Today is the feast day of Saint Gorgonius, Saint Dorotheus and Saint Adrian, Martyrs. Orate pro nobis.
By Father Francis Xavier Weninger
Saint Gorgonius, though chamberlain of the heathen Emperor, Diocletian, was secretly a Christian, and with the assistance of Dorotheus, who occupied a similar position, he gradually converted all the chamberlains of the court to the Christian religion.
One day, when both had witnessed the cruel torturing of a Christian, condemned by the emperor, their hearts were filled with the desire to suffer martyrdom for their faith, and addressing Diocletian they said: “Why do you torture only him? We profess the same religion, and we wish to suffer for Christ’s sake as he suffers.” The Emperor was highly incensed at these words, and both were immediately barbarously scourged, after which, salt and vinegar were poured upon their wounds. When this had been done, they were chained upon a gridiron, placed over a fire, and having been thus roasted for some time, they were at length hung. Thus died these two holy martyrs, animated to endurance by witnessing the martyrdom of others.
Saint Adrian was converted in a similar manner. He was about twenty-eight years old, descended from the first Roman nobility, and was one of the most distinguished of the imperial courtiers under Maximian Galerius. He was often a witness of the sufferings of the Christians when they were tortured in the presence of the emperor. Considering the constancy and joy with which they suffered the most cruel pains, he came to the conclusion that such strength must be more than human, and that there must be a God who imparted it, and further, that this God must be the only true one. Having arrived thus far, he would no longer hide the change that had taken place in him, and he confessed publicly that he was a Christian, and desired to live and die as such. No sooner had the Emperor Maximian been acquainted with this, than he commanded him to be cast into a dungeon, where twenty-three others were already confined. Natalia, the wife of Adrian, who, for a long time, had been a Christian, was greatly rejoiced when she heard of his conversion. She hastened to the dungeon, threw herself upon his neck, kissed the chains that fettered him, and praised him that at last he had recognized the truth of Christianity. Having encouraged him to remain firm in the approaching combat, she had to leave him as she was not permitted to stay any longer. A few days later, Adrian was informed that the emperor had sentenced him to die. Not in the least terrified at this message, he bribed the jailer to allow him to go to his wife and communicate to her this joyful news, promising to return in a few hours. When on his way, he met an acquaintance, who hastened before him to prepare Natalia for the coming of her husband. She was terrified when she heard of his coming, thinking that he must have become faithless to Christ. Running hastily to the door of the house, she closed it against him, saying that she neither could nor would recognize as her spouse, one who had become an apostate. Adrian called to her to listen, as he had not renounced the true faith, but had only returned to bring her the joyful news that he had been sentenced to die. Quickly opening the door to him, Natalia, falling at his feet, begged his pardon, and after some conversation, she returned with him to the prison, where she renewed her exhortations that he would remain firm, and she prayed to God to give him strength in his approaching martyrdom. The day on which Adrian was brought before the Emperor, Natalia, going to him, said: “The time has now arrived, my beloved spouse, to manifest your noble resolutions. Think of the Almighty. Your sufferings will end, but the reward which you will receive in heaven has no end. If you have been brave in combating for your Emperor, who could give you only an earthly recompense, how much braver ought you to be when fighting for Christ, who will give you an eternal crown.” Adrian, filled with Christian heroism, went to the Emperor, and as he fearlessly confessed Christ, the tyrant ordered him first to be scourged with rods, then beaten with clubs, and after this, to be torn with small iron hooks. Having suffered all this, he was led back to the dungeon, where Natalia and some other matrons waited for him. Embracing him most tenderly, she congratulated him on having so courageously withstood the first assault. She wiped the blood that flowed from his wounds, and endeavored in every possible way to give, him some comfort. The tyrant, hearing of it, forbade them henceforth to admit women into the prison. Natalia, going home, cut off her hair, put on male attire, and thus returned unknown to Adrian. Soon after came the imperial command to cut off the hands and feet of all the imprisoned Christians and to burn their bodies. The invincible confessors of Christ praised God and prepared themselves for the cruel martyrdom. Natalia requested the executioners to begin with her husband, that the sight of the sufferings of the others might not give him fear. Encouraging him to bear his pain with fortitude, she accompanied him to the place of execution, and there manifested a heroism such as perhaps the world had never before beheld. She herself laid the feet of her husband upon the block, and constantly animating him, she held them there until the executioner had cut them off. She then did the same with his hands. Adrian remained fearless to his last breath. Natalia reverentially kissed his feet and hands, but was not allowed to take them home with her. The fate of Adrian was shared by all those who had been imprisoned with him, and when they had all gloriously ended their combat, the executioners threw their bodies and limbs upon a pile of wood to burn them. But a terrible storm arose, every one fled, and the rain extinguished the fire, which gave the faithful an opportunity to carry the bodies and limbs, as yet untouched by the flames, into the nearest Christian dwelling. They also bought for a large sum, the garments which the martyrs had worn and which the executioners had divided among themselves. Placing these and the sacred relics in a vessel, they brought them from Nicomedia, where these holy martyrs had suffered, to Constantinople. One arm of her husband was kept as a priceless treasure by Natalia, that incomparable Christian heroine. Some days later, Adrian appeared to her, and directed her to leave for Constantinople in order to escape the danger of becoming the wife of a heathen, as the Emperor desired. Natalia obeyed, went to Constantinople, and served God with great fervor, until Adrian again appeared to her in her sleep and said: “Come, you zealous servant of Christ and of the Martyrs! take possession of the glory prepared for thee in Heaven!” She awoke, related her dream, again closed her eyes, as though she would sleep, and calmly and peacefully expired. (1,4)
The body of Gorgonius was carried to Rome, whence in the eighth century it was translated by St. Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, and enshrined in the monastery of Gorze. Many French churches obtained portions of the saint’s body from Gorze, but in the general pillage of the French Revolution, most of these relics were lost. Our chief sources of information regarding these martyrs are Lactantius and Eusebius. (6)
Image: Statue représentant saint Gorgon, église Saint-Georges, Compains, Puy-de-Dôme, France. (5)