Tuesday, March 04, 2008

March 4

If the various accounts are to be trusted, a Roman guard named Adrian (or Hadrian) was martyred on this date in the year 306. According to legend, Adrian -- who hailed from Nicomedia -- was inspired to a sudden conversion when he witnessed a group of Christians being led in chains to their tortuous imprisonment and predictable execution. Declaring himself a Christian as well, the guard surrendered himself and joined his new brothers and sisters. His young wife Natalia, far from being irritated with her husband’s decision, is alleged to have wept with glee at the news; she was, it turns out, herself a Christian already.

Following her husband’s trial, during which he was beaten and lashed, Natalia was allowed for some reason to be present at his dismemberment. Indeed, she helped the executioners fulfill their obligation to separate Adrian from his hands and feet. As told by Sabine Baring Gould’s 19th century chronicle of The Lives of the Saints, Natalia lifted her husband’s “dear feet” and placed them “reverently and tenderly” on the block.
Then, the executioner smote and crushed the bones and next with an axe hewed off the feet.

Natalia, who had stationed herself at the head of him she loved best in all the world, said, with her eyes on his face, “Servant of Christ! if you live put out your hand to mine!” And the dying man feebly stretched out his hand, as though groping for hers, and she caught it and held it and laid it on the anvil; then the executioner brought his axe down and hewed it off as she clasped it. And she folded it in her mantle to her heart, and watched the colour die out of the cheeks of Adrian and his eyes grow dim. She closed them with her loving hand.
In customary fashion, the body of St. Adrian was parceled out over subsequent centuries to churches and shrines across Europe -- an arm in Léon, a jawbone and half an arm in Cologne, another half-arm in Prague, an armless corpse in Raulcourt, teeth in Hainault and Flanders, a head in Bologna, and various bones in Agincourt, Douai, Bruges and at Mecheln. Belgian churches alone three rival bodies, each of which was supposed to have been that of Adrian, the patron saint of butchers, arms dealers, epilepsy and the plague.

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