14 April 2013

14 April - St. Valerian and Companions

“At Rome, on the Appian way, the birthday of the holy martyrs Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus, who suffered in the time of the emperor Alexander and the prefect Almachius.   The first two – being converted to Christ by the exhortations of blessed Cecilia and baptized by pope St. Urban – were beaten with rods and decapitated for the true faith.  But Maximus, chamberlain of the prefect, moved by their constancy and encouraged by the vision of an angel, believed in Christ and was scourged with leaded whips until he expired.”

An Old English Martyrology is a tad more romantic: “On the fourteenth day of the month is the festival of the holy brothers St. Valerianus and St. Tiburtius.  They were urged under tortures by Almachius, prefect of Rome, to abjure Christ.  As they would not submit to this, he commanded them to be beheaded.  Then the man who was to see them beheaded said weeping and solemnly affirming that he had seen their souls go out of the bodies beautifully adorned, and that he had seen God’s angels as radiant as the sun, and they bore them to heaven with the flight of their wings.  The man believed in God, and he was scourged to death for Christ’s sake; his name was Maximus.”

Valerian was the husband of Saint Cecilia (November 22).  Tiburtius was his brother. 

The Golden Legend spends a good deal of time with Cecilia and Valerian’s wedding night:

“And when this blessed virgin should be espoused to a young man named Valerian, and the day of the wedding was come, she was clad in royal clothes of gold, but under she ware the hair. And she hearing the organs making melody, she sang in her heart, only to God, saying: “O Lord, I beseech thee that mine heart and body may be undefouled so that I be not confounded.” And every second and third day she fasted, commending herself unto our Lord whom she dreaded.”

“The night came that she should go to bed with her husband as the custom is, and when they were both in their chamber alone, she said to him in this manner: “O, my best beloved and sweet husband, I have a counsel to tell thee, if so be that thou wilt keep it secret and swear that ye shall bewray it to no man.”  To whom Valerian said that he would gladly promise and swear never to bewray it, and then she said to him: “I have an angel that loveth me, which ever keepeth my body whether I sleep or wake, and if he may find that ye touch my body by villainy, or foul and polluted love, certainly he shall anon slay you, and so should ye lose the flower of your youth. And if so be that thou love me in holy love and cleanness, he shall love thee as he loveth me and shall show to thee his grace.”

[At this point, Valerian is considering how to clip the wings of the ‘angel’]

Then Valerian, corrected by the will of God, having dread, said to her: “If thou wilt that I believe that thou sayest to me, show to me that angel that thou speakest of, and if I find veritable that he be the angel of God, I shall do that thou sayest, and if so be that thou love another man than me, I shall slay both him and thee with my sword.”

Cecilia sends him off to find Pope Urban on the Via Appia and request to be baptized by him.  After that (she says) he will see the angel.  Valerian did so, received instruction and baptism, and returned to Cecilia forthwith, “whom he found within her chamber speaking with an angel.  And this angel had two crowns of roses and lilies which he held in his hands, of which he gave one to Cecilia, and that other to Valerian, saying: Keep ye these crowns with an undefouled and clean body, for I have brought them to you from Paradise, and they shall never fade, nor wither, nor lose their savour, nor they may not be seen but of them to whom chastity pleaseth. And thou, Valerian, because thou hast used profitable counsel, demand what thou wilt.”

Valerian wilts that his dearly beloved brother Tibertius should also know the truth and be brought into the faith.  The angel grants this, and adds that both brothers will go to the Lord by the palm of martyrdom.  Tibertius then enters the chamber and smells the invisible rose-and-lily crowns.  Valerian and Cecilia instruct him in the faith and send him off to be baptized by St. Urban.

And from then on he had so much grace of God that every day he saw angels, and all that ever he required of our Lord he obtained.”

Enter Trouble.

 Almachius, provost of Rome, which put to death many Christian men, heard say that Tyburtius and Valerian buried Christian men that were martyred, and gave all their goods to poor people. He called them before him, and after long disputation he commanded that they should go to the statue or image of Jupiter for to do sacrifice, or else they should be beheaded. And as they were led, they so preached the faith of our Lord to one called Maximus that they converted him to the Christian faith, and they promised to him that if he had very repentance, and firm creance that he should see the glory of heaven which their souls should receive at the hour of their passions, and that he himself should have the same if he would believe.

That same night, Maximus was baptized, along with his household and several of his henchmen.  The following morning, Valerian and Tiburtius were led to the statue of Jupiter, but as they refused to sacrifice to the idol, they were then and there beheaded, and S. Cecilia took their bodies and buried them.

As foretold, Maximus saw their souls ascend into heaven, borne by angels.  The news that Maximus had also converted enraged the provost, and he ordered his erstwhile chamberlain to be scourged until he died.  Maximus was buried by Cecilia next to her husband and brother-in-law.

The relics of all four are buried under the high altar in the church of St. Cecilia in Trastavere.


In honor of these saints, plant Valerian and Sweet Cicely in your Mary Garden.

Valerian is a perennial plant with sweet-smelling flowers that bloom in summer.  The root stinks (cats love the smell for some reason.  Usually they are more fastidious).  Said to be useful as an aid to sleep, although I find sitting in the herb garden on a summer’s day to be sleep-inducing enough.

Sweet Cicely is a tall perennial with white flowers and feathery, fern-like leaves.  It is very attractive to bees. The seeds, roots, and leaves can be eaten and taste more-or–less like anise (black licorice).   Gerard said in his Herball that is is “… good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.”  Well, other than an increase in lust, that is a plant I can use!

Artwork: Francesco Botticini, “Saints Valerian, Cecilia, and Tiburtius with female donor” (15th c.)  Swiped from Wikipedia.

“Valerian” from Kohler’s Medicinal Plants (1897). Swiped from Wikipedia.

“Sweet Cicely” from ''Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz'' by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885), Gera, Germany. Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stueber. Swiped from Wikipedia.