The Martyrdom of Ss Fructuosus and Companions

Gregory DiPippo

Tomorrow, the city of Tarragona in Spain will celebrate the feast of its patron Saints, the bishop Fructuosus and his deacons Augurius and Eulogius, who were martyred there during the persecution of Valerian and Gallienus, in 259 AD. The early Christians made it their practice to obtain records of the trials of their martyrs, which they then read at the liturgy on their feast days. St Augustine refers to this custom specifically in reference to these martyrs in a sermon which he preached about them in 396; this record was also known to the poet Prudentius, who was from the same area, and of course very proud of his sainted countrymen. Many such documents have perished over the centuries, but those of Fructuosus and his companions are preserved, and universally recognized to be authentic, even by the most skeptical among scholars of hagiography.

When they had been brought before the provincial governor Emilian:

“Æmilianus præses Fructuoso episcopo dixit, ‘Audisti quid Imperatores præceperunt?’ Fructuosus episcopus dixit, ‘Nescio quid præceperunt: ego vero Christianus sum.’ Æmilianus præses dixit, ‘Præceperunt deos coli.’ Fructuosus episcopus dixit, ‘Ego unum Deum colo, qui fecit cælum et terram, mare et omnia quæ in eis sunt.’ Æmilianus dixit, ‘Scis esse deos?’ Fructuosus episcopus dixit: ‘Nescio.’ Æmilianus dixit, ‘Scies postea.’

Emilian the governor said to Fructuosus the bishop, ‘You have heard what the emperors have commanded?’ Fructuosus the bishop said, ‘I do not know what they have commanded, but I am a Christian.’ Emilian the governor said ‘They have commanded that the gods be worshipped.’ Fructuosus the bishop said, ‘I worship the one God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all the things therein.’ Emilian said, ‘Do you know that there are (other) gods?’ Fructuosus the bishop said, ‘I do not.’ Emilian said, ‘You shall know hereafter.’ ”

This last statement was effectively a threat of torture, at which Fructuosus “looked to the Lord and began to pray.” Emilian then declared, “Who will be heard, who will be feared, who will be adored, if the gods are not worshipped, and the images of the emperors are not adored?” He then turned to Augurius and said, “Do not listen to the words of Fructuosus”, at which the latter replied, “I worship the almighty God.” Emilian then asked Eulogius, “Numquid et tu Fructuosum colis? – Do you also worship Fructuosus?”, five words which fully betray the mystified incomprehension of Christianity so typical of the Romans. The answer was, “I do not worship Fructuosus, but the same (God) whom he worships.”

Turning back to Fructuosus, Emilian asked him “Are you a bishop?”, and to the answer “I am”, he replied with a single word in Latin, “Fuisti – you were”, a very curt way of saying “You shall soon be dead.” He then gave the order that they be burnt alive.

The remains of the Roman amphitheater at Tarragona, constructed at the end of the 2nd century. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by José Luiz Bernardes RibeiroCC BY-SA 3.0)

As the Saints were taken to the local amphitheater, the ruins of which still stand to this day, not only the Christians, but also the pagans expressed their grief, for they also loved Fructuosus. (Populus Fructuoso Episcopo dolere cœpit; quia talem amorem habebat non tantum a fratribus, sed etiam ab ethnicis.)

An episode right before the execution, one of several such known to us, bears witness to the great veneration in which the martyrs were held by the early Christians. A man named Felix came forward, took the bishop’s right hand, and asked him to remember him, the clear implication being that the martyr would certainly stand in God’s presence very shortly, and thus be able to plead for him. To this Fructuosus replied, “In mente me habere necesse est Ecclesiam Catholicam, ab Oriente usque in Occidentem diffusam. – I must keep in remembrance the Catholic Church, spread (through the world) from East to West.” He then addressed his flock as follows: “Iam non deerit vobis Pastor, nec deficere poterit caritas et repromissio Domini, tam hic quam in futurum. Hoc enim quod cernitis, unius horæ videtur infirmitas. –    You will not now lack a shepherd, nor will the Lord’s charity and promise fail, either now or in the future; for what you see now (i.e. the execution) is but the weakness of an hour.”

Burning at the stake usually killed more by smoke inhalation than actual burning, and this seems to be the case with these martyrs, since the acts say that the fire loosened the bonds which held them, in such a way that they were able to kneel in prayer before they died, “certain of the resurrection.” The author then reports that “the customary miracles” took place: two of Emilian’s servants, Babylas and Mygdonius, who were also Christians, as well as his own daughter, saw the heavens open and the Saints ascending with crowns on their heads. Many of the Roman persecutors focused their energies entirely on the clergy, and ignored the laity, and Emilian seems to have been such a one, since the two Christian servants were able to invite him to “come and see those whom you have condemned today, how they are restored to heaven and their hope”, but Emilian “was not worthy to see them.” The faithful then collected the relics, in accordance with the custom also attested in many other ancient accounts of martyrdoms.

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