerzey refused and was brutally beaten. There were other physical punishments that he suffered on account of his Catholic Faith, all of which contributed to serious health problems, which left him very thin and frail. When his period of military duty was over he returned to the seminary where he received “passing” grades, nothing to get high-headed about, but enough to qualify him to receive what he so greatly desired holy orders.
The Young Priest
On May 28, 1972, Jerzy Popieluszko was ordained by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. While serving as a parish priest, however, Father Popieluszko’s health grew worse. During one Mass, he collapsed and had to be hospitalized. To help his recovery he was assigned to a university parish in Warsaw and served as chaplain to a medical school. One incident, which occurred during Pope John Paul II’s first visit to Poland, exemplifies the kind of man Father Jerzey was. One of three girls who were bringing the Offertory gifts to the altar at the outdoor Mass (I am only reporting here, not supporting the innovation) had a letter for the Pope. The secret police, assuming that it was from the Solidarity Union, interrupted the procession and seized the letter. Seeing this, Father Popieluszko jumped over a barrier, grabbed the letter from the police and returned it in time to the girls. Fearing the crowds the police let him go; but, he would now be high on their “public enemy” list.
A New Challenge: Warsaw
After this incident, the young priest was re-assigned to Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw. Among his parishioners and extended flock were the steelworkers who were, at this time, conducting strikes as members of the Solidarity Union. Something happened to Father Jerzey during this chaplaincy to the steelworkers. Although he was beloved for his humility and zeal by the students, doctors, and nurses in his previous pastorate, now he seemed to be totally consumed, on fire for his people, for their sanctity, for their families, for their social rights as workingmen. He spent every spare minute he had with the factory workers, saying Mass, preaching, hearing confessions, and encouraging them in their pursuit of a just wage and humane working conditions. He was the confessor of Lech Walesa, who headed the Solidarity Union.
The transformation from a frail and sickly priest to a thundering and eloquent preacher, and ardent antagonist to the Communist regime, was astonishing. His sermons would draw tens of thousands, and they were aired regularly on Radio Free Europe. When the country fell under martial law, his monthly “Mass for the Homeland” gave the whole country a voice that kept hope alive. More than “inconvenient,” he had become the man the Communists feared most. He was setting Poland on fire. He had to be stopped.
To Suffer for, with, and in Christ
Father Popieluszko’s strong faith was the fruit of a lifetime of prayer. It was Christ whom he saw in the suffering of the Polish people: “The trial of Jesus goes on forever,” he bellowed in a sermon, “It continues through his brothers. Only their names, their faces, their dates, and their birthplaces change. If truth becomes for us a value, worthy of suffering and risk, then we shall overcome fear – the direct reason for our enslavement.” When, in 1983, a Franciscan convent was raided by the secret police and a young student murdered by Red thugs, it was Father Jerzey whose angry voice echoed that of a nation in captivity: “this was too little for Satan [the raid on the convent]. So he went further and committed a crime so terrible that the whole of Warsaw was struck dumb with shock. He cut short an innocent life. In bestial fashion he took away a mother’s only son.” He ended by saying “This nation is not forced to its knees by any satanic power. This nation has proved that it bends the knee only to God. And for that reason we believe that God will stand up for it.”
Popieluszko’s voice was heard far beyond Poland. Michael Kaufman, the New York Times’ Warsaw Bureau Chief took noted: “Nowhere else from East Berlin to Vladivostok,” he wrote, “could anyone stand before ten or fifteen thousand people and use a microphone to condemn the errors of state and party. Nowhere, in that vast stretch encompassing some four hundred million people, was anyone else openly telling a crowd that defiance of authority was an obligation of the heart, of religion, manhood, and nationhood.”
By this time the authorities had stepped up their persecution of the “meddlesome priest.” Interrogations became routine, many nights were spent in prison, and authorities even planted subversive literature and bomb-making materials in his apartment in order to inculpate him in a charge of violent insurrection.
The Pope, hearing of the persecution, called upon the Polish hierarchy to provide more protection for Father Popieluszko. He even sent him his own Rosary as a sign of support.
On October 13, 1984, the feast of the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Father Jerzy and his driver were traveling the Gdansk-Warsaw road when someone threw something at his car that would have caused a fatal “accident” had not the driver reacted quickly to avoid a crash.
A week later on October 19, 1984, despite warnings of “serious consequences” if he did so, Father Popieluszko celebrated Mass in the northern town of Bydgoszcz. Instead of preaching a sermon, he delivered a meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. His conclusion to the reflections were his last public words:
“In order to defeat evil with good, in order to preserve the dignity of man, one must not use violence. It is the person who has failed to win on the strength of his heart and his reason who tries to win by force… Let us pray that we may be free from fear and intimidation, but above all from lust for revenge and violence.”
On the return trip to Warsaw Father Jerzey’s car was blocked on a lonely road and intercepted by government security agents. His driver managed at some point to escape un-pursued; it was the priest they wanted. According to the driver’s testimony, Popieluszko was cuffed, beaten with clubs, gagged, and thrown into the trunk of one of the police cars that had cut him off. When he kept banging at the hood they opened the trunk and tied a rope around his neck and feet in such a way that if he moved his body he would choke to death. His body, which could have still been alive at the time, was thrown into the Vistula River. Ten days passed before it was found floating in the Wloclawek Reservoir. According to one priest, Father Groody, who must have questioned or read the testimony of witnesses: “The body was covered with deep wounds. His face was unrecognizable, his jaw, nose, mouth and skull were smashed. He was identified by his brother from a birthmark to the side of his chest.” The mortician who performed the post mortem said that he had never seen internal organs so damaged. “There was blood in his lungs and his kidneys and [his] intestines were reduced to pulp.”
Father Jerzey Popieluszko’s funeral was one of the largest in the history of Poland. An estimated half-million faithful attended it. His immediate killers, four policemen, were brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to a certain number of years in prison. The real executors, leading party members, like General Wojciech Jaruzelski, were, naturally, not implicated.
-for greater detail please click on the image
Prayer to Our Lady by Bl Jerzy Popieluszko
Mother of those who place their hope in Solidarity, pray for us.
Mother of those who are deceived, pray for us.
Mother of those who are betrayed, pray for us.
Mother of those who are arrested in the night, pray for us.
Mother of those who are imprisoned, pray for us.
Mother of those who suffer from the cold, pray for us.
Mother of those who have been frightened, pray for us.
Mother of those who were subjected to interrogations, pray for us.
Mother of those innocents who have been condemned, pray for us.
Mother of those who speak the truth, pray for us.
Mother of those who cannot be corrupted, pray for us.
Mother of those who resist, pray for us.
Mother of orphans, pray for us.
Mother of those who have been molested because they wore your image, pray for us.
Mother of those who are forced to sign declarations contrary to their conscience, pray for us.
Mother of mothers who weep, pray for us.
Mother of fathers who have been so deeply saddened, pray for us.
Mother of our suffering country _____, pray for us.
Mother of our faithful country _____, pray for us.
We beg you, O mother in whom resides the hope of millions of people, grant us to live in liberty and in truth, in fidelity to you and to your Son. Amen.
-from the writings of Bl Jerzy Popieluszko
“Evil can be conquered only by the one who himself is rich in good, takes care of self-development, and adorning themselves with such values that constitute the human dignity of a child of God. Multiplying good and conquering evil means looking after the dignity of a child of God, after one’s own human dignity.
Retaining dignity in order to multiply good and conquer evil means remaining internally free, even in the atmosphere of external slavery, remaining yourself in any situation. As sons of God we cannot be slaves. Our sonship carries with it the heritage of freedom. Freedom is given to man as a dimension of our greatness.
Keeping dignity in order to multiply good and conquer evil means being guided by justice in life. Justice flows from truth and love. The more truth and love there are in man, the more justice they have. Justice must coincide with love because without love one cannot be fully just. If there is a shortage of love and good, it is replaced with hate and violence.
Conquering evil with good means staying faithful to the truth. The truth is a very subtle feature of our minds. Striving for the truth was implanted in man by God Himself, therefore man is naturally oriented at the truth and reluctant to lie. The truth, just like justice, is related to love, and love costs a lot. Real love is sacrificial, therefore the truth must cost a lot as well. The truth always unites and binds people. A Christian’s duty is to stand by the truth, even if it were to cost a lot. The truth must be paid for; only chaff is free. The wheat of truth must at times be paid for.
In order to conquer evil with good, the virtue of fortitude must be taken care of. Fortitude consists in overcoming human weakness, especially fear and fright. A Christian must bear in mind that what they only ought to be fear is betraying Christ for a few pieces of silver of insipid peace. A Christian cannot be satisfied only with condemning evil, lies, cowardice, enslavement, hate, violence, but they must also be a real witness and defender of justice, goodness, truth, freedom, and love.
In order to conquer evil with good and retain human dignity, one cannot fight using violence. Who has not been able to win with heart and mind tries to win with violence. Each manifestation of violence proves moral inferiority. The most excellent and durable battles humankind and history have known are the battles of human thought. Let us pray so that we may be free from fear, intimidation, but above all from the desire to retaliate and be violent.”
-St. René Goupil (1642), St. Isaac Jogues (1646), St. Jean de Lalande (1646), St. Antoine Daniel (1648), St. Jean de Brébeuf (1649), St. Noël Chabanel (1649), St. Charles Garnier (1649), and St. Gabriel Lalemant (1649), please click on the image for greater detail.
“On Christmas Eve 1643, a merchant vessel left Cornwall southbound for Brittany, carrying cargo more precious than whatever filled its holds. Letting go anchor the next morning, the ship’s crew lowered a small rowboat, which left on the beach a man whose lined countenance suggested more than his thirty-six years. Making his way to a nearby fishing cottage, he found two men expecting perhaps a Catholic refugee of the English Civil War. They heard perfect French.
“Is there a church close where I can hear Mass?” begged the man.
“Yes—a monastery not far up the road. Mass begins soon. Come join us for breakfast after.”
The man raced up the road to the monastery, where with tears in his eyes he assisted at his first Mass in almost two years. Later he would write, “It was at this moment that I began to live once more. It was then that I tasted the sweetness of my deliverance.”
Later, devouring breakfast at the home of his hosts, the man could not conceal his deformed hands. What fingers he yet possessed were badly maimed. Some were mere stumps. Some had no fingernails. The thumb of his left hand was missing. The young daughters of the household gave him a few coins they had saved. A merchant from the village gave him a horse and pointed him 130 miles to Rennes, home of a college of the Society of Jesus.
Arriving on the eve of Epiphany, the man knocked on the door of the seminary asking for the rector.
“He is preparing to offer Mass.”
“Please tell him I have news from the Jesuit missions in New France.”
The rector came with all haste. “Do you know Fr. Isaac Jogues?” he asked. “He is a prisoner of the Iroquois. Is he dead? Is he alive?”
“I know him well. He is alive. I am he.”
Subsequently, Fr. Isaac Jogues, who had suffered capture, torture, privation, and every form of unspeakable humiliation for more than a year at the cruel hands of Mohawk savages, was for four months fêted by the royalty of France. Pope Urban VIII, who had who canonized Loyola and Xavier and patronized the Jesuit reductions in Latin America, joyfully granted Fr. Isaac a dispensation once again to offer Mass even though he lacked a canonical set of fingers and thumbs. Indignum esset Christi Martyrum Christi non bibere sanguinem, he wrote. “It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ not be allowed to drink the blood of Christ.”
