08 August 2011

8 August - Saint Cyriacus; Fourteen Holy Helpers

Today is the feast of the Translation of Saint Cyriacus, deacon and martyr, who was executed in Rome circa 303.  While his natalis is the 16th of March, this day commemorated the translation of his relics to the Church of Saint Mary in Via Lata in Rome.  He must have been one of the earliest of the martyrs under Diocletian, for the emperor's "Edict Against The Christians" was published in February 303.

From the old Roman Martyrology (1947):
At Rome, the holy martyrs Cyriacus, deacon, Largus, and Smaragdus, with twenty others, who suffered on the 16th of March, in the persecution of Diocletian and Maximian.  Their bodies were buried on the Salarian road by the priest John, but were on this day translated by pope St. Marcellus to the estate of Lucina, on the Ostian way.  Afterwards they were brought to Rome, and placed in the Church of St. Mary in Via Lata.

His medieval legend relates that he exorcised a demon from the daughter of Diocletian (for which the emperor seems not to have been overly grateful, at least not to the point of abating the persecution) and another demon from the daughter of the King of Persia.  After that, he returned to Rome to find that Diocletian was dead (311, unless this refers to his abdication in 305) and Maximian emperor in his place.  Refusing to worship the Roman gods, Cyriacus had molten pitch poured over him, before he and his companions were beheaded.

The Golden Legend adds a little moral end to the story: "And Carpasius [the judge who condemned Cyriacus] gat the house of S. Ciriacus, and in despite of christian men he made a bath in the same place where Ciriacus baptized, and there bathed, and made banquets in eating and drinking.  And suddenly he with nineteen fellows died there, and therefore the bath was closed up.  And the paynims began to dread and honour christian men."
As San Ciriaco, he is a very popular saint, especially in the Italian immigrant communities, whose ancestors brought his cult with them.  Read "When San Ciriaco went to Boston" for one such story.

He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (of which more anon), and is invoked against temptation at the time of death, and against eye diseases.

In honor of Saint Cyriacus, there are two things (at least) that you can do:
1. Make an optometry appointment to have your eyes checked, and keep it.

2. If you have old prescription or reading glasses or sunglasses that are in pretty good shape (and this includes children's glasses), donate them to the Lions Club Eyeglass Recycling Program.  And while you are at it, consider giving a donation to them or to other groups who provide eye surgery and sight-saving medication to the less fortunate.

In the old calendar, today was the feast of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.  These were saints who as a group were invoked against the ravages of the Great Pestilence (also known as the Black Death) beginning in the 14th century.  Victims of the bubonic plague experienced high fever, headaches, vomiting, and the appearance of buboes, pus-filled swellings found in the armpits and on the groin. Although many didn't, there was always a chance that they might recover.  For the victims of the pneumonic plague, which attacked the respiratory system, there was no chance of recovery.  To the fever, headaches, and nausea was added wracking cough, bloody phlegm, and rapidly developing pneumonia, which could kill in as little as two days.

Such mortality was unprecedented within living memory.  People dropped in their tracks, while others fled to what they hoped were bastions of safety.  So many died at once, that there wasn't time to give the last rites or to bury the bodies in consecrated ground with the usual funeral ceremonies.  The clergy were not exempt, further reducing the availability of final confession and Extreme Unction for the dying.  Domestic animals also died, whether from sickness or lack of care, causing further hardship to the survivors.

In their fear, people turned to the saints whose patronages covered one or more of the symptoms or results of the plague.

The usual Helpers are listed here, with their individual feast days and their areas of protection:
Saint Blaise - February 3 - invoked against illnesses of the throat, and for the protection of domestic animals.
Saint George - April 23 - invoked against plague and skin diseases, and for the protection of domestic animals.
Saint Acacius (or Agathius) - May 8 - invoked against headaches
Saint Erasmus (or Elmo) - June 2 - invoked against stomach problems
Saint Vitus - June 15 - invoked against epilepsy and oversleeping, and for the protection of domestic animals.
Saint Margaret of Antioch - July 20 - invoked against kidney disease, and for the dying.
Saint Christopher - July 25 - invoked against pestilence and sudden death, and for the protection of travelers.
Saint Pantaleon - July 27 - invoked against consumption (lung ailments), patron of physicians.
Saint Cyriacus - August 8 - invoked against eye problems, demonic possession, and temptation on the deathbed.
Saint Giles - September 1 - invoked against the plague, madness, and nightmares, and for a good confession before death.
Saint Eustace - September 20 - invoked in difficult situations.
Saint Denis (Dionysius) - October 9 - invoked against headache.
Saint Katherine of Alexandria - November 25 - invoked against diseases of the tongue and sudden and unprovided death.
Saint Barbara - December 4 - invoked against fever and sudden death.

Catholic Culture has an article on the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and a litany for private devotion.