Today is the feast day of Saint Leocadia. Ora pro nobis.
By Ed Masters
Photos by Teresa Limjoco
During the persecutions the Church endured for the first three centuries, many thousands of Catholics from all walks of life lost their lives in every way imaginable. This was often simply because these brave souls refused to burn a pinch of incense and utter the words, “Caesar is Lord.”
From Hispania and Britain to Asia Minor, Palestine and Egypt, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church during four major and many minor persecutions. The final and fiercest of these persecutions was conducted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian under the instigation of his co-Emperor Galerius. For eight long years, from A.D. 303-311, Catholics were hunted, tormented and killed at the behest of a government determined to wipe out the Faith, once and for all.
One of the celebrated martyrs of that tumultuous era was St. Leocadia of Toledo. Born to a well-respected family in Toledo, Spain, she was arrested by Dacian, the brutish governor of the province, who was only too eager to do the bidding of Diocletian. He was described in the Martyrology as the most furious persecutor of Christians in Spain and had nothing but absolute contempt for the Faith.
SUMMONED BEFORE HIS DREADED TRIBUNAL, Leocadia told Dacian of her love for our Lord Jesus Christ and that nothing would ever make her renounce Him or apostatize from the Faith. In response, Dacian had her whipped until she was lacerated and bloodied and threatened her with more torture after he sent her to prison. On the way to her imprisonment, she consoled the Christians who were appalled at the treatment she received, telling them she was joyful to suffer for Him.
While imprisoned, Leocadia heard of the cruelties and martyrdom inflicted on St. Eulalia, one of her contemporary Spanish Catholics. Extremely saddened at the stories of the treatment meted out to St. Eulalia and her fellow martyrs, Leocadia asked God to be taken out of this world. The Lord heard her prayer and she died in prison on December 9, A.D. 303.
Before she commended her soul to the Lord, Leocadia kissed a cross she imprinted on the prison wall by her touch. Immediately after her death miracles occurred due to her intercession; later, a church was built over her grave. In artwork she is represented with a tower to show that she died in prison.
Leocadia’s following was especially widespread in the 7th century in Spain. Her relics were moved after the Islamic invasions of the 8th century, first to Oviedo, then to the Benedictine abbey of St. Guislain near Mons, France where centuries later they were venerated by Philip the Handsome and his wife, Joanna of Castile, the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
Joanna brought back a tibia of the Saint to Toledo, and during the wars which devastated Europe in the 16th century the rest of Leocadia’s relics were brought back to Spain by a Jesuit, Miguel Hernandez.
In Spanish folk memory, Leocadia’s name is preserved. Traditionally a dinner made in honor of St. Leocadia especially on cold winter nights is named Cocido (boiled beef) as well as a dessert Toledo is famous for, Mazapan (marzipan).
LIKE ST. PHILOMENA WHO WAS MARTYRED IN ITALY DURING THE SAME ERA, Leocadia's name means “light.” The name derives from the Latin Leucius, from the Greek elements leukós (λευκὸς) léukios (λεύκιος)”, meaning “white”, which in turn derives from the Ancient Greek “lýke (λύκη)”, meaning “light”. The name means “white, pure, pure as white, pure as the light”.
THREE CHURCHES IN TOLEDO are named after Leocadia and she is the Patroness of this ancient Spanish city.
TOLEDO REMEMBERS HER BISHOPS AND SAINTS: Leocadia’s precious relics went first to Rome, then to Valencia, then finally back to Toledo, where King Philip II of Spain presided over the ceremony of the final translation of her relics in April, 1589.
FEATURED PHOTO: THE GRAVE OF THE ANCIENT ROMAN MARTYR, St Leocadia of Spain, in the crypt of the Cathedral at Oviedo.