Fr. Isaac was filled with joy to ascend again ad altare Dei, yet his heart’s prayer was to return to New France, to the native peoples of the St. Lawrence Valley for whom he desired more than anything to bring baptism and the salvation of Jesus Christ, knowing with near certainty that his return would bring to him a brutal martyrdom.
St. Isaac Jogues is one of the eight North American Martyrs, also called the Canadian Martyrs, canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI, whose heroic courage and sacrificial love we honor today. Their missionary work during the first half of the seventeenth century, especially among the Hurons, is an epic tale rich in opportunities for reflection.
When we are inconvenienced, for example, turning our imaginations to the daily lives of the Jesuit martyrs should prove a quick tonic. Knowing that to convert the Indians they had to live among them and live as they did, the Jesuits endured the smoke and the squalor of the Huron longhouses, with their lack of hygiene and rampant promiscuity. The missionaries paddled and portaged along with the natives, slept on the hard ground, endured the bitter Ontario cold, and subsisted on eels and corn paste.
The story should also refocus our appreciation of the sacrament of baptism. It would be seven years—after first learning their language and then catechizing the Hurons—before St. Jean de Brébeuf baptized a healthy adult native. In time, 7,000 Hurons had the doors of heaven opened to them through the waters of baptism—and good thing, for most of the Huron people were later massacred by the vicious Iroquois in their wars of expansion.
And vicious does not overstate it. In March of 1649, the Iroquois tribes—Mohawk and Seneca, especially—invaded the Huron lands with fury. Fr. Jean and his young colleague, Fr. Gabriel Lalemont, were taken prisoner and forced to watch as the Hurons they had come to love were slaughtered, their skulls split by Iroquois tomahawks. Those spared the tomahawk—women, children, sick, elderly—were burned to death in their longhouses.
Binding Brébeuf and Lalemont along with other Huron Christians, the Iroquois dragged them to the neighboring town of St. Ignace at the southeastern end of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. Stripped naked, the priests and their Huron sons in Christ were subjected to the gauntlet. With blood-curdling shrieks, the Iroquois beat the Christians with clubs before confining them to a cabin that Brébeuf himself had designed with the hopes that it would one day be a church. There the Huron Christians consoled one another while the priests gave absolution.
Then the torture continued. First, they broke Brébeuf’s fingers. They pulled out his fingernails and gnawed his fingertips. Next, they bound him to a post, which the saint kissed—the instrument of his martyrdom. They set burning sticks around his feet and ran torches up and down his body, between his legs, around his neck, and under his arms. The saint’s flesh began to blister, but he made no cry, so they slashed his flesh with knives.
To the Hurons enduring the same ordeal, Brébeuf called out, “My sons, my brothers, let us lift up our eyes to heaven in our affliction. Let us remember that God is the witness to our afflictions, and very soon he will be our exceedingly great reward. Let us die in our Faith. The glory that awaits us will never have an end.” As the Mohawks stabbed him with the heads of spears he repeated aloud: “Jesus have mercy on us.”
To silence the giant of a priest, the savages cut off his lower lip and thrust a hot poker down his throat. Then they brought out Lalemont, around whose naked waist they had fastened a girdle of pine bark. Tying him to a stake alongside Brébeuf the Mohawks set fire to the pine bark.
Around Brébeuf’s neck the Indians had fastened a necklace of hatchet heads heated red in the fire. If he leaned forward, they burned his back. If he leaned back, they scorched his chest. “Jesus have mercy on us!” was his only cry.
The Iroquois, in their diabolical frenzy, tied around him another girdle of pine bark and set it aflame. Traitorous Hurons poured boiling water over him in a mockery of baptism. They sliced strips of flesh from his legs and ate them as he watched. They cut off his nose, his upper lip, his tongue. They shoved a torch into his mouth and gouged out his eyes. Dragging him to a platform, they hacked off his feet, scalped him, tore open his chest, ripped out his heart and ate it. Then they drank his blood, hoping to acquire his courage. Finally, a blow from a tomahawk cut his face in two.
Fr. Lalemont they tortured similarly throughout the night, being certain to bring him only to the brink of death before giving him reprieve. The young priest whom his superior had doubted was physically fit for the rigors of the missions of New France endured sixteen hours of torture before the angel met him with the crown of martyrdom.
A final point of reflection: the Jesuits were the best and the brightest of their time. Their colleges provided the finest and broadest education in Europe. These men could have been bishops, university professors, seminary rectors. They could have been writing academic treatises or making scientific discoveries. There were no finer minds. We may find it odd that they left so much behind to endure the wilderness of New France, but there was a time when the world’s best and brightest were sent to do the world’s most important work: bring souls into the Catholic Church.
That human instinct, if you will, that the best and brightest take up the most important work, is still with us. It is what we regard as the most important work that has changed.”
Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.
As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” In October of 1564, the Viziers of the Divan of the Ottoman Empire assembled to urge their sultan to prepare for war with Malta. “Many more difficult victories have fallen to your scimitar than the capture of a handful of men on a tiny little island that is not well fortified,” they told him. Their words were flattering but true. During the five-decade reign of Soleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire grew to its fullest glory, encompassing the Caucuses, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Soleiman had conquered Aden, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, Rhodes, and Temesvar. His war galleys terrorized not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as well. His one defeat was at the gates of Vienna in 1529.
Malta was an infertile, dusty rock with so few natural springs that the Maltese had to collect rainwater in large clay urns. The island could sustain only the smallest population. Yet this little island guarded the Mediterranean passage from the Islamic East to the Christian West.
From its excellent natural harbors, the galleys of the Knights of Saint John could sail forth and disrupt any Turkish assault on Italy. They could also board and seize Turkish merchantmen carrying goods from France or Venice to be hawked in the markets of Constantinople. The ladies of Soleiman’s harem, who accumulated great wealth speculating in glass and other Venetian luxuries, nagged the sultan to take Malta.
Soleiman had bigger goals than pleasing these matrons, and he knew that, in Turkish possession, the harbors of Malta would afford him a base from which to continue his raids on the coast of Italy. With the greater control of the sea that it would afford him, he would be able to bring Venice to heel. An invasion of Sicily would be possible. Soleiman’s greatest dream, however, the dream of all Turks, the dream his soldiers toasted before setting off on every campaign, was the conquest of Rome. There the Turks could transform Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s, then under construction, into a mosque, just as they had Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia more than a century before.
Although the sultan had led his army on twelve major campaigns, this time his age would keep him home. The Turks sailed for Malta in the spring of 1565, and on May 18, their fleet was spotted offshore. That night, Jean de la Valette, the seventy-one-year-old Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, led his warriors into their chapel where they confessed and then assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
“A formidable army composed of audacious barbarians is descending on this island,” he told them. “These persons, my brothers, are the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today it is a question of the defense of our Faith. Are the Gospels to be superseded by the Koran? God on this occasion demands of us our lives, already vowed to His service. Happy will be those who first consummate this sacrifice.”
Many of Valette’s 700 knights and their men-at-arms did just that. While Europe stood idly by, expecting the fortress to fall, the knights held their island against an Ottoman army of 40,000, including 6500 of the sultan’s elite Janissaries. Three-quarters of the Turkish army were killed over the four-month siege, before the Ottoman survivors turned and straggled back to Constantinople.
Slaughter in Szigetvar
Soleiman was outraged. “I see that it is only in my own hand that my sword is invincible!” exploded the sultan, and by May of the following year he was leading an army of 300,000 men across the plains of Hungary, bound for Vienna.
When the Hungarian Count of Szigetvar, a fortress city on the eastern frontier of the Holy Roman Empire, led a successful raid on the Ottoman supply trains, Soleiman wheeled his massive army and swore to wipe the city off the map. Turkish engineers prepared flotillas and bridges to span the Drava and Danube rivers to lay siege to Szigetvar. To greet the sultan and to inspire his men, who were outnumbered fifty to one, Count Miklos Zrinyi raised a large crucifix over his battlements and fired his cannons in defiance. But Zrinyi knew that in a Hungary infested with Protestantism, hope of relief was even fainter than any the Knights of Malta had entertained the previous year.
For nearly a month, wave after wave of Turkish infantry were thrown back from the walls. Soleiman offered Zrinyi rule of all Croatia if he would yield his city, but he answered, “No one shall point his finger on my children in contempt.”
When the breaches made by the Turkish artillery were too large to defend, the Catholic count assembled his last 600 men. “With this sword” he shouted as he held the bejeweled weapon aloft, “I earned my first honor and glory. I want to appear with it once more before the eternal throne to hear my judgment.” Charging out of the remains of their stronghold, the courageous band was swallowed by a sea of Turks. To the last man the Hungarian knights died defending the Christian West. The Turks, furious at the losses their army had suffered, consoled themselves according to their grisly custom: they slaughtered every Christian civilian who had survived the siege.
Soleiman the Magnificent did not live to witness the massacre. He had died of dysentery four days earlier. Had he survived, however, this victory would have given him no comfort. The capture of Szigetvar was Pyrrhic. The Ottoman army had exhausted itself and was in no condition to carry on the campaign. Though they all died, Count Zrinyi and his heroic band were the true victors.
Back in Constantinople, Soleiman’s son ascended the throne by the usual Ottoman method: a complex harem intrigue designed to eradicate his worthier brothers. Unlike every previous sultan, Selim II, nicknamed “the Sot,” had little interest in warfare. His enthusiasms were for wine, his extraordinarily deviant sexual appetite, wine, poetry, and wine. Nevertheless, he sensed that without a decisive victory, the mighty empire his father had left him would be eclipsed.
The Attack on Cyprus
Selim II invaded Cyprus, the source of his favorite vintage. Half the population were Greek Orthodox serfs laboring under the exacting rule of their Venetian Catholic masters, and they offered little resistance. The Venetian senate was half-hearted about fighting for the island; upon receiving word of the invasion, senate members voted by the very small margin of 220 to 199 to defend it.
The Turks rolled through Cyprus, and after a forty-six day siege, the capital city of Nicosia fell on September 9, 1570. The 500 Venetians in the garrison surrendered on terms, but once the city gates were opened, the Turks rushed in and slaughtered them. Then they set on the civilian population, massacring twenty thousand people, “some in such bizarre ways that those merely put to the sword were lucky.” Every house was plundered. To protect their daughters from rape, mothers stabbed them and then themselves, or threw themselves from the rooftops. Still, “[t]wo thousand of the prettier boys and girls were gathered and shipped off as sexual provender for the slave markets in Constantinople.”
Then God intervened and sent one of history’s greatest popes, St. Pius V, who declared, “I am taking up arms against the Turks, but the only thing that can help me is the prayers of priests of pure life.” Michael Ghislieri, an aged Dominican priest when he ascended the Chair of Peter, faced two foes: Protestantism and Islam. He was up to the task. He had served as Grand Inquisitor, and the austerity of his private mortifications was a contrast to the lifestyles of his Renaissance predecessors. During his six-year reign, he promulgated the Council of Trent, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, issued the Roman Catechism and a new missal and breviary, created twenty-one cardinals, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and, aided by St. Charles Borromeo, led the reform of a soft and degenerate clergy and episcopacy.
The Holy League
In a papacy of great achievements, the greatest came on March 7, 1571, on the feast of his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas. At the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, Pope Pius formed the Holy League. Genoa, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Spain put aside their jealousies and pledged to assemble a fleet capable of confronting the sultan’s war galleys before the east coast of Italy became the next front in the war between the Christianity and Islam.
