medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (18. August) is the feast day of:
1) Agapitus of Praeneste (?). A saint of this name, from Praeneste, the Roman-period predecessor of today's Palestrina (RM) in Lazio, is recorded for today in the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology, in the Gelasian and the Gregorian sacramentaries, and in the Marble Calendar of Naples. His earliest mention appears to be _Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum_, 14. 3415, found about a mile away from Palestrina. The stone bearing it is a large fragment of a fourth-century dedication to an _Agap sancte_ erected by an otherwise unknown bishop Jucundus. As the area in which it was found is known from other inscriptions to have been a late antique Christian cemetery for Praeneste, the practice since the nineteenth century has been to expand _Agap_ into _Agapite_. By the ninth century a legend had grown up making A. a youthful martyr under Aurelian (270-75): a brief version is in Ado and longer ones inform his Passio (BHL 125-27).
A dilapidated basilica at Praeneste dedicated to A. was restored by pope St. Leo III (795-816). Whereas ruins in the locale where the aforementioned inscription was found have been interpreted as those of this structure, it seems more likely that Leo's church was the predecessor of Palestrina's present cathedral, consecrated by Paschal II in 1117 and dedicated to A. The latter utilizes remains of an ancient Roman hall thought to have been connected with the massive temple complex of Fortuna Primigenia now visible just up the hill (this complex had been largely buried until it was revealed by bombing in World War II). The cathedral has been rebuilt many times. Its unlovely facade, pitted and scarred by the removal in 1957 of an early nineteenth-century external loggia, has at least the merit of revealing some of the building's medieval stonework:
And here's a view of an engaged tufa column and travertine capital once part of the cathedral's late antique predecessor:
A closer view of that capital:
Similar capitals have been found in Palestrina's Republican Forum (second-century BCE):
Relics said to be those of A. have been translated to many places, perhaps most notably the Benedictine abbey of Kremsmünster in Oberösterreich, founded in 777 by duke Tassilo III of Bavaria. A. is still honored there today, as he is also at today's Sant'Agapito (IS) in Molise, where in the ninth century prince Grimoald III of Benevento founded the now vanished monastery of Sant'Agapito in Valle.
2) Holy Martyrs of Utica (?). These martyrs of Roman Africa were buried not far from Utica at a place at least later called Massa candida, where in St. Augustine's time they had a memorial basilica. They were many: Augustine says (_Enarrationes in psalmos_, 49. 9) that they numbered more than the 153 fishes he ascribes to the catch of John 21:6. It is not clear whether the place was called Massa candida prior to their martyrdom: the name could mean "Shining Farm" or "Shining Harvest" or "Shining Mass", all of which could have been assigned afterwards (at _Serm._ 306. 2 Augustine explains _massa_ here in the sense of "great number" and _candida_ as referring to the brilliance of the martyrs' cause). Such phrases as Augustine's _massa Uticensis_ ("the Utican mass"; _Serm._ 311. 10) or the martyrs' entry in the early sixth-century Calendar of Carthage as _sanctorum Massae candidae_ do not even imply a toponym.
The poet Prudentius, Augustine's contemporary, purveys a sensationalistic account (_Peristephanon_, 13. 76-87) that says there were three hundred martyrs and that, faced with the choice of offering sacrifice to divinities of the Roman state or death, they chose the latter and leapt voluntarily into a pit of quicklime prepared to receive their bodies. In a literal interpretation of the phrase _Massa candida_, Prudentius relates that the action of the quicklime caused these saints' bodies to fuse into a gleaming white mass. Because this passage occurs in a poem on the martyrdom of St. Cyprian of Carthage, some have incautiously concluded that, like Cyprian, the Martyrs of Utica perished in the Valerianic persecution. But their presence in it without any precise chronological indication may serve rather to exemplify the great sufferings of the church of Carthage during the entire period of the early persecutions.
Both the Calendar of Carthage and the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology enter under today the feast of the Saints of (the) Massa candida. Ado entered it under 24. August, where it remained in the historical martyrologies, in many calendars, and in the RM until the latter's revision of 2001.
3) Helen, empress (d. 329). The mother of Constantine the Great, H. (Flavia Iulia Helena) probably hailed from Drepanum in Bithynia; she is said to have originally been of low social standing. After the battle of the Milvian Bridge (312), C. gave her a large swath of property south of Rome along the Via Labicana that included both the Christian catacomb _ad duas lauros_ and a nearby cemetery used by Maxentius' horse guards. Neatly wiping out this place of memory for his despised opponents, he erected on the latter site a basilica dedicated to Sts. Marcellinus and Peter and attached to it a great mausoleum that ultimately came to be used for H.
In 324, after C.'s defeat of the other remaining Augustus, Licinius, H. received the title of Augusta. It is not known when she converted to Christianity, or when she was baptized, or by whom. In 327 H. made a trip to the Holy Land whose religious aspects are covered in some detail by Eusebius. E.'s silence about the discovery of the True Cross, first attributed to H. in the 380s, permits the conclusion that she had nothing to do with the appearance of this potent relic, whose existence is not reported prior to the 340s. H.'s date of death is inferred from her disappearance from Roman coinage after 328/29.
The mausoleum in which H. was laid to rest was once a grandiose structure. Well described by Ross Holloway at pp. 86-93 of his _Constantine & Rome_ (New Yaven: Yale University Press, 2004), it has long been a ruin. Various views of it are here:
The large porphyry tomb in which H.'s remains were deposited in this structure is now in the Vatican Museums:
Its battle scenes constitute a major reason for the view (not universally accepted) that the mausoleum was originally intended for Constantine himself.
Some other representations of H. and some dedications to her:
Bronze coins bearing H.'s portrait:
Cententionalis from the mint of Trier, 326:
Cententionalis from the mint of Thessalonica, 326-28:
H.'s fourth-century statue in Rome's Musei Capitolini:
H. finding the True Cross as depicted in a North Italian manuscript of ca. 825 (Vercelli, Biblioteca capitolare, ms. CLXV ):
H.'s originally ninth-century church at Verona, rebuilt in the twelfth:
H. in a twelfth-century fresco in Milan's basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore:
The originally late twelfth-century abbey church of Sant'Elena at Serra San Quirico (AN) in the Marche:
H.'s originally thirteenth-/fourteenth-century church at Wheathampstead (Herts):
H. finding the True Cross as depicted by Piero della Francesca (mid-fifteenth century) in the choir of the basilica di San Francesco in Arezzo:
H. in a fifteenth-century fresco in the church of Sv. Jelena in the northern Istrian town of Oprtalj:
H. at left in a fresco of 1502 by the painter Dionisy in the Virgin Nativity cathedral of the St. Ferapont Belozero (Ferapontov Belozersky) Monastery at Ferapontovo in Russia's Vologda Region:
H.'s early sixteenth-century window in Aosta's cathedral:
H.'s baroque tomb in Rome's Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, into which church her supposed remains are said to have been translated in the twelfth century:
In Eastern-rite churches H. is celebrated together with her son Constantine on 21. May.
4) Macarius of Pelecete (d. 840?). A native of Constantinople, M. (also Macarius the Wonder-Worker) entered religion at the monastery of Pelecete in Bithynia; after his election as abbot there he was ordained priest by the patriarch Tarasius (784-806). One of the victims of the iconoclastic persecution under the emperor Leo V, he was exiled to the island of Aphousia in the Sea of Marmara. Released after Leo's assassination in 820, L. was not allowed to return to Pelecete. He founded a new monastery, probably on the east coast of the Bosporus, but suffered persecution again under the emperor Theophilus (829-42). He died on Aphousia in a second exile, during which time he remained in epistolary contact with various disciples. One of the latter, Sabas, wrote M.'s Bios (BHG 1003); this concentrates on the really important things (the many miracles attesting to M.'s sanctity) at the expense of mundane biographical detail.
Today is M.'s _dies natalis_. In Orthodox churches he is commemorated on 1. April.
Aphousia, now a popular holiday destination, is today's Avşa in Turkey's Balıkesir province. Its location is marked in red on this map:
And here's an aerial view:
5) Leonard of La Cava (Bl.; d. 1255). This less well known holy person of the Regno succeeded Bl. Balsam in 1232 as abbot of the monastery of the Most Holy Trinity at today's Cava de' Tirreni (SA) in coastal Campania. His efforts at diplomacy in the conflict between Frederick II and the papacy enriched his abbey with donations from both camps. In 1249 he received for safekeeping the diocesan treasury of Benevento when that papal enclave within the kingdom was under threat of sack by German troops. A successful abbot for thirty-two years, he had an immediately posthumous cult. The latter was confirmed, along with those of other Blesseds of La Cava, in 1928.
(last year's post lightly revised)
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