Today is the feast day of Saint Placid and his Companions. Orate pro nobis.
Saint Placid (Placidus) was born in Rome, in the year 515, of a patrician family, and at seven years of age was taken by his father to the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, recently founded, to be educated. At thirteen years of age he followed Saint Benedict to a new foundation at Monte Cassino, where he grew up in the practices of a wonderful austerity and innocence of life.
From THE LITURGICAL YEAR by Dom Gueranger
THE protoMartyr of the Benedictine Order stands before us today in his strength and in his beauty. The empire had fallen, and the yoke of the Arian Gothas lay heavy upon Italy. Rome was no longer in the hands of the glorious races which had made her greatness; these, nevertheless, kept up their honorable traditions. They offered a great lesson, for future times of revolution, to other descendants of not less noble families: in lieu of the ensign of civic honor once committed to their fathers, the survivors of the old patrician ranks made it their duty to raise still higher the standard of title heroism, of those virtues which alone are everlasting.
Thus Benedict of Nursia, fleeing into the desert, had rendered greater service than any mighty conqueror to Rome and her immortal destinies. The world soon discovered this fact; and then began, as St. Gregory tells us, the concourse of Roman nobles, bringing their children to the patriarch of monks, to be educated by him for almighty God.
Placid was the eldest son of the patrician Tertullus. The excellent qualities early discovered in the child led his worthy father to offer to God, without delay, this dear first-fruit of his paternity. In those days, parents loved their children not for this passing world, but for eternity; not for themselves, but for our Lord. The faith of Tertullus was well rewarded when, twenty years later, not only his first-born, but also his two other sons and their sister, were crowned with Martyrdom. This was not the first holocaust of the kind in that heroic family, if it be true that they were related by blood, and heirs of the goods as well as of the virtues, of the holy Martyr Eustace, who had been immolated four centuries earlier with his wife and sons.
Among the children of promise enlisted by the vanquished nobles of the ancient empire in the new militia of the holy valley, Equitius brought to Subiaco his son Maurus, a boy some years older than Placid. Henceforth the names of Maurus and Placid became inseparable from that of Benedict; and the patriarch acquired a new glory from his two sons, so united and yet so different.
The following lessons, taken from the monastic breviary, will complete the account of Placid’s life, and relate the manner of his death. In 1588, the discovery of the Martyrs’ relics at Messina confirmed the truth of their Acts. On this occasion, Pope Sixtus V extended the celebration of their feast, under the rite of a simple, to the universal Church.
. . . he accompanied St. Benedict to Monte Cassino. At the age of twenty-one, he was sent into Sicily, to defend, against certain covetous persons, the goods and lands which his father had given to Monte Cassino. On the way he performed so many great miracles, that he arrived at Messina with a reputation for sanctity. He built a monastery on his paternal estate, not far from the harbor, and gathered together thirty monks; being thus the first to introduce the monastic life onto the island.
Nothing could be more placid or more humble than his behavior; while he surpassed everyone in prudence, gravity, kindness, and unruffled tranquillity of mind, he often spent whole nights in the contemplation of Heavenly things, only sitting down for a short time when overpowered by the necessity of sleep. He was most zealous in observing silence; and when it was necessary to speak, the subjects of his conversation were the contempt of the world and the imitation of Christ, His fasts were most severe, and he abstained all the year round from flesh and every kind of milk-meat. In Lent he took only bread and water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; the rest of the week he passed without any food; He never drank wine, and always wore a hair shirt. So numerous and so remarkable were the miracles he worked, that the sick came to him in crowds to be cured, not only from the neighborhood, but also from Etruria and Africa.
But Placid, in his great humility, worked all his miracles in the name of St. Benedict, attributing them to his merits.
His holy example and the wonders he wrought caused the Christian faith to spread rapidly. In the fifth year after his arrival in Sicily, the Saracens made a sudden incursion, and seized upon Placid and his thirty monks while they were singing the night Office in the church. At the same time were taken Eutychius and Victorinus, Placid’s brothers, and his sister the virgin Flavia, who had all come from Rome to visit him; and also Donatus, Faustus, and the deacon Firmatus. Donatus was beheaded on the spot. The rest were taken before Manucha, the chief of the pirates; and as they firmly refused to adore his idols, they were beaten with rods, and cast, bound hand and foot, into prison, without food. Every day they were beaten afresh, but God supported them. After many days, they were again led before the tyrant; and as they still stood firm in the faith, they were again repeatedly beaten, then stripped of their clothes, and hung, head downwards, over thick smoke to suffocate. They were left for dead, but the next day were found alive, and miraculously healed of their wounds.