The day was not a total triumph, though. Venice refused to join. Though at war with the Turks over Cyprus, the Venetians never failed to consider their economy. They might well lose Cyprus, but a fast peace afterward would lead to the resumption of normal trade relations with the Turks. Moreover, the loss of the Venetian fleet in an all-out battle with the sultan’s galleys would be a disaster for a state so dependent on seaborne commerce. Walking back across the Tiber, the old monk wept for the future of Christendom. He knew that without the galleys of Venice, there was no hope of a fleet strong enough to face the Turks.
The rest of Europe ignored Pius’s call for a new crusade. In fact, the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, through her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, actively enlisted the aid of the Turks in her wars against Spain. France had openly traded with the Turks for years and as recently as 1569 had drawn up an extensive commercial treaty with them. For years the French had allowed Turkish ships to harbor in Toulon, and the oars that rowed Turkish galleys came from Marseilles. The cannons that brought down the walls of Szigetvar were of French design. With Venice at war with Constantinople, markets once filled by Venetian goods were open to France. Redeeming France from utter disgrace were the Knights of Saint John of Malta, who sent their galleys to join the Holy League, eager to do battle with Islam.
As the Pope prayed for Venice to answer a higher call, a new breed of fiery priests led by stirring preachers like St. Francisco Borgia, superior general of the Jesuits, inflamed the hearts of Christian Europeans throughout the Mediterranean with their sermons against Islam. Enough Venetians must have been listening, because on May 25 Venice at last joined the Holy League. By fits and starts, with hesitation and quarreling on the part of a few of the principal players, the fleet of the Holy League was forming.
The man chosen by Pius V to serve as Captain General of the Holy League did not falter: Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the late Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and half-brother of Philip II, King of Spain. The young commander had distinguished himself in combat against Barbary corsairs and in the Morisco rebellion in Spain, a campaign in which he demonstrated his capacity for swift violence when the threat called for it and restraint when charity demanded it.
He was a great horseman, a great swordsman, and a great dancer. With charm, wit, and good looks in abundance, he was popular among the ladies of court. Since childhood he had cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He spoke Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, and kept a pet marmoset and a lion cub that slept at the foot of his bed. He was twenty-four years old.
Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, “The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”
The Death of Bragadino
In late summer of 1571, as Don John was making his way to the harbor at Messina to take command of his fleet, the situation on Cyprus was growing more desperate. The Venetian colonists had claimed the lives of some 50,000 Turks with their intrepid defense of Famagusta, but when their gunpowder and supplies were exhausted, when they had eaten their last horse, their shrewd governor, Marcantonio Bragadino, sent a message to the Turkish commander, Lala Mustafa, asking for terms. The Turks agreed to give the remaining Venetian soldiers passage to Crete on fourteen Turkish galleys in exchange for the surrender of the city. The Greek Cypriots would be allowed to retain their property and their religion.
On August 4, 1571, Bragadino, with a small entourage including several young pages, met with Mustafa and his advisors in the Turkish general’s tent. Mustafa lecherously demanded Bragadino’s page, Antonio Quirini, as a hostage for the fourteen galleys. When Bragadino calmly refused, he and his men were pushed out of the tent by Mustafa’s guards. Bragadino was bound and forced to watch as his attendants were hacked to pieces. The pages were led off in chains. The Turks thrice thrust the Venetian governor’s neck on the executioner’s block and thrice lifted it off. Instead of his head, they cut off his nose and ears. To prevent his bleeding to death, they cauterized the wounds with hot irons.
The Venetian soldiers of the garrison, unaware that Mustafa had broken the terms of the surrender, began their march down to the galleys, expecting passage to Crete. Once aboard, the Venetians were set upon by Turkish soldiers, who stripped them of their clothes and chained them to the oars. From their benches they witnessed some of the horrifying ordeal to which the Turks now subjected Bragadino.
First the Turks fitted the governor with a harness and bridle and led him around the Turkish camp on his hands and knees. Ass panniers filled with dung were slung across his back. Each time he passed Lala Mustafa’s tent he was forced to kiss the ground. Then he was strung up in chains, hoisted over a galley spar, and left to hang for a time. Finally, the courageous governor was dragged into the city square and lashed to the pillory, where the Turks flayed him alive. Witnesses said they heard him whispering a Latin prayer. He died “when the executioner’s knife reached the height of his navel.” The diabolical orgy did not end there. Mustafa had the governor’s skin stuffed, hoisted it up the mast of his galley, and joined the Ottoman fleet headed west.
Don John Takes Command
As Bragadino was losing his life to the Turkish monsters, Don John was inspecting his ships. Of the 206 galleys and 76 smaller boats that constituted the Holy League fleet, more than half came from Venice. The next largest contingent came from Spain, and included galleys from Sicily, Naples, Portugal, and Genoa, the latter owned by the Genovese condottiere admiral, Gianandrea Doria. Not only was Doria renting his services and the use of his ships to Philip at costs thirty percent higher than Philip paid to run his own galleys, he was lending the money to the Spanish king at fourteen percent! The balance of the galleys came from the Holy See.
Don John took charge of his fleet and promptly forbade women from coming aboard the galleys. He declared that blasphemy among the crews would be punishable by death. The whole fleet followed his example and made a three-day fast.
By September 28, the Holy League had made its way across the Adriatic Sea and was anchored between the west coast of Greece and the Island of Corfu. By this time, news of the death of Bragadino had reached the Holy League, and the Venetians were determined to settle the score. Don John reminded his fleet that the battle they would soon engage in was as much spiritual as physical.
Pius V had granted a plenary indulgence to the soldiers and crews of the Holy League. Priests of the great orders, Franciscans, Capuchins, Dominicans, Theatines, and Jesuits, were stationed on the decks of the Holy League’s galleys, offering Mass and hearing confessions. Many of the men who rowed the Christian galleys were criminals. Don John ordered them all unchained, and he issued them each a weapon, promising them their freedom if they fought bravely. He then gave every man in his fleet a weapon more powerful than anything the Turks could muster: a Rosary.
On the eve of battle, the men of the Holy League prepared their souls by falling to their knees on the decks of their galleys and praying the Rosary. Back in Rome, and up and down the Italian Peninsula, at the behest of Pius V, the churches were filled with the faithful telling their beads. In Heaven, the Blessed Mother, her Immaculate Heart aflame, was listening.
In the quiet of night, Don John met with his admirals on the deck of his flagship Real to review once more the order of battle. He had divided his fleet into four squadrons. Commanding the squadron on his left flank was a Venetian warrior named Agostin Barbarigo. The center squadron was commanded by Don John, assisted on either side by his vice admirals, the Roman Marcantonio Colonna, and the Venetian Sebastian Veniero. Directly behind the center squadron, Don John stationed the reserve squadron, commanded by the Spaniard Don Alvaro de Bazan, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. The right squadron was under the command of the Genovese Gianandrea Doria. Arrayed for battle, the mighty armada of the Holy League looked like nothing if not a Latin Cross.
Doria, despite his mercenary motives, had been the source of sound tactical counsel.
“Cut off the spars in the prows of the fleet’s galleys,” he told Don John. Galleys had been equipped with bow spars or rams since the days of Salamis. “This will permit the centerline bow cannons to depress further and fire their rounds at the waterline of the enemy hulls.” Don John’s famous order to remove these spars was a signal moment in naval warfare, heralding the age of gunpowder.
Doria also advised taking the League’s six galleases and stationing them in the van, two before each of the three forward squadrons. A galleas was a large, multi-decked, Venetian merchant galley that had been outfitted with cannons not only on its bow, but also along its port and starboard sides. Where an ordinary galley was most vulnerable, a galleas packed heavy firepower. Don John increased their lethality by packing the decks with Spanish shooters (arquebusiers), bearing their handheld, smoothbore, heavy guns. Though slow moving, these six galleases would provide a powerful shock at the start of the battle.
Doria was an admiral, but he was also a shipowner. He looked at Don John, raised his eyebrows, opened his palm, and offered, “There is still time, your grace, to avoid pitched battle.”
The young Captain General stood surrounded by men older and with greater seafaring and military experience than he. Silence filled the small stateroom as these men waited to hear his response. He caught their eyes, each one of them, as he looked around.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “The time for counsel has passed. Now is the time for war.”
The Divine Breath
It was. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the Holy League rowed down the west coast of Greece and turned east into the Gulf of Patras. When the morning mist cleared, the Christians, rowing directly against the wind, saw the squadrons of the larger Ottoman fleet arrayed like a crescent from shore to shore, bearing down on them under full sail.
As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer. Priests holding large crucifixes marched up and down the decks exhorting the men to be brave and hearing final confessions.
Then the Blessed Virgin intervened.
The wind shifted 180 degrees. The sails of the Holy League were filled with the Divine breath, driving them into battle. Now heading directly into the wind, the Turks were forced to strike their sails. The tens of thousands of Christian galley slaves who rowed the Turkish vessels felt the sharp sting of the lash summoning them up from under their benches and demanding they take hold of their oars and pull against the wind.
Don John knelt on the prow of Real and said a final prayer. Then he stood and gave the order for the Holy League’s battle standard, a gift from Pius V, to be unfurled. Christians up and down the battle line cheered as they saw the giant blue banner bearing an image of our crucified Lord.
The fleets engaged at midday. The first fighting began along the Holy League’s left flank, where many of the smaller, swifter Turkish galleys were able to maneuver around Agostin Barbarigo’s inshore flank. The Venetian admiral responded with a near impossibility: He pivoted his entire squadron, fifty-four ships, counterclockwise and began to pin the Turkish right flank, commanded by Mehemet Sirrocco, against the north shore of the Gulf of Patras. Gaps formed in Barbarigo’s line and Ottoman galleys broke into the intervals. As galley pulled up along galley, the slaughter brought on by cannon, musket ball, and arrow was horrific, but the Venetians in time prevailed. Barbarigo took an arrow to the eye, but before he died he learned of the death of Sirrocco and the crushing defeat of the Turkish right line.
In the center of the battle, breaking a convention of naval warfare, the opposing flagships engaged—Don John’s Real with Muezzinzade Ali Pasha’s Sultana. Twice Spanish infantry boarded and drove the Sultana’s Janissaries back to the mast, and twice they were driven back to the Real by Ottoman reinforcements. Don John led the third charge across Sultana’s bloodied deck. He was wounded in the leg, but Ali Pasha took a musketball to the forehead. One of Real’s freed convicts lopped off the Turkish admiral’s head and held it aloft on a pike. The Muslims’ sacred banner, with the name of Allah stitched in gold calligraphy 28,900 times, which Islamic tradition held was carried in battle by the Prophet, was captured by the Christians. Terror struck the Turks, but the fight was far from won.
On the Holy League’s right flank, Doria was forced to increase the intervals between his galleys to keep his line from being flanked on the south by the larger Ottoman squadron under the command of the Algerian Uluch Ali. When the space between Doria’s squadron and Don John’s grew large enough, Uluch Ali sent his corsairs through the gap to envelop the galleys of Don John’s squadron from behind. Don Alvaro de Bazan, commanding the Holy League’s reserve squadron of thirty-five galleys, had carefully kept his ships out of the fray until the moment came when he was most needed. Now he entered the fight, rescuing the center of the Holy League from the Turkish vessels that had surrounded them before turning his squadron south to aid the outmanned Doria.
The fighting lasted for five hours. The sides were evenly matched and well led, but the Divine favored the Christians, and once the battle turned in their favor it became a rout. All but thirteen of the nearly 300 Turkish vessels were captured or sunk and over 30,000 Turks were slain. Not until the First World War would the world again witness such carnage in a single day’s fighting. In the aftermath of the battle, the Christians gave no quarter, making sure to kill the helmsmen, galley captains, archers, and Janissaries. The sultan could rebuild ships, but without these men, it would be years before he would be able to use them.
