11 September 2011

11 September - Saints Protus and Hyacinth

Today is the feast of Saints Protus and Hyacinth, martyrs, who died sometime before the 4th century, and who

  • may or may not have been brothers,
  • may or may not have been eunuchs,
  • may or may not have been servants, and
  • may or may not have been beheaded.

From the old (1907) Roman Martyology:
"At Rome, in the Cemetery of Basilla, on the old Salarian road, the birthday of the holy martyrs Protus and Hyacinth, brothers and eunuchs in the service of blessed Eugenia, who were arrested, in the time of the emperor Gallienus, on the charge of being Christians, and urged to offer sacrifice to the gods.  But as they refused, both were most severely scourged, and finally beheaded."

Gallienus ruled as co-emperor of Rome with his father Valerian from 253 to 260, and as sole emperor from his father's capture or death in 260 until his own death in 268.

In 1845, ashes and burned bones wrapped in 'costly stuffs' were found with an inscription which seems to label them as the remains of Hyacinth, leading researchers to believe that one or both of the martyrs were burned to death rather than beheaded.  [On the other hand, there are numerous stories of pagan rulers trying to destroy the bodies of martyrs so that they can not be buried and revered by the faithful.  Perhaps Gallienus burned the beheaded bodies in such a cause.]  That they were brothers may have been an assumption on the part of Pope Damasus, who wrote an epitaph for them.

Although the chapter is entitled "Here begin the lives of SS. Prothus and Jacinctus and Eugenia...", the Golden Legend spends most of its time with the story of Eugenia/Eugene (think 'Victor/Victoria'), giving Protus and Hyacinth walk-on parts.  In this account, they are gentlemen and fellow students of Eugenia in Alexandria, where her father was provost.  Of that, however, Rev. Butler says: "Following a tradition that has eunuchs in the service of women... this elaborate fiction [the Acta of St. Eugenia] makes the eunuch brothers Protus and Hyacinth Eugenia's slaves and parties to her bizarre adventures."

So all that is really known of these two popular saints are their names, and that they were martyrs.

May the glorious martyrdom of Protus and Hyacinth, Thy blessed Martyrs, strength us, O Lord, and let their loving intercession continually shield us. Through our Lord.
[Collect for the feast of Protus and Hyacinth]