Saint Eleutherius of Illyricum is one of the western martyrs of the first centuries who receive until today a special veneration in both the Eastern and the Western Church. The complexity of this vita in the fact that hei s confused, if not in his biographies, at least in the public veneration, with Saint Liberator and Pope Eleutherius in the West and with St. Eleutherios Koubikoularios in the East.
This article refers to Saint Eleutherius, traditionally known as bishop and Illyricum and Roman citizen. The life and the martyrdom of St. Eleutherius and of his mother Anthia (or Evanthia) differs after two types of sorces, the Greek ones (registered in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca, I, pp. 173-74, nn. 568-71b), and the Latin ones (in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, I, p. 368, nn. 2450-52).
The Greek Martyrdom of Saint Eleutherius and of his mother, Anthia
According to the Greek source (about the 5th century, probably written in one of the Greek monasteries from Italy), which was „romanticized” by St. Symeon Metaphrastes in the 10th century (version available in Synaxarium Constantinopolitanum), St. Eleutherius was born in Rome in the latter years of the 1st century. His father Eugenius was a consul of the Roman Emperor, and his mother Anthia was a Christian, who used to know personally at a time St. Paul the Apostle, who might have converted her to the Christianity. Anthia gave to her child a proper education in the spirit of Our Lord’s teachings. Anthia became a widow at an early age. She then sent her son to Anicetus, the bishop (pope) of Rome (c. 150 – c. 167) for his care. The holy man recognized the special spiritual gifts of the young boy and ordained him a deacon at the age of 15, quite a young age especially for this period. Shortly he ordained him as priest when being only 18 and already as bishop of Illyricum at 20.
During the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138), Eleutherius already began to produce rumor at the imperial court because he was winning many converts to Christianity. Shortly he was considered to be an "enemy of the state", and a general („comes”) named Felix was sent to arrest and bring him to Rome for trial. Entering inside the church where Eleutherios was preaching during the Holy Liturgy, the heart of Felix was touched by the words of the young bishop and became a Christian. Anyway Eleutherios returned to Rome together with Felix, where he was arrested and tortured. The dialogue between St. Eleutherius and the emperor Hadrian follows the classical way to be seen in many vitae of the martyrs, as a play in which the saint does not feel any pain and the torturer becomes even worse in his madness. Emperor Hadrian is presented rather in the comic form of mad tyrant, than as in the historical narratives and this image is even more emphasized by Symeon Metaphrastes.
The tortures of St. Eleutherios consist in putting him on a hot copper bed, later on an iron grill, then in a huge pan filled with wax, tar and tallow and finally in a hot copper oven. All those tortures prove to be inefficient, because St. Eleutherius remains unharmed after his prayers and through the miraculous intervention of the Lord. During the late torture even the one that came with the idea of it, an „eparch” (ruler of a province) named Coremon suddenly converts to the Christianity and is punished to death by beheading. After all these tortures, Eleutherius is sent to prison and punished by hungering, but an angel sent by God nourishes him as Daniel in the lions’ den. Hadrian thinks to another torture and commands to bring some wild horses and to bind the saint to them, in order to be dragged by them over until death. Anyway the saint escapes and for a short period he lives in a cave in the mountains with the wild beasts which don’t harm him. Finally the saint is caught once more by some hunters and brought to the emperor who ordains his beheading, happened on December 15 (after the latin sources, on April 18) in the year 120 A.D., along with his new convert Felix. His blessed mother Anthia fearlessly comes to grieve over the body of her martyred son, and she too suffers the same fate. The faithful Christians from Illyricum (diocese) come and take their bodies, burying them with honor.
The Latin version
The Latin tradition already mentioned consist in two different redactions, one called „Reatica” due the mention of the burial of Eleutherius and Anthia in Reata (now Rieti), another „Aecana” (after Aikos or Aecana, now Troia, in Puglia, south Italy), which mentions this town instead.
These manuscripts are dated in the late 8th – early 9th century, from which the „Reatica” follows narrowly the Greek variant, except the story of the burial. In this edition, the bishop of Reata, Primus, takes the bodies of martyrs and buries them in the fields of Urbanian on the Salt Road (1 mile from Reata and 61 from Rome). In the „Aecana” version, which omits the historical details and tells nothing even about the birthplace of Eleutherius, the episcopacy of the saint is not associated with Illyricum, but with Aecana, and Felix is sent here to deliver the saint in Rome. Many residents of Aecana arrive after the death of the martyrs, and take their bodies, burying them in their town. According to these Latin variants, the death of the martyrs took place on April 18.
The „Aecana” edition is used in the drafts of the Carolingian Martyrologies of Florus from Lyon, Rabanus Maurus, Adonis of Vienna, Usuard and also in a poem of Flodoard of Reims known as „Christ's victory in Italy”.