The news of the victory made its way back to Rome, but the Pope was already rejoicing. On the day of the battle, Pius had been consulting with his cardinals at the Dominican Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill. He paused in the midst of their deliberations to look out the window. Up in the sky, the Blessed Mother favored him with a vision of the victory. Turning to his cardinals he said, “Let us set aside business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for he has given our fleet a great victory.”
Interesting Facts about the Battle
A young contemporary of Don John’s, Miguel Cervantes, fought with abandon and lost his left hand to a Turkish blade. With his remaining hand, he later penned Spain’s greatest novel, Don Quixote.
On another galley, a soldier of the Holy League, his soul torn with despair, took his sword to the ship’s crucifix. The blade instantly shattered. Many years later, an attempt to re-forge the sword was made, but when the new blade was pulled from the fire, it fell to pieces.
The crucifix on board the Real, which twisted itself to avoid a Turkish cannonball, is displayed in a side chapel of the cathedral of Barcelona.
Gianandrea Doria carried on his galley a gift from the king of Spain, an image that is now displayed in the Doria chapel in the cathedral in Genoa. Exactly forty years before the battle of Lepanto, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a peasant boy leaving a miraculous image of herself on his smock. The bishop of the region immediately commissioned an artist to paint five copies of the image, and he touched each one to the original. Our Lady of Guadalupe was present at Lepanto.
Timeline for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary
In thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto on the first Sunday of October 1571, Pope St. Pius V ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made on that day.
At the request of the Dominican Order, in 1573 Pope Gregory XIII allowed the feast to be kept in all churches with an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary.
In 1671, the observance of the feast was extended by Pope Clement X to the whole of Spain.
Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on August 6, 1716, the feast of our Lady of the Snows, at Peterwardein in Hungary.
Other Feasts That Celebrate Military Victories
May 24, Our Lady Help of Christians, commemorates the defeat of one of history’s greatest generals (and most wicked men), Napoleon Bonaparte.
August 6, The Transfiguration of Christ, was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Calixtus III to celebrate legendary Hungarian general János Hunyadi’s victory over the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. This feast has great significance for Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches.
September 12, the Holy Name of Mary, celebrates the victory of John Sobieski and his Polish warriors over the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683.
Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius, 2004)
The Galleys at Lepanto by Jack Beeching (Scribner, 1983 – out of print; used copies available online)
Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know by Diane Moczar (Sophia Institute, 2006)
Prayer to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary
O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, in these times of such brazen impiety, manifest thy power with the signs of thine ancient victories.
From thy throne whence thou dispense pardon and grace, mercifully regard the Church of thy Son, His Vicar on Earth, and every order of clergy, religious, and laity, who are oppressed in this mighty conflict.
Thou who art powerful, the vanquisher of all heresies, hasten the hour of mercy, even though the hour of God’s justice is every day provoked by the countless sins of men, the sons and daughters of Adam.
Obtain for me, the least of men, kneeling before thee in supplication, the grace I need to live righteously upon earth, in order to be numbered among the just in heaven.
In the company of all faithful Christians throughout the world, I salute thee and acclaim thee as Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.
“And thus Christ’s faithful warriors, prepared to sacrifice their life and blood for the salvation of their faith and their country, proceeded undauntedly to meet their foe near the Gulf of Corinth, while those who were unable to take part formed a pious band of supplicants, who called on Mary, and unitedly saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant the victory to their companions engaged in battle. Our Sovereign Lady did grant her aid; for in the naval battle by the Echinades Islands, the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory . . . “
When Mayne was born, King Henry VIII, who had broken England’s communion with the Holy Father in 1535. His son and successor, Edward VI (1547-1553), had persisted in the schism. Edward’s successor was his Catholic sister Mary (1553-1558), who restored England to the Catholic Church. Mary’s death, however, ended the prospects of a Catholic England. At the beginning of her reign, her sister Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), a Protestant, reversed Mary’s restoration of Catholicism. The Act of Supremacy of 1558 had reestablished Elizabeth as head of the English church, and the Act of Uniformity of 1559 had made Archbishop Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer the only lawful liturgical book in England. Like her father Henry VIII, Elizabeth brooked little opposition. Catholic priests who had been educated and ordained at William Allen’s seminary for English priests at Douai, in Belgium, particularly incensed her regime. Priests who had been in the country during the reign of Mary (1553-1558) were grudgingly permitted their lives; émigré priests, however, were hunted down and disembowelled.
The religious reign of terror of the regime forced the vast majority of Englishmen, Catholic though they were in their religious preferences, to conform to the “Elizabethan Religious Settlement.” Pockets of Catholics nonetheless soldiered on. As the scholarship of Eamon Duffy shows very clearly, Cuthbert Mayne’s native shire of Devon was particularly loyal to Catholic Christianity. Mayne was raised by an uncle, a priest who had conformed to Anglicanism. Mayne was likewise ordained a priest of the Anglican Church at about eighteen years of age. After ordination, he studied at Oxford University. By 1570, Mayne had received a Master of Arts degree, and in the meantime made the acquaintance of Edmund Campion, a Jesuit. Campion and other Catholics at Oxford had made a deep impression on Mayne, who came to believe in the truth of Catholic Christianity.
From the new seminary for English Catholic priests at Douai, in Belgium, Campion wrote and encouraged Mayne to emigrate and study there for the priesthood. In 1573, Mayne was formally received into the Catholic Church, and became a seminarian. By 1576 he was ordained, and became the fifteenth of the Douai priests to return to England.
-Golden Manor house, Cornwall, UK, ancestral home of Francis Tregian
A Catholic estate-owner by the name of Francis Tregian accepted Mayne as a member of his household. Mayne served outwardly as Tregian’s steward, while secretly ministering as priest. Protestant locals must have grown suspicious and reported the possibility of a Catholic priest in Tregian’s household to the authorities, and pursuivants, as Elizabeth’s secret religious police were known, arrested Mayne for having a copy of the Agnus dei written on a parchment he wore around his neck. Late medieval English Catholics often wore prayers around the neck, as protection against sin and misfortune, a practice Protestants despised as superstition.
The conditions of Mayne’s imprisonment were appalling. Since the case against him was weak, prosecutors were in no hurry to file formal charges against him. In the end, was indicted for “crimes” he had committed while a prisoner. The government accused Mayne of advocating for the papal supremacy among his fellow prisoners, and of having celebrated the Mass in his cell.
While awaiting trial at the circuit assizes in September, Mayne was imprisoned in Launceston Castle. At the opening of the trial on 23 September 1577 there were five counts against him: first, that he had obtained from the Roman See a “faculty” (or bulla), in violation of, the Statute of Praemunire and 13 Elzabeth I, c. 2, making it treason punishable by death to bring into England papal bulls, to possess them, or promulgate them, such as the one in the possession of Cuthbert Mayne containing absolution of the Queen’s subjects; second, that he had published the same at Golden Manor, ancestral home of his friend, host, protector, and benefactor, Francis Tregian, one of the wealthiest men in Cornwall; third, that he had taught the ecclesiastical authority of the pope and denied the queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy while in prison, a violation of 5 Elizabeth I, c. 1, against maintaining and defending the authority and the power of the Bishop of Rome in print, writing, words, or deed ‘making it treasonable to: maliciously, advisedly, and directly publish, declare, hold opinion, affirm or say by any speech express words or saying, that our said sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth during her life is not nor ought not to be Queen of this realm of England and also of the realms of France and Ireland; or that any other person or persons ought of right to be King or Queen of the said being under her Majesty’s obeisance…it also being treason to call the monarch a heretic, schismatic, infidel, or usurper.’ , and 23 Elizabeth I, c. 1, ‘That all persons whatsoever, which have or shall have, or shall pretend to have Power, or shall by any Ways or Means put in Practice to absolve, persuade or withdraw any of the Queen’s Majesty’s Subjects, or any within her Highness Realms or Dominions, from the their Natural Obedience to her Majesty: (2), Or to withdraw them from that Intent from the Religion now by her Highness Authority established within her Highness Dominions, to the Romish Religion, (3) or to move them or any of them to promise and Obedience to any pretended Authority of the See of Rome, or to any other Prince, State or Potentate, to be had or used within her Dominions, (4) or shall do any overt Act to the Intent or Purpose; and every of the shall be to all Intents adjudged to be Traytors, and being thereof lawfully convicted shal have Judgement, suffer and forfeit, as in Case of High Treason.’; fourth, that he had brought into the kingdom an Agnus Dei (a Lamb of God sealed upon a piece of wax from the Paschal candle blessed by the pope) and delivered it to Francis Tregian; fifth, that he had celebrated Mass.
Mayne answered all counts. On the first and second counts, he said that the supposed “faculty” was merely a copy printed at Douai of an announcement of the Jubilee of 1575, and that its application having expired with the end of the jubilee, he certainly had not published it either at Golden (the manor house of Francis Tregian) or elsewhere. On the third count, he said that he had asserted nothing definite on the subject to the three illiterate witnesses who swore to the contrary. On the fourth count, he said that the fact he was wearing an Agnus Dei at the time of his arrest did not establish that he had brought it into the kingdom or delivered it to Tregian. On the fifth count, he said that the presence of a Missal, a chalice, and vestments in his room did not establish that he had said Mass.
Irregularities of procedure plagued the case against Mayne, but the government was determined to take his life, and the court condemned him to death. Mayne responded, “Deo gratias!”
The day before his execution, the government offered to spare his life in exchange for acknowledgement of the queen’s supremacy and renouncing Roman Catholicism, by testifying against Tregian and revealing other Catholics. Declining both offers, he kissed a copy of the Bible, declaring that, “the queen neither ever was, nor is, nor ever shall be, the head of the church of England”
The following day, Mayne was hanged for about one minute, cut down still alive, most sources say unconscious since his head had hit the scaffolding with such a force it knocked his eyeballs from their sockets, and butchered. Pope Paul VI canonized him in 1970. No one whom Mayne, the first of the Elizabethan priest-martyrs, received into the Catholic Church ever relapsed. Not even persecution could rob his ministry of its fruits. He was the first seminary, as opposed to religious order priest, or proto-martyr, for secular/seminary priests to be martyred in England.
-skull of St Cuthbert Mayne, Carmelite Convent, Lanherne, Cornwall, UK
-reliquary of St Cuthbert Mayne in situ, sitting above the coffin detritus in the grave identified as that of Captain Gabriel Archer, Jamestown, Virginia, USA. In the harsh winter of 1609-1610, settlers at Jamestown placed a small silver case with a slide opening etched with a single letter ─ M ─ carefully on top of a white oak coffin and then covered it with the hard, cold dirt of the New World. Inside the silver encasing were seven bone fragments and two lead ampulae filled with water, oil, dirt, or blood.
-reliquary after preservation. The fine silver work of the hexagonal tube is juxtaposed with the crudely made M, scratched on the slide opening.
