On the same day as the invention of the Holy Cross, the Catholic Church celebrates the martyrdom of Saint Alexander, pope, and martyr, who was born in Rome, and the son of a citizen there, called by the same name. He succeeded in Saint Peter’s Chair Saint Evaristus, pope and martyr, and was the seventh pope after Saint Peter if we include Saints Linus and Cletus. They immediately succeeded the Apostle one after the other. Saint Alexander was admirable for his sanctity and most eminent for his faith and constancy in his martyrdom.
He was thirty years old when he was promoted to the government of the Church, but his life and doctrine did abundantly supply his want of years. Through his preaching and heavenly conversation, he converted many senators and a significant part of the Roman nobility to our holy faith, and among them, a principal magistrate named Hermes, with all his family who was twelve hundred and fifty persons, for which very reason he was apprehended by the governor of the city, Aurelianus, and cast into prison, where he wrought many miracles, of which this one was very great and most remarkable.
For being loaded with iron bolts, there came one night to him a child with a lighted taper in his hand that said to him, “Alexander, follow me.” The saint made his prayers first to God and then, understanding him to be an angel of our Lord, followed him, and neither walls, doors, nor guards could stop or hinder him. The child led him to the house of Quirinus(1) tribune, where Hermes was in the hold, who had a great desire to speak with Saint Alexander, and the saint had promised him, notwithstanding his imprisonment, would come to him. When they met, they embraced each other. They shed tears of joy and devotion and animated themselves to suffer courageously for our Lord Jesus Christ. This did much astonish Quirinus, the tribune, after discussing with Hermes, who told him the manner of his conversion to the holy faith. When he also saw his daughter Balbina, much afflicted with the king’s evil, cured by Saint Alexander, with only touching her with his chains, he became a Christian, with his daughter and all those he kept as prisoners. And Saint Alexander commanded Saint Eventius and Saint Theodulus, priests from the eastern parts of Rome, to baptize them all.
When this was told to Aurelianus, he was exceedingly furious and angry and first tormented Quirinus and put him to death, then cut off the head of Hermes and commanded all those that had been baptized in prison, together with Balbina, Quirinus’ daughter, to be drowned in the sea. Then he sent for Alexander with the two priests, Eventius and Theodulus. Then, when they had interchanged some discourse for a while, Aurelianus said, “Let us leave off wording it, and fall to works,” and commanded the hangman to strip Saint Alexander naked, and stretch him on the [rack], and with iron hooks to tear off his flesh, and to burn his sides with lighted torches.
In this torment, the saint was most quiet and still and spoke not a word. When Aurelianus wondered and asked him, “Why he held his peace and complained not,” he answered, “When a Christian prays, he speaks to God.” Eventius and Theodulus were put to the same torments, and Eventius was eighty-one years old, had been baptized at eleven, and received holy orders at twenty. The greatness and sharpness of the sufferings served only to make the holy martyrs firmer and more constant in the faith and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And Aurelianus, unable to make them relent, and condescend to his will, commanded an oven to be heated and Alexander and Eventius to be cast into it. Still, Theodulus was made to stand at the mouth of it, seeing them consumed with the burning flames and fearing the like punishments, he might move to sacrifice to the gods. But, Theodulus, not only with undaunted courage, beheld his companions in the fire but also inflamed with a tremendous fire of divine love, leaped in among them because they called him and told him that they felt no pain but instead found great ease and refreshment. And so it was, the flames did not hurt them, and they came all three out of the oven bright and shining and the same color as gold that had been refined in the crucible.
The hardened and rebellious heart of the tyrant was nothing softened by the miracle, for he commanded Eventius and Theodulus to be beheaded. And, as for Alexander, that he might die a crueler death, all members and parts of his body were priced and stabbed by keen and sharp-pointed awls of steel. In which torment he gave up his most blessed soul to God (though the Book of Roman Bishops records he was also beheaded after he had been so horribly misused) on the third day of May, in the year of our Lord 132, according to Cardinal Baronius, in the reign of Emperor Hadrian(2), who Trajan has adopted(3), called himself Trajan Hadrian. Where arises the mistake of some authors who write Saint Alexander suffered under Trajan.
Aurelianus was overjoyed for putting these holy martyrs to death as if he got some famous victory. Still, his joy was soon turned to lamentations, for he heard a voice that said, “Aurelian, for those whom thou has deprived of life, the gates of heaven are opened, and the gates of hell are for the.” This voice put Aurelianus beside himself, and falling to the ground, he ate his own tongue and, so dying, yielded his wicked soul to be eternally tormented in the flames of hell.
The bodies of Saint Alexander and his companions were buried out of the city on the Via Nomentana(4), seven miles from Rome, and afterward translated to the church of Saint Sabina in the city, which is a convent of the Dominican Friars. Baronius said According to Baronius, Saint Alexander was a pope for ten years, five months, and twenty days. Yet Eusebius only gives him ten years, but the Book of Roman Bishops adds to the ten years, seven months, and two days. Saint Alexander was most zealous for his divine service. He ordained that at Holy Mass, priests should consecrate unleavened bread to signify the purity of the Blessed Sacrament and to imitate our blessed Savior, who, instituting this sacred mystery, did the same at the Last Supper. He also decreed that in the consecration of the chalice, they should mingle a little water with the wine, thereby signifying the union of Christ with His Church and representing the blood and water that issued forth of His precious side. But when we say that Saint Alexander did institute these holy ceremonies, it is not to be understood or inferred that he was the first to form them, for the Apostles used them before. What they learned of Christ and taught the Church, this holy bishop did approve and establish by his holy Canons.
The holy Church commemorates Saint Juvenal, Bishop of Narni, a city in Umbria, forty miles from Rome, joining him with the Holy Martyrs, Saint Alexander, and His Companions. The Roman Breviary and the martyrologies of Bede, Ado, and Usuardus say of him, “That he was a man of a most holy life, and renowned for his miracles, and that he converted almost the entire city of Narni to the faith of Christ.” Saint Gregory also spoke of another Juvenal, buried in Narni and died a martyr, mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on the seventh of May.
Ribadeneyra, Pedro de. “The Lives of St. Alexander Pope, St. Eventius and St. Theodulus Priests, and Martyrs; and also of St. Juvenal Bishop, and Confessor.” The Lives of Saints, With Other Feasts of the Year, according to the Roman Calendar. Written in Spanish by the Reverend Father Peter Ribadeneyra, Priest of the Society of Jesus. Translated Into English by W.P. (William Petre) Esq; The Second Edition Corrected and Amended, vol. 1, pp. 322–323. London. Printed by B.S., 1730.
Edited by Michael Murphy. Used with permission.
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1. Saint Quirinus, Roman tribune, and martyr († 30 March 116).
2. Hadrian reigned as Emperor of Rome from 117 to 138. He was born into a Roman family that had moved to Spain from the Italian city of Atri in Picenum some 250 years before. His father was a senator and Emperor Trajan's first cousin.
3. Trajan reigned as Emperor of Rome from 98 to 117. Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who presided over one of the greatest military expansions in Roman history and led the empire to the greatest territorial extent in history by the time of his death, as officially declared by the senate Optimus Princeps (the greatest of emperors).
4. Via Nomentana is an ancient Italian road that runs 23 kilometers northeast from Rome to Nomentum.