The title of „bishop of Illyricum” comes in the Roman Martyrologies only through Baronius (1586), influenced by the Greek variant. In the later Roman Martyrologies, Eleutherius is called a martyr from Messana (now Messina) on the island of Sicily. This error goes back to Florus of Lyon’s redaction of the martyrology, replacing Aecana with Messana in Puglia, a current place for the veneration of St. Eleutherius. This small error made St. Eleutherius very popular also Messina, Sicily, until today, even if the saint was never there.
|St. Elefterie and his mother Anthia|
Because of the error of Florus and other copyists of the Roman Martyrology, Sicily became in the XVII century a local place of veneration of the saints, but references to the existence of the relics have been no recorded. The erroneous spelling “Aquileia” instead of “Apuglia” in the martyrology of Rabanus Maurus (cf. PL vol.111, col. 140) and Notker Zaika (cf. PL vol. 131, col. 166) followed to a local veneration of St. Eleutherius in the Croatian town of Poreč (italian Parenzo), because the seat of Aquileia was transferred here. So, Raban and Notker report that after the martyrdom, Eleutherius and his mother were moved in Aquileia, where he was a bishop (and not in Aecana), and there buried.
In this chaos created by the erroneous copies, also the memorial day traditions differ. According to the martyrology of St. Jerome and the two old latin version, the saints are celebrated on April 18. The same day was celebrated also according the “Calendario Marmoreo” of Naples and outside Italy, according to the Frankish and Mozarabic calendars from the XI-XII centuries. Certain manuscripts also testify the dates of November 24, September 6 (instead of the Pope Eleutherius).
Many churches in Italy were built in honor of St. Eleutherius: in Rome, on via Labicana, in Nepi, Vasto, Parenzo d’Istria (these venerate the saint on April 18). In Chieti, Benevento, Salerno, and Sulmona the saint is venerated on May 21. Another days of celebrations are May 13 in Terracina, May 23 in Arce, and December 31 in Canne in Puglia, where he is considered to be a local bishop, son of Evanzia („Evanthia”, which may be understood as the latinization of the Greek „ev-Anthia”, that is „the good Anthia”). The monastery San Liberatore a Maiella (in the Abruzzi mountains) dedicated to St. Liberator celebrates St. Eleutherius on May 15, and this may demonstrate the identification of Eleutherius with the roman martyr Liberator (the Latin version of the Greek „eleutherios”, which means “one who is free”), bishop of Beneventum, celebrated in the Martyrology of Jerome on May 15.
In the Byzantine space, as already told, the Greek martyrologies state this celebration on December 15. But in order to make the things even more complicated, a relatively early veneration of Saint Eleutherius in the Eastern Church of Constantinople is stated by two old scripts, a byzantine canon of Joseph the hymnographer (IX cent.), which speaks of “currents of healing” coming from the shrine of Eleutherius. A second witness is given by the Synaxarium Constantinopolitanum about in the 10th century, mentioning the name of the saint associated with the in the quarter of Xirolophos (also known as “The Harbors of Eleutherios”), where existed a church of St. Eleutherius already built under Emperor Arcadius (395-408). However, both of these references do not exclude the possibility that they may be associated with the saint Martyr Eleutherius Coubicularios, injured in Bithynia (but the most likely buried in Constantinople), where, according to the hagiography, he was born, commemorated on December 15 and on August 4. With the expansion in the 9th -10th centuries, the Byzantine could mingle his cult with the one of the Roman martyr.
|St. Elefterie Church in Bucharest|
In the present time the relics of Eleutherius and Anthia seem to be located in Troia, south Italy, as the Aecana tradition states. After the Rietica tradition, the saints were buried in Rieti (near Rome, the authenticity of the latter being officially recognized by the Roman Church) and later on their tombs it was elevated the church of Santa Sabina. An examination of the relics was made with the blessing of Pope Innocent III and of the local bishop Adenulf, in the presence of two cardinals in August 13, 1198, when they were transferred in the new built reatine cathedral of St. John the Apostle (San Giovanni della Pigna), together with the relics of Saint Genesius of Rome. The association with San Giovanni della Pigna may also be a result of confusion with St. Pope Eleuterius (also former deacon of Pope Anicetus and himself pope at the end of the 2nd century, celebrated on May 26), whose relics were also said to have been translated to San Giovanni della Pigna.
|Relics of the saint, Caladarusani monastery, near Bucharest|
Troparion (Hymn) of the Saint
Adorned with flowing priestly vesture and with dripping streams of blood you at once went to your Lord Christ, O blessed wise Eleutherios, annihilator of Satan. Wherefore, do not cease to intercede for those who honor your blessed struggles in faith!
|Serramonacesca benedictine Church of San Liberatore in|
|Relics of the Saint in St. Elefterie Church, Bucharest|