“Holding the reliquary in the palm of one’s hand is instructive. It is small, measuring just under three inches in length and an inch and a half in diameter. Conservators at Jamestowne Rediscovery have meticulously restored it, freeing its silver encasement of the green oxidation from sitting in the invariably wet clay soil of James Fort for over four hundred years. It has heft. As it is moved back and forth you can hear and feel that there are loose things inside, imbuing it with a sense of mysterious liveliness. Its slide top has corroded shut. The contents, however, are clear, thanks to CT scans which revealed the bone fragments to be tibia and allowed the conservators, archaeologists, and anthropologists at Jamestowne Rediscovery and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to know the exact dimensions of the contents.4 They have created a reproduction, which helps further our understanding of the sealed object (Fig. 3). In essence, the reliquary is a combination object; it holds seven human bones and other effluvia, presumably human.” –https://mavcor.yale.edu/conversations/essays/jamestown-s-relics-sacred-presence-english-new-world
-reproductions of Jamestown, VA reliquary (1609/10) and contents
Relics of Mayne’s body survive. A portion of his skull is in the Carmelite Convent at Lanherne, Cornwall. Christopher M. B. Allison suggests that the silver reliquary discovered in 2015 at Jamestown, Virginia in the grave of Captain Gabriel Archer (died 1609/10) may contain a relic of Mayne.
Litany of St Cuthbert Mayne, Priest & Martyr
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Queen of the English, pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Saint Cuthbert Mayne, pray for us.
Who wast of mild nature and sweet behaviour, pray for us.
Who didst repent of the trappings of false religion, pray for us.
Who didst at length embrace the True Faith, pray for us.
Who didst flee abroad to be priested, pray for us.
Who didst study for the priesthood at Douai, pray for us.
Who wast desirous as a priest to honour God, pray for us.
Who wast desirous to offer reparation for sin, pray for us.
Who wast inflamed with zeal to save souls, pray for us.
Who wast sent in secret to England, pray for us.
Who didst labour in Cornwall, enduring danger and peril, pray for us.
Who didst reconcile so many to the Church, pray for us.
Who wast seized by evil men, pray for us.
Who wast cruelly imprisoned, pray for us.
Who wast wrongfully tried, pray for us.
Who wast unjustly convicted, pray for us.
Who didst refuse to swear the unlawful oath, pray for us.
Who wast condemned to death, pray for us.
Who didst pray so earnestly, pray for us.
Who wast illumined by a great light, pray for us.
Who wast hung, drawn, and quartered, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Launceston, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Douai, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Oxford, pray for us.
Protomartyr of the seminary priests, pray for us.
Of whose converts none ever recanted, pray for us.
Whose relics work miracles, pray for us.
Who dost reign with Christ for ever, pray for us.
All ye holy Martyrs of England and Wales, pray ye for us.
Be merciful, spare us, O Lord.
Be merciful, graciously hear us, O Lord.
From all evil, deliver us, O Lord.
From all sin, deliver us, O Lord.
From the snares of the devil, deliver us, O Lord.
From anger, and hatred, and all ill will, deliver us, O Lord.
From error, dissension, and division, deliver us, O Lord.
From heresy and schism, deliver us, O Lord.
From everlasting death, deliver us, O Lord.
By thine eternal priesthood, deliver us, O Lord.
By that ministry whereby thou didst glorify thy Father upon earth, deliver us, O Lord.
By thine institution of the most holy Eucharist, deliver us, O Lord.
By thy bloody immolation of thyself made once upon the cross, deliver us, O Lord.
By that same sacrifice daily renewed on the altar, deliver us, O Lord.
By that divine power, which thou, the one and invisible priest, dost exercise in thy priests, deliver us, O Lord.
By the triumph of thy grace in all thy holy martyrs, deliver us, O Lord.
We sinners, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to rule and preserve thy holy Church, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to preserve the Apostolic See, and all ecclesiastical orders, in holy religion, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to humble the enemies of holy Church, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to grant peace and unity to all Christian people, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to recall all the erring to the unity of the Church, and to lead all unbelievers to the light of the Gospel, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to send faithful and unshakeable workers into thy harvest, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to deliver us from all heresy, faithlessness, and blindness of heart, we beseech thee, hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee, hear us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Our Father… (in secret until)
V/. And lead us not into temptation.
R/. But deliver us from evil.
Ant. Under the altar of God I heard the voice of the slain saying: Why dost thou not avenge our blood? And they received the divine response: Wait yet a little while, until the number of your brethren be fulfilled. (P.T. Alleluia.)
V/. What torments were suffered by all the saints.
R/. That they might securely come to the palm of martyrdom.
V/. The bodies of the saints are buried in peace.
R/. And their names shall live for evermore.
V/. Precious in the sight of the Lord.
R/. Is the death of his saints.
V/. The saints have entered the kingdom with palms.
R/. They have merited crowns of beauty from the hand of God.
V/. O ye Martyrs of the Lord, bless ye the Lord for ever.
R/. O ye choir of Martyrs, praise ye the Lord in the highest.
V/. Thee the white-robed army of Martyrs praise, O Lord.
R/. Thee the holy Church throughout the world doth confess.
V/. Make us to be numbered with thy saints.
R/. In glory everlasting.
V/. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R/. And let my cry come unto thee.
Let us pray.
O God, who didst grant to blessed Cuthbert before the other seminary priests to run the road of torments for the salvation of souls: grant to us in thy mercy, that inflamed with the same zeal for souls, we may not hesitate to lay down our lives for others.
Increase in us, O Lord, faith in the resurrection, who dost work wonders by the relics of thy Saints: and make us partakers of that immortal glory, a pledge of which we venerate in their ashes.
Stir up in us, O Lord, the Spirit that the blessed Martyrs of Douai obeyed: that being filled with the same, we may study to love what they loved, and to do the works that they taught.
O God, who didst strengthen thy blessed Martyrs Cuthbert and his companions with unconquerable courage, that they might fight for the true faith and the primacy of the Apostolic See: by hearkening unto their prayers, we beseech thee to help our frailty, that, strong in faith, we may be able to resist the enemy even to the end.
O God, who didst raise up thy blessed Martyrs Bishop John, Thomas, and their companions from every walk of life to be champions of the true faith and of the Supreme Pontiff: by their merits and prayers, grant that, by profession of the same faith, all may be made and remain one, as thine own Son prayed.
We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to receive the prayers of thy Church: that, all adversities and errors being destroyed, she may serve thee in secure freedom.
O God, who dost correct those who have erred, and dost gather those who were scatttered, and dost preserve those who have been gathered together: we beseech thee, clemently pour forth upon Christian people the grace of union with thee, that, rejecting division, and joining themselves to the true shepherd of thy Church, they may be able to worthily serve thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who with thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
V/. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R/. And let my cry come unto thee.
V/. By the intercession of blessed Cuthbert, may almighty God bless us, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
V/. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
-Agnus Dei discs from the collection of Gary Minella, Queens, New York. The wording on the disc on the left reads: “ECCE AGN DEI … PECC . MUNDI” and “PIUS XI PM … ANNO P XIV MCMXXXV”.
Agnus Dei sacramental
The Agnus Dei is an ancient sacramental―a sacred object, or action, which the believer uses for the purpose of obtaining spiritual favors through the Church’s intercession. It might possibly be the Church’s oldest sacramental. There are historical accounts as to their existence even as far back as the sixth century. However, most people these days are completely unaware of them. In fact, some of the brightest theological minds in the Church have never even seen an Agnus Dei.
The Agnus Dei, whose name means “Lamb of God,” is a blessed wax disc impressed with the figure of the Lamb of God. But just as the St. Benedict Medal is not merely blessed but also exorcised, so too is the Agnus Dei consecrated rather than merely blessed by a reigning pope.
Traditionally Agnus Deis are consecrated only during the first year of a pope’s pontificate, and then again every seven years.
They are either round or oval. The lamb depicted upon them usually bears a cross or a flag. It’s not uncommon that images of saints or the name and arms of the consecrating pope are embossed on the reverse. This sacramental may be worn suspended around the neck or preserved as an object of devotion.
Centuries ago, popes would consecrate these sacramentals on Holy Saturday. They were made of the reworked wax from the previous year’s Paschal candles, to which chrism and balsam was added. Later, the Agnus Deis were consecrated on the Wednesday of Easter week and distributed on the Saturday of the same week.
In recent centuries, the task of preparing them was given to monks and nuns who would similarly collect the previous year’s Paschal candles. Cardinals visiting the pope would be given a disk to mark their visit. The cardinals would then in turn place them in their miter—probably because they didn’t have pockets back then. The Cardinals would then distribute the Agnus Deis to those in need of them.
The sacramental is rich in symbolism, mostly from the Old Testament. As in the Paschal candle, the wax symbolizes the virgin flesh of Christ. This is because medieval people believed that the bee was the only animal that reproduced without the benefit of sexual congress—thus, the fruit of their bodies, the wax, was produced “virginally.”
The lamb bearing a cross embossed on the disk is to remind the Christian of the Mosaic sacrifice in which a lamb was offered to God as an expiation of sins. The lamb’s shed blood would then protect Jewish households from the destroying angel (Exodus 12:1-28). Thus, the Agnus Dei emulates and reflects this blessing protecting the bearer from all malign influences. The prayers used in preparing the wax medallions make special mention of protection against storms, pestilence, fire, floods, and the dangers to which women are exposed during pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, several miracles have been attributed to these sacramentals including extinguished fires and stayed floods. In fact, Pope St. Pius V, fearing that the rising Tiber would flood Rome, threw an Agnus Dei into the river which immediately subsided.
In their writings, Popes Urban V, Paul II, Julius III, Sixtus V and Benedict XIV specifically mention some of the special virtues attributed to the Agnus Dei:
foster piety, banish tepidity, deliver from temptation, preserve from vice, preserve from eternal ruin and dispose to virtue.
cancel venial sins and purify from the stain left by grievous sin after it has been remitted in the Sacrament of Penance.
protection against sudden and spiritually unprovided death. (i.e., securing a happy death)
banish evil spirits.
dispel fears occasioned by evil spirits.
protection in combat, and the power to ensure victory.
protection against poison
protection against the snares of the wicked.
protection against false accusations.
protection against illness and an efficacious remedy against illnesses.
protection against the ravages of pestilence, epidemics and infectious diseases.
protection against bouts of epilepsy.
protection for mothers and babies against peril and provide for a safe and easy delivery.
protection against shipwrecks.
protection against lightning and floods.
protection against hailstorms, tempests, tornados, lightning and hurricanes which are circumvented or dispelled.
that at the sight or touch of the Lamb impressed on these waxen discs, the faithful should be inspired to dwell on the Mysteries of our Redemption recalled by this symbol, be moved to praise, venerate, and extol God’s goodness to us, hoping to obtain pardon for their sins, and to be cleansed from all stain of sin.
protection against poison and its effects.
through Divine Intervention, protection against the snares, wiles and frauds of Satan which should not prevail.
Like all sacramentals, this object serves to remind us of God and His place in our lives. It reminds us to serve Him and love our neighbor. It’s absolutely not a charm or talisman to bring “good luck” or repel evil, as that would be blasphemy. The medal has no intrinsic “magic ability.” (It should be pointed out that all power in the universe is in God’s hands and doesn’t reside elsewhere. In other words, people who claim to have magic powers are deluded or lying.)
To be clear, the Agnus Dei has no power in and of itself. It is, after all, only so much wax. To act as if it’s magical is sacrilege and assuredly the best way to make sure you don’t receive its spiritual benefits. Rather, its graces and favors are due to our faith in Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer, to the efficacious prayers of the pope who consecrated it (James 5:16) and to the abundant blessings which the Church has bestowed upon those who wear and pray with the sacramental.
