THE LITURGICAL YEAR by Dom Gueranger
THE protoMartyr of the Benedictine Order stands before us today in his strength and in his beauty. The empire had fallen, and the yoke of the Arian Gothas lay heavy upon Italy. Rome was no longer in the hands of the glorious races which had made her greatness; these, nevertheless, kept up their honorable traditions. They offered a great lesson, for future times of revolution, to other descendants of not less noble families: in lieu of the ensign of civic honor once committed to their fathers, the survivors of the old patrician ranks made it their duty to raise still higher the standard of title heroism, of those virtues which alone are everlasting.
Thus Benedict of Nursia, fleeing into the desert, had rendered greater service than any mighty conqueror to Rome and her immortal destinies. The world soon discovered this fact; and then began, as St. Gregory tells us, the concourse of Roman nobles, bringing their children to the patriarch of monks, to be educated by him for almighty God.
Placid was the eldest son of the patrician Tertullus. The excellent qualities early discovered in the child led his worthy father to offer to God, without delay, this dear first-fruit of his paternity. In those days, parents loved their children not for this passing world, but for eternity; not for themselves, but for our Lord. The faith of Tertullus was well rewarded when, twenty years later, not only his first-born, but also his two other sons and their sister, were crowned with Martyrdom. This was not the first holocaust of the kind in that heroic family, if it be true that they were related by blood, and heirs of the goods as well as of the virtues, of the holy Martyr Eustace, who had been immolated four centuries earlier with his wife and sons.
Among the children of
promise enlisted by the vanquished nobles of the ancient empire in the
new militia of the holy valley, Equitius brought to Subiaco his son
a boy some years older than Placid. Henceforth the names of Maurus and
Placid became inseparable from that of Benedict; and the patriarch
a new glory from his two sons, so united and yet so different.
. . . he accompanied St. Benedict to Monte Cassino. At the age of twenty-one, he was sent into Sicily, to defend, against certain covetous persons, the goods and lands which his father had given to Monte Cassino. On the way he performed so many great miracles, that he arrived at Messina with a reputation for sanctity. He built a monastery on his paternal estate, not far from the harbor, and gathered together thirty monks; being thus the first to introduce the monastic life onto the island.
Nothing could be more placid or more humble than his behavior; while he surpassed everyone in prudence, gravity, kindness, and unruffled tranquillity of mind, he often spent whole nights in the contemplation of Heavenly things, only sitting down for a short time when overpowered by the necessity of sleep. He was most zealous in observing silence; and when it was necessary to speak, the subjects of his conversation were the contempt of the world and the imitation of Christ, His fasts were most severe, and he abstained all the year round from flesh and every kind of milk-meat. In Lent he took only bread and water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; the rest of the week he passed without any food; He never drank wine, and always wore a hair shirt. So numerous and so remarkable were the miracles he worked, that the sick came to him in crowds to be cured, not only from the neighborhood, but also from Etruria and Africa.
But Placid, in his great humility, worked all his miracles in the name of St. Benedict, attributing them to his merits.
His holy example and the wonders he wrought caused the Christian faith to spread rapidly. In the fifth year after his arrival in Sicily, the Saracens made a sudden incursion, and seized upon Placid and his thirty monks while they were singing the night Office in the church. At the same time were taken Eutychius and Victorinus, Placid's brothers, and his sister the virgin Flavia, who had all come from Rome to visit him; and also Donatus, Faustus, and the deacon Firmatus. Donatus was beheaded on the spot. The rest were taken before Manucha, the chief of the pirates; and as they firmly refused to adore his idols, they were beaten with rods, and cast, bound hand and foot, into prison, without food. Every day they were beaten afresh, but God supported them. After many days, they were again led before the tyrant; and as they still stood firm in the faith, they were again repeatedly beaten, then stripped of their clothes, and hung, head downwards, over thick smoke to suffocate. They were left for dead, but the next day were found alive, and miraculously healed of their wounds.
The tyrant then addressed himself to the virgin Flavia apart. But finding he could gain nothing by threats or promises, he ordered her to be stripped, and hung by the feet from a high beam, insulting her meanwhile upon her nakedness. But the virgin answered: Man and woman have the same author and Creator, God; hence neither my sex, nor this nakedness which I endure for love of Him will be any disadvantage to me in His eyes, who for my sake chose not only to be stripped, but also to be nailed to a Cross. Manucha, enraged at this reply, ordered her to be beaten, and tortured with the smoke, and then handed her over to be dishonored. At the virgin's prayer, God struck all who attempted to approach her, with sudden stiffness and pain in all their limbs. The tyrant next attacked Placid, the virgin's brother, who tried to convince him of the vanity of his idols; Manucha thereupon commanded his mouth and teeth to be broken with stones, and his tongue to be cut out by the root; but the Martyr spoke as clearly and easily as before. The barbarian grew more furious at this miracle, and commanded that Placid and his sister Flavia along with brethren should be crushed under an enormous weight of anchors and millstones; but even this torture was powerless to hurt them. Finally, thirty-six of Placid's family, with their leader, and several others, were beheaded on the shore near Messina, and gained the palm of Martyrdom on the third of the Nones of October, in the year of salvation five hundred and thirty-nine. Gordian, a monk of that monastery, who had escaped by flight, found all their bodies entire after several days, and buried them with tears. Not long afterwards the barbarians, in punishment of their crime, were swallowed up by the avenging waves of the sea.
During her tortures,
St. Flavia, not to be confused with with St. Flavia Domitilla, another
early Church Martyr, was given a vision of her Guardian Angel shown
holding the crown of Martyrdom out to the enrapt Saint.