Today is the feast day of Saint Flavian, Ora pro nobis.
By Fr Francis Xavier Weninger
“Saint Flavian, the father of two holy daughters, Bibiana and Demetria, and the husband of Saint Dafrosa, was a descendant of a noble Roman family. His incomparable talents, great knowledge and holy life, made him so beloved and esteemed, not only by the people but also by Constantine the Great, that the latter raised him to the high office of Governor of Rome. The duties of this exalted dignity he fulfilled untiringly, but, at the same time, neglected nothing that his faith demanded of him; on the contrary, his principal thought was to disseminate more and more the Christian religion among his subjects. Those who had already embraced Christianity he endeavored to assist whenever an opportunity presented itself.
After the death of Constantine the Great, his son Constantius, persuaded by his wicked empress, favored the Arian heresy, and persecuted the Catholics almost as much as had formerly been done by the heathen emperors. Flavian endeavored to strengthen the Catholics in their faith, and to defend the divinity of Jesus Christ against the Arian blasphemies. This zeal made him hateful to the emperor; and as neither promises nor menaces had any power to change him, he was divested of the high office which he had filled for so many years to the satisfaction of all Rome. Flavian was not cast down, but rather rejoiced because, for the sake of the true faith, he suffered so great a loss and no less ignominy.
Julian, the apostate, who succeeded Constantius, persecuted the Christians most cruelly, as he was resolved to exterminate Christianity entirely. Flavian took this opportunity again to manifest his fearless zeal for the defense of the true faith. He encouraged the Christians to constancy, visited them in their imprisonment, comforted them, sent them nourishment, and admonished them rather to suffer everything than forsake their faith. The officers whom Julian had appointed to apprehend and torture the Christians, took no notice of this for some time, as Flavian was still greatly esteemed on account of his high rank and the dignity of the office with which he had been invested; but at last they informed the tyrant of it. The latter commanded his new governor, Apronian, to apprehend Flavian immediately, and either force him to abandon his faith, or to take his life by the most cruel tortures. Apronian obeyed the order: Flavian was seized and brought before him.
The governor endeavored to persuade him to forsake his faith, but Flavian said fearlessly: “I am a Christian, and will remain a Christian, and, further, I consider it the greatest honor to give not only all I possess, but also my life for the honor of Christ.” The governor, greatly embittered, sentenced him to be dispossessed of his nobility, and placed in the rank of the most abject slaves, which, to a high-minded man, must have been more cruel than death. Hence, they tore the insignia of his nobility and of his former high office from his body, and, with a red-hot iron, burned a mark on his forehead. The pain was great, the ignominy and disgrace much greater; but Flavian bore it cheerfully. “I receive,” said he, “this disgrace as the greatest honor that was ever bestowed upon me.” Apronian would have tortured him still more, but as he knew that Flavian was highly esteemed on account of the faithfulness with which he had labored for the public weal, he desisted, fearing a revolt. He deprived him, therefore, of all his possessions, and sent him into banishment, giving orders to those who were to transport him to torment him on the road in every possible manner, in order that misery and grief might soon kill him.
Flavian received the sentence of his banishment with the same joy that he had manifested at the preceding ignominy. The hardest thing for him to bear was to leave his spouse and his two daughters, as he foresaw that they would not be treated better than he had been. But this, also, he bore heroically, and placing them under the protection of the Most High, he went into his banishment, guarded by a troop of soldiers, who delighted in obeying the orders of Apronian, and maltreating him most cruelly. Not much better was the treatment which he received at the place to which he was exiled, where he soon ended his life. His only comfort was prayer, which so greatly supported him that, notwithstanding the hardships he endured, he was never seen sad, but always cheerful. It was also in prayer that he closed his holy life; for, one day, when conversing with God, his head sank quietly upon his breast, and his heroic soul became free. He was, indeed, worthy to be placed among the greatest martyrs of the holy Church; as what he had suffered for his faith will appear to many much harder to endure than the bodily martyrdom of other Saints.” (1)
“The saint’s relics are partly preserved in the cathedral, but a good part of them are instead an object of worship in the church dedicated to the saint, at the foot of the town. The church of San Flaviano arouses interest not only for its memories of holiness, but also for its constructive characteristics. It is in fact made up of two superimposed buildings, both of the basilica type with three naves with apse. Columns and pillars are enriched by imaginative sculpted capitals, which evoke with overwhelming suggestion the ancient Etruscan art, so rich in testimonies in that region. A series of ancient frescoes along the walls enriches the lower church.
In this ancient church the relics of San Flaviano have been resting for more than eleven centuries. In fact, as early as 852 Pope Leo IV mentioned it in one of his letters. At that time the building was dedicated to Santa Maria and only later did it change its name to that of the saint, being rebuilt in its current form. Pope Urban IV consecrated the new altar in 1262 and the beautiful monumental facade also dates back to the same period. The relics of San Flaviano were placed under the altar, contained in a marble urn.
In 1657, with the rage of a pestilence, it was decided to exhume the remains of the patron saint to invoke his intercession. It was thus discovered that the urn had been buried in a very deep pit, the only way to escape the desecration of the barbarian invaders, who devastated Montefiascone in the early Middle Ages.” (4)
Research by REGINA Staff
1. Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Flavian, Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info