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This celebration honors the seven brothers and their mother of 2 Macc. 7 and the senior scribe Eleazar of 2 Macc. 6, put to death -- in the case of the brothers, gruesomely -- in the second century BC by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and widely revered in the early church as examples of constancy under oppression by the state and as Christians before the letter.  Their chief early cult center was at Antioch, the presumed venue of their martyrdom.  In the sixth century remains said to be theirs were translated to Rome and placed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, which had been dedicated on their day.  Their present location is in a crypt behind and below the shrine containing Peter's chains.

The feast appears in eastern and in western calendars from the fifth century onward; with great regularity it has been kept on 1. August.  Its popularity in the early Middle Ages is attested to by entries for it in, among others, the Gelasian Sacramentary, the Marble Calendar of Naples, the Metaphrastic Menologion, and the Synaxary of Constantinople (where the feast has the first entry for the day).  It continues to be celebrated on this day both in today's Latin-rite churches and in those using the Byzantine Rite; not coincidentally, these are churches that include 2 Maccabees among the canonical books of the Bible.  

In 2. Macc. the seven brothers and their mother are all unnamed.  In Orthodox tradition the mother is called Solomona, Salomona, or Salome and the sons all have individual names as well.  In the Marble Calendar of Naples (earlier ninth-century) she is called Felicitas, as she is also in her late antique Christian transformation in the story of Felicity of Rome.

An English-language translation of a letter from St. Bernard of Clairvaux explaining why this feast should be kept is here:

Some period-pertinent images of the Maccabean Martyrs:

a) The brothers before Antiochus and (third image) being exhorted by their mother as depicted in an eleventh- or twelfth-century copy of the _Orations_ of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Paris, BnF, ms. Coislin 239, fols. 40r, 41v, 43v):

b) The brothers as depicted (martyrdom) in an early twelfth-century bible from the abbey of Cîteaux (ca. 1109-1111; Dijon, ms. 14, fol. 191r):

c) Antiochus addressing the brothers' mother (who holds the heads of six sons; one son stands behind her) as depicted in a late twelfth-century bible (ca. 1185-1195; Paris,  Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 10, fol. 110r):

d) The brothers as depicted (martyrdom) in a later twelfth-century bible (ca. 1276-1300; Bourges, Bibliothèque patrimoniale et d'étude des Quatre-Piliers, ms. 3, fol. 176r):

e) the brothers' mother as depicted in a later thirteenth-century bible (ca. 1251-1275; Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 14, fol. 398v):

f) The brothers as depicted (martyrdom) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 88r):

g) The brothers (with their mother and Eleazar standing behind them) as depicted by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1313 and 1318; conservation work in 1968) in the church of St. George at Staro Nagoričane in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:

h) One brother (at bottom left, about to be decapitated) and Eleazar (at bottom right, in flames) as depicted (martyrdom) in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 49v):

i) Eleazar and the seven brothers as depicted (panel at left; Eleazar at far left) in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1326-1350; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 185, fol. 239r):

j) The brothers and their mother as depicted in a mid-fourteenth-century copy, from the workshop of Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston, of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (1348; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 241, fol. 183v):

k) Four brothers (two young) as depicted in the earlier fifteenth-century Châteauroux Breviary (ca. 1414; Châteauroux, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 2, fol. 149v):

l) Eleazar (having lost both hands), the seven brothers, and the brothers' mother as depicted in an earlier fifteenth-century _Bible historiale_ (ca. 1430; Den Haag, KB, ms. KB, 78 D 38 II, fol. 102r):

m) Some of the brothers and their mother as portrayed in relief on the early sixteenth-century shrine (ca. 1510) containing putative relics of them in the Kirche Sankt Andreas in Köln:
Their souls ascending in glory:

n) Eleazar, the seven brothers, and the brothers' mother as depicted in an earlier sixteenth-century veil icon (ca. 1525) in the Sergiyev Posad State History and Art Museum in Sergiyev Posad (Moscow oblast):

John Dillon

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