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Sources about the Passion of Faustinus, Simplicius and Beatrix
di Alessandra Pompili
Various sources have been handed down to us which are testimony to the widespread cult that Simplicius, Faustinus and their sister Beatrix enjoyed during the early centuries. The following contains a brief overview of the two main texts recounting their sacrifice and a list of some of the early codexes enlisting the acts of veneration in their memory. In square brackets are my annotations.
THE MARTYROLOGIUM ADONIS
Ado held a high position in the Viennese Diocese during the 9th century (he was Archbishop from 850 until the very end of 874). Among his major contributions to Christian hagiography is a compilation of Martyrs’ acts which is commonly referred to as Martyrologium Adonis. Ado’s entry for the 29th of July relates the martyrdom of the three brothers as following:
The same day [29th of July] is the dies natalis of the Martyrs Simplicius, Faustinus et Beatrix.
Under the reign of Diocletian and Maximian it was ordered that they suffered, after many and various tortures, the death penalty. A stone was tied around their necks and they were thrown in the flow of the Tiber from the bridge that is called Lapideus. By God’s inspiration, the bodies were found by their blessed sister Beatrix and the blessed presbyters Crispus and Johannis and buried in a site called Sextum Philippi, along the Via Portuensis, on the 29th of July. It then happened that whilst Beatrix, the sister of the Martyrs, was living by the honoured Lucina, a certain land-owner Lucretius wished for the small land owned by Beatrix. And in order to gain it, he had Saint Beatrix arrested and lead to make a sacrifice. At that point Beatrix announced: “I am a Christian and do not sacrifice to idols”. So she was incarcerated. And since she had freely acted in the name of God the greedy Lucretius had her strangled in the night. The honourable Lucina buried her by her Saint brothers on the 29th of July [of the following year]. After that, Lucretius entered the site of the Saints and shared a dinner. There was also a woman breast feeding her baby. Whilst Lucretius was eating, the baby started to talk in front of the gathering: “Listen, Lucretius: you have killed and taken possession of the land. And lo, here you are given to the enemy [devil]”. At that voice, he was possessed by an evil spirit there and then during the dining, and after being tormented for three hours, passed away.
(E. Rosweydo edition; transl. by A.P.)
THE ACTA SANCTORUM
A slightly longer version than Ado’s is given in the Acta Sanctorum, as collected from various manuscripts. The history of the Acta, an encyclopedic work essential for anybody studying Christian hagiography, spans some three centuries and is tightly intertwined with the scholarly association named Bollandists.
On top of what is related by the Martyrologium Adonis, the Acta reports:
* the words used by Lucretius to challenge Beatrix’s refusal to sacrifice to the gods: “Go by [the altar] and sacrifice to the great goddess Diana. Make yourself free from the many tortures awaiting you”.
* Beatrix’ reply: “That no good may come to you [the commentator of the Acta thought that reference is here made of the property that Lucretius wished to grab from Beatrix]: I have already told you that I am a Christian and a servant of my Lord [Dominus] Jesus Christ. I will never sacrifice to your degenerate idols”.
* The events after Lucretius was possessed and died: “So much terror came into those who were present, that they all converted to Christianity straightaway, and once become Christians, they would recount everybody the martyrdom of the Saint and Blessed martyr Beatrix, virgin of Christ, who had been avenged during that dinner. And to Lucina, that venerable woman, who ran off terrified by the ruthlessness of the martyrdom, Saint Beatrix appeared and said: “Do not hide, because in this month peace will be granted to the churches of Christ. This has happened with the aid of the Lord, and during the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen”.
(Bollandists edition; transl. by A.P)
THE GOLDEN LEGEND
In 1275 The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine came to light: a collation of stories relating to the Saints of the Church which was highly successful at the time. It is typical of Jacobus to begin his narrative with an explanation of the origin of the saints’ name and then to proceed with the story of their martyrdom. Thus, in the following account Jacobus first lays out his etymology of the names Simplicius, Faustinus and Beatrix and then recounts their passion. In Jacobus, the story of the martyrs acquires elements of myth: Lucretius becomes “provost of Rome” and more space is devoted to the events preceding and following his death than to the martyrs’ sacrifice. Simplicius and Faustinus are said to have been beheaded; this is the literal translation of capitalis sententia. But as the commentator of the Acta observed for a similar rendition, how is it possible that the brothers were first beheaded and then thrown in the Tiber with a stone around their neck (a detail not present in Jacobus)? It is more likely, then, that capitalis sententia should be interpreted simply as death penalty. Notice also the mistake about the name of Lucina and the martyrs’ year of death. The text is merely reported as an example of medieval hagiography and is here presented in the 1483 translation into English by William Caxton.
Here followeth of the Saints Simplicien, Faustin, and Beatrice, and first of their names: Simplicien is as much to say as simple, or without any pleat of falsehood. He was simple by meekness and humility, for he humbled himself to receive martyrdom; he was knowing, for he knew the christian faith, and for the faith he suffered martyrdom. Faustin is as much to say as fortunate. Beatrice is to say holding blessedness, or it is said of beata, that is blessed, and of ares, that is virtue, which is a blessed virtue. And Beatrice is said, sorrowful or heavy, for she was sorrowful of the passion of her brethren, and she was blessed by her martyrdom.
Of the Saints Simplicien, Faustin, and Beatrice.
Simplicien and Faustin, brethren, when they would not by no constraint do sacrifice to the idols, and refused it utterly, they suffered many torments at Rome under Diocletian, and at last sentence was given against them, and they were beheaded and their bodies cast into Tiber, the river. And Beatrice, their sister, took up the bodies of them and buried them honourably. Lucretius, which was provost of Rome, went on a time playing about the heritage of Beatrice, and saw her, and made her to be taken, and commanded her that she should make sacrifice to his gods, and she refused it. And Lucretius made his servants to strangle her in a night and let her lie. And Lucia, the virgin, took away the body and buried it with her brethren, and after that Lucretius entered into their heritage. And thus as he assailed the martyrs, and did do make a great feast to his friends, and as he sat at dinner, a young child that lay wound in small clouts in his mother's lap, which yet sucked, sprang out of the lap of his mother that held him, and all men seeing, escried and said: “O thou Lucretius, hear and understand, thou hast slain and assailed the martyrs of God, and therefore thou art given into the possession of the fiend”. And then anon Lucretius trembled and feared, and was forthwith ravished of the devil, and was so tormented by three hours of the devil that he died at that same dinner. And when they that were there saw that, they were converted to the faith, and recounted to all men how the passion of S Beatrice was avenged at the same dinner. And they suffered death about the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty-seven.
Simplicius, Faustinus et Beatrix are mentioned in several ecclesiastical manuscripts from the 6th century onwards, which testify to the veneration in which they were held since antiquity. Among them are:
* Fastis Hieronymianis
* Codex Epternacensis
* Codex Gellonensis
* Codex Rhinoviense
* Codex Richenoviense
* Codex Ottobonianum
As for the liturgy, the Codex Sacramentorum Gelasianus, the Sacramentarium Gregorianum, the Sacramentarium Reginae Suecorum, the Sacramentarium Pamelii and the Ottobonianum all have a dedicatory Mass in honour of Simplicius, Faustinus and Beatrix (the Gelasianus, however, sets a date at the 28th of July rather than the 29th).
Litanies were also recited in honour of Beatrix (English litanies of the 7th century), and of the three brothers (French litanies apud Martenium and apud Morinum).
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