This sacramental is highly esteemed by the Church and it’s often given to those who are spiritually afflicted or harassed. Considering their holiness and their inherent rarity, limited to the amount of wax salvaged from the previous year’s Paschal candles collected in the churches of Rome, Agnus Deis were greatly cherished by the faithful and passed down from generation to generation. Apparently, they caused so much fear and consternation among the enemies of the Church that Catholic-bashing Queen Elizabeth I of England outlawed their importation into her realm, calling them “popish trumperies.”
Though the origins of the Agnus Dei are lost to history, it’s most likely a Christian substitute for unenlightened pagan charms and amulets. It’s not impossible to think that the Agnus Dei was meant to ween pagans from their peculiar demons and bring them into the Light of Christ. Thus, instead of believing in sympathetic magic somehow “inherent” in their amulets, they were given the Agnus Dei to save them from themselves. If such is the case, we can comfortably trace the origins of the Agnus Dei back to the fifth century, in which we can say that Rome was finally made a Christian city.
From the time of Amalarius (c. 820) onwards we find frequent mention of the use of Agnus Deis. Popes often gave them as presents to monarchs and other distinguished personages. This first historical mention of this particular sacramental describes them as having been made from the previous year’s Paschal candles. Ennoldius (c. 510) specifically mentions that the fragments of the Paschal candles were used as a protection against tempests and blight.
The earliest examples of an Agnus Dei still in existence come from the reign of Pope Gregory XI (AD 1370).
After the shards of the Paschal candles are harvested from Rome’s churches, melted and poured into forms, they are given to the pope and he dips them in water which had been blessed and mingled with balsam and chrism. At that, the Holy Father prays over them, asking God to impart to all those who are given the Agnus Deis true faith and sincere piety.
Once the cardinal or bishop was given an Agnus Dei, they in turn either gave it as a present to someone or, more likely, broke off small pieces of the wax disk so as to make sure as many people as possible could benefit from it. The small piece of wax was then kept in a locket or other suitable container.
Inexplicably, the practice of consecrating the Agnus Dei sacramental was abandoned following the Second Vatican Council. The last pope to consecrate them was Pope Pius XII (r. 1939-1958), who created them in 1945 and 1952.
Perhaps, one day, the Church will reinstitute this beautiful custom. Or perhaps she won’t. Either way, we can still be assured of the pope’s prayers for us, his spiritual children—and, of course, the blessings of Christ and His Mother and, indeed, all the angels and saints. As Christians, we don’t believe in magic. In fact, we have something by far better―salvation.
A papal bull had to be issued several centuries ago warning the Faithful not to buy these sacramental—not because of simony, which is a horrible sin in and of itself—but rather because those being sold were most likely forgeries. Do not procure them from the internet, despite the claims people make there.
A prayer for those who carry or wear an Agnus Dei
Jesus, my Savior, true Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, by Thine infinite mercy, I beseech Thee to pardon my iniquities. By Thy sacred Passion, I beseech Thee, preserve me this day from sin and shield me from all evil. To Thine honor and glory, I carry about with me this blessed Agnus Dei as a protection to my soul and body, and as an incentive to practice the virtues which Thou hast inculcated, especially meekness, humility, purity and charity.
In memory of that sacrifice of love which Thou didst offer for me and all mankind on Calvary, I consecrate my whole being to Thee. Thou didst die on the cross for love of me; let me die to self for love of Thee! Keep me in Thy love and Thy grace to the end of my life, that I may bless Thee forever with the saints to Heaven. Amen.
The “Agnus Dei” disc dates to the 5th century and was made from the wax of the Paschal candle.
Sacramentals have been part of the Catholic Church in various ways from the very beginning. They are known as extensions of the seven sacraments and naturally flow from them.
Broadly speaking, sacramentals can be any number of actions or blessings that the Church has instituted over the years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how sacramental blessings can be invoked over “persons, meals, objects, and places” (CCC 1671). These blessings call down God’s grace upon a particular individual or object and ask for lasting spiritual protection.
One object of the Church that is among the oldest known sacramentals is the “Agnus Dei” disc. This is a disc of wax with the figure of a lamb impressed upon it. Historically these discs were worn around the neck and were made from the previous year’s Paschal candle. They were originally created on Holy Saturday morning and distributed to the people on the following Saturday.
The tradition dates to around the 5th century, and later the pope was more intimately involved with the sacramental. It became a reserved blessing of the pope, who consecrated these pieces of wax during the first year of his pontificate and every seven years after that. It is believed that Pope Pius XII was the last reigning pontiff to bestow such a blessing.
The sacred wax was a constant reminder of Christ’s Easter victory. According to various papal writings, those who wore it were instructed, “that at the sight or touch of the Lamb impressed on these waxen discs, the faithful should be inspired to dwell on the Mysteries of our Redemption recalled by this symbol, be moved to praise, venerate, and extol God’s goodness to us, hoping to obtain pardon for their sins, and to be cleansed from all stain of sin.”
Below is a prayer for those who wear an Angus Dei sacramental that summarizes the spiritual disposition that the piece of wax was supposed to cultivate in the person wearing it. The prayer can still help us today to meditate on that saving action of the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and how that event should influence our lives.
My Lord Jesus Christ, the true Lamb who takest away the sins of the world, by thy mercy, which is infinite, pardon my iniquities, and by thy Sacred Passion preserve me this day from all sin and evil. I carry about me this holy Agnus Dei in thy honor, as a preventative against my own weakness, and as an incentive to the practice of that meekness, humility, and innocence which Thou hast taught us. I offer myself up to Thee as an entire oblation, and in memory of that sacrifice of love which Thou didst offer for me on the cross, and in satisfaction for my sins. Accept this oblation, I beseech Thee, O my God, and may it be acceptable to Thee in the odor of sweetness. Amen.
Some historians place the origin of the Agnus Dei as early as the time of the Emperor Constantine, near the beginning of the 4th century. The discovery of the Agnus Dei in the tomb of the pious Empress Maria Augusta is the strongest evidence of the antiquity of it’s introduction among Christians.
The Catholic dictionary placed the beginning of the custom as early as the time of Pope Zosimus, who ascended the throne of Peter in the year 417. When the Pascal candle was finally extinguished on Ascension Day the people were accustomed to procure small portions of what was left of it and carry them home as a protection against tempests. All authors agree that it was from this custom of the people that the Agnus Dei had it’s origin.
Philip Howard (1557-1595), handsome, clever, rich – also impeccably aristocratic – seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence. His conscience, however, and still more his wife, prevented his sinking into the abyss of privilege.
Born at Arundel House in the Strand, Philip was the only child of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, and his wife Mary, daughter of the 12th Earl of Arundel. Philip of Spain, later King Philip II, became his godfather. He was baptized at Whitehall Palace with the royal family in attendance, and was named after his godfather, King Philip II of Spain. His home from the age of seven was a former Carthusian monastery.
Philip’s mother died shortly after his birth. His father, by his next wife, had two more sons and three daughters. Then, through a third match, to Elizabeth, widow of the 4th Baron Dacre, he acquired four stepchildren. In 1571 Philip was married at the age of fourteen to Anne, the eldest Dacre daughter, his step-sister. It was an arranged marriage, which Philip resented at first.
Widowed again in 1567, his father, the Duke of Norfolk, intrigued on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, whom he hoped to marry. Instead, he was executed in 1572 and the dukedom lapsed.
Philip, after two years at St John’s College, Cambridge, took up residence at court in the hope of restoring his family to favor. His wife he left neglected in the country. His life had been a frivolous one, both at Cambridge and at Court.
Queen Elizabeth, however, never warmed to him, even though in 1578 Philip spent a fortune entertaining her at Kenninghall in Norfolk. His mother’s family, the Fitzalans, were far from impressed by his conduct. Nevertheless, in 1580 Philip succeeded his maternal grandfather as 13th Earl of Arundel.
He was present at the debate held in 1581 in the St John Chapel of the Tower of London, between Father Edmund Campion, a Jesuit, Father Ralph Sherwin and a group of Protestant theologians over Campion’s Decem Rationes. He was so impressed by the Catholics that he experienced a spiritual conversion. He renounced his previous, frivolous life and was reconciled with his wife.
Howard’s conversion influenced his behavior at Court and the change did not go unnoticed. Although he maintained his duties at Court and in Parliament, Howard did not go to any Anglican services. He had been one of the most spendthrift and gallant of Elizabeth’s courtiers, neglecting his wife; now Howard was solemn and devoted to Anne.
By 1585, it was a felony to aid a Catholic priest and an act of treason for an English Catholic priest to be in the country. Howard had a Catholic chaplain in his house in London and his castle at Arundel.
Another Jesuit missionary, Father William Weston, received Howard into the Catholic Church on September 30, 1584, three years after those debates in the Tower.
Unable to support the pains of recusancy, he determined to flee England and join recusants in Flanders. Anne, who was pregnant with his son, Thomas, would join him later. He would never see either of them again. Philip was a man of high profile, and his movements were closely watched by Queen Elizabeth’s spies. Arrested at sea, he was arraigned before the Star Chamber, and imprisoned in the Tower.
His father and grandfather (the poet, Henry, Earl of Surrey) had both been beheaded. Now Philip appeared to face the same fate.
In 1588 a Catholic priest called Fr William Bennet, imprisoned with him in the Tower, confessed under torture that Howard had instructed him to say Mass on behalf of the Spanish Armada. Bennet, however, later admitted he “confessed everything that seemed to content their humour”.
Howard was condemned to death, though the sentence was never carried out. Disdaining the offer of freedom should he return to the state religion, he passed his imprisonment in translating and writing spiritual works.
Queen Elizabeth never signed the death warrant, but Howard was not told this. He was kept constantly in fear of execution, although comforted by the companionship of a dog, which served as a go-between by which Howard and other prisoners, most notably the priest Robert Southwell, could send messages to each other. Although these two men never met, Howard’s dog helped them to deepen their friendship and exchange encouragement in each other’s plight. Philip Howard loved his pet, who is remembered along with him in a statue at Arundel Cathedral.
Howard spent ten years in the Tower, until his death from dysentery, was the official story. He petitioned the Queen as he lay dying to allow him to see his wife and his son, who had been born after his imprisonment. The Queen responded that “If he will but once attend the Protestant Service, he shall not only see his wife and children, but be restored to his honors and estates with every mark of my royal favor.” To this, Howard is supposed to have replied: “Tell Her Majesty if my religion be the cause for which I suffer, sorry I am that I have but one life to lose.” He remained in the Tower, never seeing his wife or daughter again, and died alone on Sunday 19 October 1595. He was immediately acclaimed as a Catholic (dry) Martyr.
He died on October 19 1595 after an illness of two months. Poisoning was suspected. “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world,” ran the Latin inscription in his room, “the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next.”
His son Thomas (1586-1646) succeeded as Earl of Arundel. Philip Howard was canonized in 1970.
-martyrs chapel, Horsham, England, please click on the image for greater detail.
-organ at the Arundel Cathedral of Our Lady and Saint Philip Howard, Arundel, West Sussex, England
In popular myth, Christopher Columbus is the very symbol of European greed and genocidal imperialism. In reality, he was a dedicated Christian concerned first and foremost with serving God and his fellow man.
Peering into the future, Columbus (1451-1506) could not have anticipated the ingratitude and outright contempt shown by modern man toward his discovery and exploration of the New World. Few see him as he really was: a devout Catholic concerned for the eternal salvation of the indigenous peoples he encountered. Rather, it has become fashionable to slander him as deliberately genocidal, a symbol of European imperialism, a bringer of destruction, enslavement, and death to the happy and prosperous people of the Americas.
