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333Chapter X.—Concerning St. Hilarion and the Virgins in Heliopolis who were destroyed by Swine. Strange Martyrdom of Mark, Bishop of Arethusa.

At the same period the inhabitants of Gaza sought for the monk Hilarion; but he had fled to Sicily.13821382    Hieron. Vita Hilarionis (divergent on some points). Here he employed himself in collecting wood in the deserts and on the mountains, which he carried on his shoulders for sale in the cities, and, by these means, obtained sufficient food for the support of the body. But as he was at length recognized by a man of quality whom he had dispossessed of a demon, he retired to Dalmatia, where, by the power of God, he performed numerous miracles, and through prayer, repressed an inundation of the sea and restored the waves to their proper bounds, and again departed, for it was no joy to him to live among those who praised him; but when he changed his place of abode, he was desirous of being unobserved and by frequent migrations to be rid of the fame which prevailed about him. Eventually he sailed for the island of Cyprus, but touched at Paphos, and, at the entreaty of the bishop of Cyprus, he loved the life there and practiced philosophy at a place called Charburis.

Here he only escaped martyrdom by flight; for he fled in compliance with the Divine precept which commands us not to expose ourselves to persecution; but that if we fall into the hands of persecutors, to overcome by our own fortitude the violence of our oppressors.

The inhabitants of Gaza and of Alexandria were not the only citizens who exercised such atrocities against the Christians as those I have described. The inhabitants of Heliopolis, near Mount Libanus, and of Arethusa in Syria, seem to have surpassed them in excess of cruelty.13831383    Greg. Naz. Or. cont. Julianum, i. 86, 87. The former were guilty of an act of barbarity which could scarcely be credited, had it not been corroborated by the testimony of those who witnessed it. They stripped the holy virgins, who had never been looked upon by the multitude, of their garments, and exposed them in a state of nudity as a public spectacle and objects of insult. After numerous other inflictions they at last shaved them, ripped them open, and concealed in their viscera the food usually given to pigs; and since the swine could not distinguish, but were impelled by the need of their customary food, they also tore in pieces the human flesh.

I am convinced that the citizens of Heliopolis perpetrated this barbarity against the holy virgins on account of the prohibition of the ancient custom of yielding up virgins to prostitution with any chance comer before being united in marriage to their betrothed. This custom was prohibited by a law enacted by Constantine, after he had destroyed the temple of Venus at Heliopolis, and erected a church upon its ruins.13841384    Eus. V. C. iii. 58.

Mark, bishop of Arethusa,13851385    Greg. Naz. Or. cont. Julianum, i. 88–90. an old man and venerable for his gray hairs and life, was put to a very cruel death by the inhabitants of that city, who had long entertained inimical feelings against him, because, during the reign of Constantine, he had more spiritedly than persuasively elevated the pagans to Christianity, and had demolished a most sacred and magnificent temple. On the accession of Julian he saw that the people were excited against the bishop; an edict was issued commanding the bishop either to defray the expenses of its re-erection, or to rebuild the temple. Reflecting that the one was impossible and the other unlawful for a Christian and still less for a priest, he at first fled from the city. On hearing, however, that many were suffering on his account, that some were dragged before the tribunals and others tortured, he returned, and offered to suffer whatever the multitude might choose to inflict upon him. The entire people, instead of admiring him the more as having manifested a deed befitting a philosopher, conceived that he was actuated by contempt towards them, and rushed upon him, dragged him through the streets, pressing and plucking and beating whatever member each one happened upon. People of each sex and of all ages joined with alacrity and fury in this atrocious proceeding. His ears were severed by fine ropes; the boys who frequented the schools made game of him by tossing him aloft and rolling him over and over, sending him forward, catching him up, and unsparingly piercing him with their styles. When his whole body was covered with wounds, and he nevertheless was still breathing, they anointed him with honey and a certain mixture, and placing him in a fish-basket made of woven rushes, raised him up on an eminence. It is said that while he was in this position, and the wasps and bees lit upon him and consumed his flesh, he told the inhabitants of Arethusa that he was raised up above them, and could look down upon them below him, and that this reminded him of the difference that would exist between them in the life to come. It is also related that the prefect13861386    He means Sallustius, who was at this time præfectus prætorio Orientis, to be distinguished from another Sallustius, who was præfectus prætorio Galliæ. who, although a pagan, was of such noble conduct that his memory is still honored in that country, admired the self-control of Mark, and boldly uttered reproaches against the emperor for allowing himself to be 334vanquished by an old man, who was exposed to innumerable tortures; and he added that such proceedings reflected ridicule on the emperor, while the names of the persecuted were at the same time rendered illustrious. Thus did the blessed one13871387    Most likely this was the same Mark, bishop of Arethusa, mentioned in iii. 10; iv. 6, 12, 16, 22. endure all the torments inflicted upon him by the inhabitants of Arethusa with such unshaken fortitude that even the pagans praised him.


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