18 Jul Saint Symphorosa and her Seven Sons, Martyrs
Today is the feast day of Saint Symphorosa and her Seven Sons, Martyrs. Orate pro nobis.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
The Catholic Church presents to us today, as she did on the 10th of this Month, seven Christian heroes, who in their youth, manifested more than manly firmness in the confession of the true faith. Their names were, Crescentius, Julianus, Nemesius, Primitivus, Justinus, Stacteus, and Eugenius. Symphorosa, their holy and not less heroic mother, was a native of Rome, and wife of Getulius, a Roman general. When in the reign of the Emperor Adrian, a cruel persecution of the Christians arose, she went with Getulius and Amantius, her brother-in-law, and her seven sons, to Tivoli, to strengthen the Christians in the true faith, and to prepare herself for the approaching struggle. The Emperor, informed of this, despatched Cerealis, one of his officers, to Tivoli, to take Getulius and Amantius, and bring them prisoners to Rome. Cerealis, still a heathen, came to execute the imperial command; but convinced by Getulius and Amantius of the truth of the Christian faith, he embraced it; and hence, all three were beheaded by command of the enraged Emperor, after having suffered a long imprisonment, and many cruel tortures.
St. Symphorosa had every reason to believe that she and her children would not long remain unmolested; and as she feared that one or more of her children, owing to their tender age, might be induced to abandon their faith for fear of the tortures, she left Tivoli, and concealed herself for a time in an unfrequented place, in order to gain time to inspire her children with Christian fortitude. She represented to them the priceless grace of dying for Christ's sake, and the glory which awaits martyrs in heaven. The shortness of the pains of martyrdom, and the never-ending rewards of heaven were the chief points which she almost hourly presented to their consideration, while, at the same time, she exhorted them to follow the example of their uncle and their father, and remain faithful to the true faith. One day, she asked Eugenius, the youngest, what he would do in case he were forced either to sacrifice to the gods, or to be whipped and torn with scourges. The innocent little child answered manfully: “Dear mother, I would rather be torn in pieces than sacrifice to the devils.” “But,” said his mother, addressing all the children, “would you not be frightened if the executioner would seize you, threatening to kill you all most cruelly? Would you not shrink, if they were to place before your eyes fire, swords, the rack, and other instruments of torture? Oh! I fear, my beloved children, I fear that you would lose courage and forsake Christ.” “No, no, dear mother,” said Crescentius, “fear not; I, and all my brothers promise to thee that there shall be nothing dreadful enough to conquer us and cause us to become faithless to Jesus Christ.” Greatly comforted, the pious mother admonished them to pray that God might give them the strength they needed to suffer for Him; a prayer which she herself ceaselessly sent up to the throne of the Most High. Not long after, her anticipations were realized.
Adrian had her and her children apprehended and brought before him, and commanded them immediately to sacrifice to the gods, or to prepare themselves for a most cruel death. The fearless heroine replied: “There is no need of further preparations, of further consideration. My resolution is taken; I will not sacrifice to idols, and I have only one wish, to give my life for Him who has given His for me.” The tyrant, who had not expected this answer, was doubly enraged, and commanded her to be taken to the temple of the idols, and to be hung up by the hair of the head, after having been most cruelly buffeted. This command was immediately executed. Symphorosa, during this torture, courageously said to her children: ” Be not terrified, my children, at my sufferings; I bear it joyfully; joyfully do I give my life for Christ's sake. Remain steadfast. Fight bravely. Remember the example your father gave you; look at me, your mother, and follow in our footsteps. This suffering is short, but the glory prepared for us will be everlasting.” With such words, the Christian mother fortified her children who were willing to conduct themselves according to her precepts. The tyrant who would no longer listen to Symphorosa's exhortations, ordered her to be cast into the river, with a great stone fastened around her neck. In this manner ended her glorious martyrdom, in the 138th year of the Christian Era.
On the following day, her seven sons were brought before the Emperor, who represented to them that, as they had neither father nor mother, he would adopt them as his own children and provide for them most bountifully, if they would obey him and sacrifice to the gods. Should they, however, prove as obstinate as their parents had been, they had nothing to expect but torments and death. “This is what we desire,” answered Crescentius,” that we, like our parents, may die for the sake of Christ. Neither promises, nor threats, nor torments can make us faithless to Christ.” The Emperor, being unwilling to put his menaces immediately into execution, still endeavored to win over the children, alternately by promises and threats; but finding all unavailing, he ordered seven stakes to be raised in the idolatrous temple, to which the seven valiant confessors of Christ were tied, and tormented in all possible ways. Their limbs were stretched until they were dislocated, and the witnesses of these awful scenes were filled with compassion. The pain must have been most dreadful; but there was not one of these young heroes who did not praise God, and rejoice in his suffering. The tyrant, ashamed of being conquered by children, ordered an end to be made of their torments, which was accordingly done in various ways. Crescentius had his throat cut with a dagger; Julianus was stabbed in the breast with a sword; Nemesius was pierced through the heart, and Primitivus through the lower part of his body. Justinus was cut in pieces; Stacteus shot with arrows, and Eugenius, the youngest, was cut in two.
Thus gloriously died the seven sons of St. Symphorosa, reminding us of the illustrious martyrdom of the several Machabees, in the reign of the wicked King Antiochus. (1)
In the seventeenth century, Bosio discovered the ruins of a basilica at the place popularly called “le sette fratte” (the seven brothers), on the Via Tiburtina, nine miles from Rome. (Bosio, “Roma Sotteranea,” 105-9). The Acts and the “Hieronymian Martyrology” agree in designating this spot as the tomb of Symphorosa and her sons. Further discoveries, that leave no room for doubt that the basilica was built over their tomb, were made by Stevenson. The remains were transferred to the Church of S. Angelo is Pescaria at Rome by Stephen (II) III in 752. A sarcophagus was found here in 1610, bearing the inscription: “Hic requiescunt corpora SS. Martyrum Simforosae, viri sui Zotici (Getulii) et Filiorum ejus a Stephano Papa translata.” The Diocese of Tivoli honours them as patrons and the whole Church celebrates their feast 18 July. (2)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff