Today is the feast day of Saint Erasmus. Ora pro nobis.
The childhood and birthplace of Saint Erasmus (Saint Elmo) is lost to history. In the late third century, we do know that he was appointed bishop of Antioch in Asia Minor, where he led the faithful. When Emperor Diocletian ascended to the throne, widespread persecution of Christians began, and Antioch was not overlooked. Saint Erasmus fled into the mountains of Lebanon, where he undertook an austere life of prayer and fasting, going without food for days at a time. Holy legend tells us that a raven brought him food when he deprived himself for too long. Eventually, however, he was discovered by the soldiers of the emperor and dragged to judgment. (3)
Saint Erasmus is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, a group of saints invoked with special confidence because they have proven themselves efficacious helpers in adversity and difficulties. Other saints identified as Holy Helpers are: Saints Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, George, Christopher, and others. Saint Erasmus, due to the manner in which he was tortured, is the patron saint of those with stomach or intestinal disorders. Saint Erasmus, under the name Saint Elmo, is also the patron saint of sailors, and the shining lights observed upon his death, continue to be reported by sailors as “Saint Elmo’s fire.” This electrostatic phenomenon has been reported throughout history, from Julius Caesar, to the journals of sailors on Magellan’s voyage around the globe, to the writings of Shakespeare, Melville, and Charles Darwin. (3)
from Mary, Help of Christians, 1908
The pious historians of the early Christian times state, as a rule, only what the saints did and suffered for the Faith, and how they died. They deemed the martyrs’ glorious combat and their victorious entrance into heaven more instructive, and therefore more important, than a lengthy description of their lives.
Hence we know little of the native place and the youth of St. Erasmus, except that at the beginning of the fourth century of the Christian era he was bishop of Antioch in Asia Minor, the city where the name of “Christian” first came into use. When a long and cruel persecution broke out under the Emperor Diocletian, St. Erasmus hid himself in the mountains of the Libanon, and led there, for some years, an austere life of penance and fasting. Finally he was discovered and dragged before the judge.
At first, persuasions and kindness were employed to induce him to deny the Faith, but when these efforts failed recourse was had to the most cruel torments. He was scourged, and finally cast into a caldron filled with boiling oil, sulphur, and pitch. In this seething mass God preserved him from harm, and by this miracle many spectators were converted to the Faith. Still more enraged thereat, the judge ordered the holy bishop to be thrown into prison and kept there in chains till he died of starvation. But God delivered him, as He had once delivered St. Peter. One night an angel appeared to him and said: “Erasmus, follow me! Thou shalt convert a great many.” Thus far he had led numbers to the Faith by suffering, now he was to convert multitudes as a missionary.
Delivered from prison by the power of God, he went forth into many lands and preached the Faith. Mighty in word and deed, he wrought many miracles and converted great numbers of heathens. At length he came to Italy, where Emperor Maximin persecuted the Christians as fiercely as did Diocletian in the East. As soon as Maximin heard of Erasmus and the conversions effected by his preaching and miracles, he ordered the slaughter of three hundred of the converts. Erasmus himself was most cruelly tortured, but to no purpose. He remained firm. Then cast into prison, he was again liberated by an angel.
At last the hour of deliverance came to this valiant and apostolic confessor and martyr of Christ. He heard a heavenly voice, saying: “Erasmus, come now to the heavenly city and rest in the place which God has prepared for thee with the holy martyrs and prophets. Enjoy now the fruit of thy labor. By thee I was honored in heaven and on earth.” Erasmus, looking toward heaven, saw a splendid crown, and the apostles and prophets welcoming him. He bowed his head, saying: “Receive, O Lord, the soul of thy servant!” and peacefully breathed forth his spirit on June 2, 308. (1,2)