Saint Apollinaris of Ravenna, Bishop, Martyr

July 23

Today is the feast day of Saint Apollinaris of Ravenna.  Ora pro nobis.

His acts say that he was born at Antioch, a disciple of St. Peter, and made by him bishop of Ravenna, but this is an invention of the seventh century, when the pretensions of that see were in need of support.  He was famous among the earlier martyrs, and the high veneration which the Church paid early to his memory is a sufficient testimony to his sanctity and apostolic spirit; but no reliance can be put in his legend. 

According to the legend he miraculously healed the wife of an official and converted her and her husband.  He cured one Boniface who was dumb, and made many converts, for which he was flogged and chased from the city.  Saint Apollinaris preached the gospel in Bologna and converted the household of the patrician Rufinus.   Saint Apollinaris was then banished and wrecked on the Dalmatian coast, where his preaching caused him to be ill-treated. Three time he returned to his see, and each time was captured, tortured, and driven out again; the fourth time the Emperor Vespasian issued a decree of banishment against Christians.   For a time Apollinaris lay in hiding with the connivance of a Christian centurion; but he was recognized and set upon by the mob at Classis, a suburb of the city, knocked about, and left for dead.

St Peter Chrysologus, the most illustrious among his successors, has left a sermon in his honor.

“Sermon 128 of St Peter Chrysologus, who was bishop of Ravenna from 433 to 450, pays tribute to Apollinaris in the following words: “Blessed Apollinaris, the first bishop, alone honoured the church in Ravenna with the glory of martyrdom suffered here. Following the mandate of his God, he lost his life in order to find it again for all eternity. To die only once is very little for those who can gloriously conquer the enemy more often for their king. Loyalty and devotion, more than death, make the martyr. Just as falling on the battlefield for love of the king is proof of valour, so too is sustaining the battle at length and bringing it to a close proof of perfect virtue…. The confessor spilled his blood many times and with his wounds and the faith of his soul bore witness to his Lord…. He sustained and nourished the church throughout its fragile infancy and, as he wished, the martyr was kept alive…. He lives and just as the good shepherd stays with his flock, the spirit of he who came before us in body and in time will never leave us. He preceded us in life, but his bodily presence remains with us.” (6)

The name of St Apollinaris occurs in the canon of the Milanese Mass.

He died on July 23rd of the year 79. His body lay first at Classis, four miles from Ravenna, and a church was built over his tomb; later the relics were returned to Ravenna. Pope Honorius had a church built to honor the name of Apollinaris in Rome, about the year 630. From the beginning the Church has held his memory in high veneration.  Beyond this we know very little. The life, printed in the Acta Sanctorum, July, vol. 5, is not of older date than the seventh century, and there is no reason to suppose it to be based on any genuine tradition.

Image: Saint Apollinaris, first bishop of Ravenna. Detail from the 6th century Byzantine mosaic in the apse of the basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (3)

Research by REGINA Staff



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