[Editor: which is untrue. The warlike Caribs encountered were driving other tribes out. Caribs practiced cannibalism, sodomy, castrated captured boys to use for sodomy. When these eunuchs had grown, they were killed and eaten. Raids upon other tribes enslaved women as wives. Captured men were tortured and killed.]
In the United States, the vitriol directed against Columbus produces annual protests every Columbus Day. Some want to abolish it as a federal holiday, and several cities already refuse to acknowledge it and celebrate instead “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
This movement to brand Columbus a genocidal maniac and erase all memory of his extraordinary accomplishments stems from a false myth about the man and his times.
The so-called Age of Discovery was ushered in by Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) of Portugal. Prince Henry and his sailors inaugurated the great age of explorers finding new lands and creating shipping lanes for the import and export of goods, including consumables never before seen in Europe. Their efforts also created an intense competition among the sailing nations of Europe, each striving to outdo the other in finding new and more efficient trade routes. It was into this world of innovation, exploration, and economic competition that Christopher Columbus was born.
A native of the Italian city-state of Genoa, Columbus became a sailor at the age of fourteen. He learned the nautical trade sailing on Genoese merchant vessels and became an accomplished navigator. On a long-distance voyage past Iceland in February 1477, Columbus learned about the strong east-flowing Atlantic currents and believed a journey across the ocean could be made because the currents would be able to bring a ship home. So Columbus formulated a plan to seek the east by going west. He knew such an ambitious undertaking required royal backing, and in May of 1486 he secured a royal audience with King Fernando and Queen Isabel of Spain, who in time granted everything Columbus needed for the voyage.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus embarked from Spain with ninety men on three ships: the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. After thirty-three days at sea, Columbus’s flotilla spotted land (the Bahamas), which he claimed in the name of the Spanish monarchs. Columbus’s modern-day detractors view that as a sign of imperial conquest. It was not: it was simply a sign to other European nations that they could not establish trading posts on the Spanish possession.
On this first voyage, Columbus also reached the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. He stayed four months in the New World and arrived home to fanfare on March 15, 1493. Unfortunately, the Santa Maria ran aground on Hispaniola so was forced to leave forty-two men behind, ordered to treat the indigenous people well and especially to respect the women. Unfortunately, as Columbus discovered on his second voyage, that order was not heeded.
Columbus made four voyages to the New World, and each brought its own discoveries and adventures. His second voyage included many crewmen from his first, but also some new faces such as Ponce de León, who later won fame as an explorer himself. On this second voyage, Columbus and his men encountered the fierce tribe of the Caribs, who were cannibals, practiced sodomy, and castrated captured boys from neighboring tribes. Columbus recognized the Caribs’ captives as members of the peaceful tribe he met on his first voyage, so he rescued and returned them to their homes. This voyage included stops in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The third voyage was the most difficult for Columbus, as he was arrested on charges of mismanagement of the Spanish trading enterprise in the New World and sent back to Spain in chains (though later fully exonerated). Columbus’s fourth and final voyage took place in 1502-1504, with his son Fernando among the crew. The crossing of the Atlantic was the fastest ever: sixteen days. The expedition visited Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, and was marooned for a time on Jamaica.
Most accounts of Columbus’s voyages mistake his motives by focusing narrowly on economic or political reasons. But in fact, his primary motive was to find enough gold to finance a crusade to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims, as evidenced by a letter he wrote in December 1492 to King Fernando and Queen Isabel, encouraging them to “spend all the profits of this my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem.” In this, he believed he was fulfilling conditions for the Second Coming of Christ. Near the end of his life, he even compiled a book about the connection between the liberation of Jerusalem and the Second Coming.
Columbus considered himself a “Christ-bearer” like his namesake, St. Christopher. When he first arrived in Hispaniola, his first words to the natives were, “The monarchs of Castile have sent us not to subjugate you but to teach you the true religion.” In a 1502 letter to Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503), Columbus asked the pontiff to send missionaries to the indigenous peoples of the New World so they could accept Christ. And in his will, Columbus proved his belief in the importance of evangelization by establishing a fund to finance missionary efforts to the lands he discovered.
Contrary to the popular myth, Columbus treated the native peoples with great respect and friendship. He was impressed by their “generosity, intelligence, and ingenuity.” He recorded in his diary that “in the world there are no better people or a better land. They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest speech in the world and [they are] gentle and always laughing.” Columbus demanded that his men exchange gifts with the natives they encountered and not just take what they wanted by force. He enforced this policy rigorously: on his third voyage in August 1500, he hanged men who disobeyed him by harming the native people.
Columbus never intended the enslavement of the peoples of the New World. In fact, he considered the Indians who worked in the Spanish settlement in Hispaniola as employees of the crown. In further proof that Columbus did not plan to rely on slave labor, he asked the crown to send him Spanish miners to mine for gold. Indeed, no doubt influenced by Columbus, the Spanish monarchs in their instructions to Spanish settlers mandated that the Indians be treated “very well and lovingly” and demanded that no harm should come to them.
Columbus passed to his eternal reward on May 20, 1506.
Love & truth,
 Carol Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem (New York: Free Press, 2011), xii.
 See http://www.transformcolumbusday.org/.
 Marilia Brocchetto and Emanuella Grinberg, “Quest to Change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day Sails Ahead,” CNN.com, October 10, 2016, accessed April 7, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/09/us/columbus-day-indigenous-peoples-day/.
 The sailors of Columbus’s day did not believe the earth was flat, as is commonly believed, but were afraid about the ability to get home after sailing across the ocean.
 Columbus demanded a patent of nobility, a coat of arms, the titles of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and Governor of all discovered lands, plus 10 percent of the revenue from all trade from any claimed territory. Isabel agreed to these terms and both parties signed the Capitulations of Santa Fe on April 17, 1492. See Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 68.
 See Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 92.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 130.
 Ibid., vii.
 The book was titled Libro de las Profecías or the Book of Prophecies.
 Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 83.
 Daniel-Rops, The Catholic Reformation, vol. 2, 27.
 Ibid., 159.
 Ibid., 97.
 Columbus, Diario, 281. Quoted in Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 107. Columbus was a literate man, which was rare for the day. He recorded his observations of the New World in his diary and ship’s log, at a time when keeping logs was not standard practice.
 See Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 181.
 Ibid., 142.
 Ibid., 153.
 See Samuel Eliot Morison, trans. and ed., Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, vol. 1 (New York: Heritage Press, 1963), 204. Quoted in Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 125-126.
“Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.
This little prayer focuses on four verbs to describe the activity of our guardian angels, and each teaches us something about the role of our guardian angels in our lives.
To light. For millennia the image of enlightenment has been used for instruction and teaching. Saint Thomas reminds us that, in terms of intellect, humans are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Every angel, even the least of them, is categorically superior in intelligence. This means that our guardian angels, even apart from their gifts of grace and glory, can teach us a thing or two. That’s exactly what St. Thomas says they do. Since our minds are weak and can easily fail, our guardian angels help us to hold onto the truth more firmly, and so we ask our guardian angels to enlighten us (ST I q. 113, a. 1).
To guard. True to their name, guardian angels also protect us from the assaults of the enemies of God. Saint Thomas gives this as reason to believe that even Adam, in the state of innocence, would have had an angel guardian (ST I q. 113, a. 4). In the same place, he states that even when we fall (as Adam did) into temptation, our guardian angels keep us from being harmed as much as the tempters want.
To rule. Since our guardian angels are not simply teachers of truth, but ministers of divine government, they never forget that their purpose in teaching is to lead us back to God. In this manner, we ask them not only to enlighten us with teaching, but also to rule and direct us toward the good. For, as St. Thomas tells us, even though we know the natural law, we sometimes struggle to apply it well, needing our angels to assist us (ST I q. 113, a. 1).
To guide. Like guarding, guiding can be understood defensively. For while a ruler might give direction from afar, a guide assists along the way by pointing out pitfalls in the path. While our guardian angels don’t and can’t make our decisions for us, they can give us nudges here and there to keep our feet on the narrow path.
-please click on the image for greater detail
These activities of our guardian angels are not extraordinary or miraculous. Their guardianship belongs to the execution of Divine Providence, much like any parent’s guardianship of children. Let’s make a new effort to appreciate and call upon these faithful angels, who are always willing to help us.”
“St. Luke tells us that “there appeared to Him [in the Garden of Gethsemane] an angel from heaven to strengthen him” (22:43). It was an angel in human form, as the expression used by St. Luke indicates an apparition visible to bodily eyes. An angel announced Christ’s coming into the world, a choir of angels proclaimed His birth, and after the temptation in the desert, angels came to minister to Him. The angels who ministered to Jesus came to assist Him after the trial of the forty days’ fast and the temptation. In Gethsemane an angel appeared in order to strengthen Him in advance for the awful climax of His mental anguish in the agony and bloody sweat. Jesus’ sufferings were concentrated in His soul, but from the soul they overflowed to the body, distressing and weakening it. It is likely, therefore, that the angel brought Jesus strength for both soul and body.”
—Fr. Ralph Gorman, C.P.
Holy Guardian Angels!! Pray for & protect us!!!
“In recalling today’s feast of the glorious and spirited reformer St. Teresa of Avila, I can’t help but recall, as a Dominican myself, the great gifts that the Order of Preachers and the Carmelites together have given to the Church. This is particularly noted in the interaction between the intellectual contributions of the Dominicans and the mystical legacy of the Carmelites.
One of the most dynamic engagements between the two Orders began in Spain’s famed siglo de oro, the Golden Age. During this period, Spain experienced an incredible flourishing in nearly all of the liberal arts and also a revival in philosophical and theological Scholasticism and Catholic mysticism. Catholic Spain had become arguably the stronghold of the Faith after the onset of the Reformation, especially with the unification of the peninsula by los Reyes Católicos, Fernando II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. As a result, an orthodox and vibrant Catholic renewal was fostered. With regards to the intellectual life, the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria helped establish the historic tradition of academic excellence and made expansive developments in law and philosophy at the school of Salamanca. After him would come many learned friar preachers, like Domingo de Soto and Domingo Bañez, seeking to preach not only to Spaniards but to all those they might meet in the New World.
In mysticism, we find the two chief figures, both Carmelites, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. These two legendary reformers were for the most part not directly involved with the schoolmen but neither were they far removed from them. Their culture still retained a dogged commitment to the medieval understanding of the integral nature of the Catholic life; one did not separate intellectual study and the mystical life with as strong a tendency as is common today. For example, St. Teresa herself was a voracious reader, and she was not afraid to make this known, which was bold for a woman in the sixteenth century. In addition, she insisted that her sisters “go from time to time beyond their ordinary confessors and talk about their souls with persons of learning, especially if the confessors, though good men, have no learning; for learning is a great help in giving light upon everything” (The Way of Perfection, Ch. 5). Especially as the reformer of the Carmelite monasteries, she knew that establishing a firm intellectual foundation grounded in the font of the Church’s wisdom would be necessary if her reform was going to perdure. She would pick, for a large portion of her life, a succession of Dominican confessors and advisors trained in the rigorous intellectual tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. The most famous of those that St. Teresa sought out was the aforementioned Domingo Bañez. He was her confessor for six years and her advisor off and on for many more.
