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The Pope Elected by a Bird

Gregory DiPippo
In his Ecclesiastical History 6.29.2-4, Eusebius of Caesarea recounts the following story about the election in A.D. 236 of Pope St Fabian, whose feast is today.

“They say that Fabian … was chosen to the office (of the Papacy) through a most wonderful manifestation of divine and heavenly grace. For when all the brethren had assembled to select by vote him who should succeed to the episcopate of the church, several renowned and honorable men were in the minds of many, but Fabian, although present, was in the mind of none. But they relate that suddenly a dove flying down lighted on his head, resembling the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Savior in the form of a dove. Thereupon all the people, as if moved by one Divine Spirit, with all eagerness and unanimity cried out that he was worthy, and without delay they took him and placed him upon the episcopal seat.”

St Fabian was martyred on this day in A.D. 250, during the persecution of the Emperor Decius, and buried in a crypt in the catacomb of Callixtus on the Appian Way. In 1854, the archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi (whom the Italians like to call “the Columbus of the Catacombs”) rediscovered this catacomb; the funerary inscriptions of several Popes, including Fabian, were preserved in the crypt. “ΦΑΒΙΑΝΟϹ ΕΠΙ[CΚΟΠΟC] Μ[ΑΡΤΥ]Ρ – Fabian, bishop and martyr.”

Ancient languages come to life in the study of archeology! Learn more with Veterum Sapientia Institute.

(Pictured below: the Crypt of the Popes in the Catacomb of Callixtus; image Dnalor_01 from Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

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