The tyrant then addressed himself to the virgin Flavia apart. But finding he could gain nothing by threats or promises, he ordered her to be stripped, and hung by the feet from a high beam, insulting her meanwhile upon her nakedness. But the virgin answered: Man and woman have the same author and Creator, God; hence neither my sex, nor this nakedness which I endure for love of Him will be any disadvantage to me in His eyes, who for my sake chose not only to be stripped, but also to be nailed to a Cross. Manucha, enraged at this reply, ordered her to be beaten, and tortured with the smoke, and then handed her over to be dishonored. At the virgin’s prayer, God struck all who attempted to approach her, with sudden stiffness and pain in all their limbs. The tyrant next attacked Placid, the virgin’s brother, who tried to convince him of the vanity of his idols; Manucha thereupon commanded his mouth and teeth to be broken with stones, and his tongue to be cut out by the root; but the Martyr spoke as clearly and easily as before. The barbarian grew more furious at this miracle, and commanded that Placid and his sister Flavia along with brethren should be crushed under an enormous weight of anchors and millstones; but even this torture was powerless to hurt them. Finally, thirty-six of Placid’s family, with their leader, and several others, were beheaded on the shore near Messina, and gained the palm of Martyrdom on the third of the Nones of October, in the year of salvation five hundred and thirty-nine. Gordian, a monk of that monastery, who had escaped by flight, found all their bodies entire after several days, and buried them with tears. Not long afterwards the barbarians, in punishment of their crime, were swallowed up by the avenging waves of the sea. (1,5)
St. Placidus and his Companions, Martyrs
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Placidus, a religious of the Order of St. Benedict, was born at Rome. Tertullus, his father, was greatly esteemed in the city, not only for his ancient nobility but also for his great wisdom, which raised him to the highest offices of the state. As he was as pious as he was noble, rich and learned, he gave Placidus in charge of St. Benedict, when the child had not yet reached his seventh year. Placidus made such progress in learning and in all Christian virtues, that he served as an example even to the religious, and when further advanced in years, he desired to be admitted among the disciples of St. Benedict. Tertullus not only consented to his son’s wish, but also gave the holy Founder several estates, which lay not far from Monte Cassino, that the monastery which he had begun might be completed, and that he might have means to maintain it. Besides this, he gave him an estate in Sicily, consisting of eighteen villages, as he thought that his property could not be better used than in the maintenance of those who served God zealously, and who faithfully educated the young.
Some who lived in the neighborhood of this estate, were displeased at this generous gift, and each of them appropriated as much of the ground as he could to himself. Benedict, informed of this, thought it best to send Placidus to Sicily; for, though he was only twenty-one years of age, he possessed such deeply rooted virtue and was endowed with such abilities, that the holy Founder promised himself the best result from his mission. Fortified with the blessing of the Saint and accompanied by two religious, Placidus commenced his journey. The Almighty favored him with many miracles on the way. He restored two sick persons to health, he gave sight to a blind man, and speech and hearing to the dumb and deaf, and cast out the unclean spirits from the possessed. The fame of these miracles spread quickly, and had reached Sicily before the Saint’s arrival. Hence he was received with great honors and had but little difficulty in regaining possession of that portion of the estate which had been usurped by others.
Having happily concluded this affair, with the consent of St. Benedict, he selected a suitable spot whereon to build a monastery for the order. He chose a place not far from the harbor of Messina, where he erected a monastery and a chapel. As soon as he had made his dwelling there with his brethren, several came who desired to live under his guidance. He received them, and led them in the path of perfection with so much wisdom and ability, that they all loved and honored him like a father. Not only by words, but also, and more especially, by his example, did he teach those under him. He devoted many hours to prayer, which he seldom performed without tears. During Lent, he partook of bread and water, on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; on the other days he abstained from food altogether. He never tasted wine, and always wore his rough hair-shirt. He gave very little time to rest at night and slept sitting. He was very circumspect in speaking, and never permitted any one to say a disparaging word of a neighbor in his presence, as he himself never spoke ill of others. He was kind and good to all, and no one ever saw him angry, which is surely worthy of admiration. Each moment he endeavored to use to a good purpose; he was never idle, but always occupied in good works.
He had two brothers and a sister, who resided at Rome, but who went to visit him in Sicily, as they had heard so much that was praiseworthy spoken of their brother. Soon after their arrival, it happened that Manucha, a powerful pirate of the Moorish king of Africa, and a bitter enemy of the Christians, sailed into the harbor of Messina, and invaded the monastery of St. Placidus. After having robbed and plundered the whole building, the barbarians took St. Placidus, his two brothers, his sister, the two monks whom St. Benedict had given him as companions, with thirty other religious, as prisoners. Manucha commanded them to deny Christ, but as they refused to obey him, the pirate commenced to torture them, especially St. Placidus, as he encouraged the others to remain constant. The savage daily invented a new torment: they were most cruelly scourged; hung up by the feet over a fire, so that the smoke might suffocate them; and as this did not kill them, they were hung by their hands, with heavy stones tied to their feet, besides being tortured in numberless other ways. St. Placidus, who, during all this terrible suffering, did not cease to sing praises to God, had all his teeth knocked out with a stone, and his tongue torn from his mouth. Seeing at length that they could not be conquered, the inhuman tyrant had them all beheaded.
Memorable was the end of Flavia, the sister of St. Placidus, Manucha had her brought before him, and endeavored to make her deny Christ. When he perceived that he could gain no power over her, he ordered her to-be hung up by the feet, and scourged most barbarously. He then said to her: “You pretend to be a noble Roman lady, and are not ashamed to appear naked!” Flavia answered: ” What I suffer for the Christian faith cannot dishonor me. Do you not know any other torments? I am ready to suffer and to die.” Manucha, enraged at these words, gave her up to his servants. This was more terrible to the chaste virgin than all other suffering, and she called on God for aid. The Almighty delayed not to succor her. When the wretches went to seize her, their arms became powerless, and thus the purity of the virgin was saved. She ended her life by the sword. (3)
Image: Saint Benedict Orders Saint Maurus to the Rescue of Saint Placidus. Artist: Fra Filippo Lippi, circa 1445. (4)
Research by REGINA Staff