Jumping ahead a few centuries, we stumble upon a daughter of the holy Mother Teresa, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. It was not the case for St. Elizabeth that she sought out a Dominican confessor or director, but it happened that Divine Providence allotted her one. The preaching of Fr. Irénée Vallée, a popular Dominican preacher in France at the time, captivated her, becoming one of the catalysts for her deep growth in the spiritual life. Saint Elizabeth spent a meager twenty-six years on this earth, so the development of her interior life happened rather quickly. Many of her writings attest to the great advances she made in the understanding of divine mysteries as a result of the doctrine she learned from Fr. Valleé. The friar also was edified by the future saint. He readily refers to her as his daughter. So, here too we see a similar edifying relationship between a Dominican spiritual director and a Carmelite nun.
The last mention goes to the great spiritual master of the twentieth century, Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Father Lagrange is arguably most well known for his project of fusing the thought of St. John of the Cross and St. Thomas Aquinas in his spiritual theology. He recognized the obvious foundations of St. John’s mystical theology on Thomistic principles and thought that he could reunite these disciplines, which were becoming more and more disparate in modern times. He wanted to prove that the serious Christian could find spiritual nourishment in rigorous Scholasticism and the mystical tradition. In his project, Fr. Lagrange shows the fecundity of the relationship between the charisms of the two Orders.
In this fallen world, harmonious things often become separated over time. The saints and theologians mentioned above are a refreshing witness to the power of collaboration for the building up and unification of God’s kingdom. Let us, then, call upon St. Teresa of Avila to help us to live more fruitful, unified lives in the mystical body of Christ.”
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks with
Compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks with
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
I have heard in my “travels” of the evangelistic kind, of adults converting to Catholicism by “reading their way into the Church”. Hence, this blog. All is grace.
-by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“Saint Chrysanthus is one of the many who have experienced how useful and beneficial is the reading of devout books, especially the Gospel. He was born of heathen parents. Polemius his father, stood so high with the emperor, that he was raised to the dignity of a Senator. Chrysanthus’ greatest pleasure was reading; and one day, by special Providence, the Gospel fell into his hands. He read it through most attentively; but not being able to comprehend it, he secretly requested a Christian to explain it to him. This Christian procured him an opportunity to speak to Carpophorus, a holy and very learned priest, who explained to him all he desired to know, and, with the divine assistance, succeeded so well, that Chrysanthus recognized the falsity of the heathen gods, as well as the truth of the Christian religion, and having been properly instructed, he received holy baptism. After this, he appeared no more at the heathen theatres and sacrifices, but associated with Christians, which awakened in his father the suspicion that his son either desired to adopt the faith of Christ, or perhaps was already enrolled among the number of the faithful.
-statue of Saint Chysanthus, Catholic Parish of Saints Chysanthus and Daria, Welcherath, Germany
He called him to account, and as Chrysanthus fearlessly confessed the truth, the angry father cast him into a damp and dark prison, determined to let him die there of hunger. As, however, after a few days, he found him as strong as ever, and as firm in confessing Christ as he had been before, he resorted to other and more horrible means to compel him to forsake Christ. He confined him in a room most luxuriously fitted up, and sent several wicked young women to tempt him, believing that this would be the easiest manner of bringing him back to idolatry. When the first of these women entered, and the chaste Chrysanthus became aware of her intention, he cried loudly to God for assistance, most solemnly declaring that he would much rather die than offend Him. He endeavored to flee, but the room was locked. Hence he did all that was possible under the circumstances. He turned his face away, shut his eyes and closed his ears with both hands, while he continued to pray to the mighty God for assistance. His prayers went to heaven; for the woman was suddenly seized with so invincible a drowsiness, that she sank to the floor, and was carried out of the room. The same happened to the second and the third; and the Saint, recognizing the hand of the Almighty in it, gave due thanks to heaven.
Polemius, however, ascribed it all to witchcraft, and sought in another manner to compass his design. He persuaded Daria, a virgin consecrated to the service of Minerva, to marry his son, in order to draw him gradually away from the Christian faith and bring him back to the gods. Daria consented, and Polemius bringing her to Chrysanthus, introduced her as his future spouse. Chrysanthus, conversing for some time alone with her, told her that he was a Christian, and making her acquainted with the reasons which had induced him to become converted, he succeeded, by the grace of God, in making her promise to embrace the true faith. Not satisfied with this, he explained to her how priceless a treasure chastity is, adding that he was determined to preserve it unspotted. He also said to her that he was willing to marry her, to give her the opportunity of becoming a Christian, but only if she was willing that they should live in perpetual continence. Daria consented cheerfully, after which Chrysanthus announced to his father that he was ready to make Daria his wife.
-statue of Saint Daria of Rome, Catholic Parish of Saints Chysanthus and Daria, Welcherath, Germany
Polemius, greatly rejoiced, ordered a splendid wedding, after which the newly-married couple lived as they had agreed upon, in virginal chastity. Soon after, Daria was secretly baptized, and endeavored to lead an edifying life with her spouse. Both assisted, to the best of their ability, the oppressed Christians, and also used every opportunity to bring the infidels to the knowledge of the true God. For a time they were not molested; but when, at length, Celerinus, the Governor, was informed of their conduct; he gave Claudius, the Praetor, orders to investigate the matter. Hence, Chrysanthus was brought into the Temple of Jupiter to sacrifice to the idols, after the manner of the pagans. As he refused to do this, he was scourged so dreadfully, that he doubtless would have died, had not God preserved him by a miracle. After this, he was dragged, laden with heavy chains, into a dark hole, into which all the sewers of the prison emptied. Being locked up in this foul place, the holy man called on the Almighty, and suddenly the darkness around him gave away to a heavenly light; a delicious odor filled the air, and he was freed from his heavy chains. Claudius, in consequence of this and other miracles, desired to be baptized, with his wife, Hilaria, his two sons, Maurus and Jason, and seventy soldiers who were under his command. The emperor was greatly enraged when this news was reported to him, and ordered Claudius drowned, Hilaria hanged, and Maurus and Jason beheaded.
Meanwhile, Daria also was imprisoned on account of her belief in the Christian faith. She evinced, however, no less fortitude than her holy spouse. She was taken into a house of ill-repute to be a prey to wicked men. Daria, in this danger, called on the great protector of the innocent, and God caused a lion to break from his place of confinement and come running to her, as if to guard her from all harm. When the first man entered the room where the chaste virgin was, the lion seized him, threw him to the ground, and then looked up to Daria, as if to ask her whether he should kill him or not. The tender martyr helped the trembling youth to rise, and reproaching him for his wickedness, she exhorted him to do penance, and succeeded in persuading him to become a Christian. The same happened to two others, who, like the first, left her converted. The tyrant raged when he heard of it, and commanded fire to be set to the room in which Daria was, that she might be burnt with the lion. When the fire was kindled, Daria made the sign of the holy cross over her protector, the lion, and sent him away through the flames uninjured. She herself also remained unharmed, though the room was burnt to ashes. Many other miracles were wrought by her and by Saint Chrysanthus, in consequence of which a great many heathens were converted. At last, both were sentenced to be thrown into a deep sand pit outside the city, near the Via Salaria Nova where, covered with stones and sand, they were buried alive, in the year 283 AD.
-The Martyrdom of Saints Chrysanthus and Daria of Rome; Menologion of Basil II, Menologion of Basileiou; 11th century illuminated Byzantine manuscript with 430 miniatures; Vatican Library; Italy
Saint Chrysanthus shut his eyes and closed his ears with both hands, that he might not see nor hear those who had been sent to tempt him. Oh! how wisely he acted! Numberless persons have fallen into vice and have been precipitated into hell, because they did not guard their eyes from gazing on dangerous persons and objects; or because they listened to flatteries or to impure words and songs. Death came upon them through eyes and ears, like a thief through the window. If they had turned their eyes away and closed their ears, if they had left those who spoke immodestly and sang lascivious songs, they would not have become guilty of sin, and would not have been cast into the depth of hell. The pious king David would not have fallen, if he had not been careless in the use of his eyes. And where would he be, if he had not done penance? The beginning of the misfortunes which assailed the strong Samson, and which ended in his death, was his gazing upon Delilah. Sichem, a noble prince, was tempted to sin, as we are told in Holy Writ, by looking upon the imprudent Dina, and being soon after murdered, was cast into hell. We omit innumerable others whose ruin began in the same manner. Each of these shall cry out, during all eternity: “My eye,” (my ear) “has wasted my soul” (Lament iii.). Imprudent looking about and listening robbed them of their innocence, their piety, the grace and friendship of God, and at last, of salvation. If you do not wish to experience the same, keep your eyes, your ears, and in fact all your senses under control. “Hedge in thy ears with thorns,” admonishes the Wise Man, “hear not a wicked tongue.” (Eccl., xxviii.) “Those who listen voluntarily to sinful speeches, give death permission to enter through the window,” writes Saint Theodore. “The eyes are the leaders of sin,” says Saint Jerome. “To preserve purity of heart, it is necessary to keep a guard over our exterior senses,” says Saint Gregory.
Saint Chrysanthus and Saint Daria were thrown into the greatest danger to sin. They were tempted, but without their fault. They resisted, called on God, and did all in their power not to yield, and God protected them from consenting to do wrong. As these Saints were subjected to exterior temptations, so are many souls tempted interiorly; some through their own fault, others without the reproach of the slightest guilt. To the former belong those who spend their time in idleness; who are intemperate in eating and drinking; who neglect prayer and other good works; who, without reason, seek dangerous company, assist at indecent plays, read unchaste or sensational books; who look at persons immodestly dressed or at unclean pictures; who like to listen to, or indulge in improper jests, or songs; who play indecent games; delight in wanton dances and amusements; make friends and acquaintances of persons of little or no virtue; in short, those who in their manners and actions, dispense with Christian modesty. All these can blame only themselves when they suffer from unclean temptations; they themselves give occasion to them. But there are many who, though they avoid all this, are still violently tempted, as was the case with many Saints in this world. These are not to be blamed for their temptations, as they have not, by their conduct, occasioned them.
The former have every reason to fear that they will commit great sins in consequence of the temptations which they themselves have caused; for it is written: “He that loveth the danger, shall perish in it.” (Eccl., iii.) No one will believe such people when they say that they are sorry to be troubled by such temptations. If this is the truth, why then do they give occasion to them? To imagine that these temptations can easily be overcome, without the divine assistance, is presumption; for, God has nowhere promised His aid to those who throw themselves into danger. They are not worthy of it. What else then, can they expect but that they will frequently fall into sin, and finally into hell? Quite differently must those be judged who are tempted without their own fault. If they do all they can, and pray to God for help, they will not be overcome, but may be assured that the Almighty will assist them, as they manifest their love and fidelity to Him by avoiding everything that may lead them into temptation. And who can believe that God will forsake His faithful servants in their fight?
For the two Saints, whose festival we celebrate today, and for many others, He worked miracles to protect them in their danger. Hence, never give occasion to temptations; and if they nevertheless assail you, trust in God; call on Him, and resist bravely. The whole of hell will be unable to conquer you; for, the Almighty will be your protector. “He is a protector of all who trust in Him.” (Psalm xvii.) “He is a protector in the time of trouble, and the Lord will help and deliver them.” (Psalm xxxvi.)”
In 2008 the Reggio Emilia Cathedral in Modena in Northern Italy faced renovations. The workers discovered more than 300 bones belonging to two skeletons in one of the sealed crypts. The skulls were packed inside a pair of silver-and-gold busts deep in a cathedral vault. The relics of Daria & Chrysanthus were venerated and displayed. Carbon dating showed they belonged to a young man and a young woman in their late teens with a radiocarbon date between AD 80 and AD 340.
-the skull of Daria
-before the altar
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom