September 8, 2020: ST. ADRIAN
September 8, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. ADRIAN, MARTYR
“Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments.”
(Ps, cxi. 1)
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God that we, who celebrate the festival of blessed Adrian, thy Martyr, may by his intercession, be strengthened in the love of thy name. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
When Maximian was persecuting the Church, he bade his officers collect all the Christians in Nicomedia, and force them to do sacrifice to the false gods. One day as he was driving out he passed a troop of twenty-three, heavily chained, being led to prison. He leaped down from his chariot, and ordered them to be brought at once into court that he might try them.
They exhibited such constancy under torment, that a young officer present, named Adrian, aged only twenty-three, sprang into the middle of the court, and cried with a loud voice, “Write me down a Christian also, secretary, that I may be numbered with these warriors of Christ.”
Maximian, extremely exasperated, ordered him to be chained and consigned to prison. Adrian had been married for thirteen months to a young and beautiful Christian girl, named Natalia, and her piety and sweetness had first drawn his heart to Christ, but he was unbaptized.
Now one of the servants ran to the house of Adrian, and entering, breathless, told his mistress what had taken place. Then Natalia was full of joy, and she went with speed to the prison, and entered, and flung herself at the feet of her husband, and kissed his chains, and implored the other confessors to encourage Adrian, and teach him fully the way of truth.
“Now depart, dear wife,” said the martyr, “and I will send thee word, when I know how matters are likely to go with me.”
After a few days, knowing that his trial would take place immediately, he asked the gaoler to allow him to go home on parole, to greet his wife for the last time. Leave was given him, and he returned to his house. But when Natalia saw him, her heart failed within her, as she thought that, to have obtained release, he must have renounced his purpose and new-born faith. But he reassured her, and she accompanied him back to the prison.
And when she came there, she washed the wounds of the twenty-three confessors, and sent her servant for fine linen, and tore it up, and made bandages for them. And for seven days she ministered daily to their necessities.
And after that, Adrian was led forth, and the twenty-three were seated on beasts, and brought to the court, for they were so wounded and disjointed that they could not walk.
Natalia followed them. Adrian alone was introduced into court. He was ordered to be beaten by four men. He was thrown on the ground, and lashed till his body was a mass of wounds. Then Maximian ordered all to be reconducted to prison. Adrian could not walk, and was dragged back, Natalia holding his head up on her arm, against her breast, and wiping the sweat of agony from his loved brow with her veil.
And when he was brought back to prison, the confessors crowded round him, those who had been disjointed on the rack crawling along on their hands or elbows, to congratulate him on his heroism. And Natalia blessed him with her lips, and wiped his blood away, and anointed all his body with her gentle hands.
The deaconesses also hasted to attend to the other sufferers. But orders came that the women were not to be admitted to the prison. Then Natalia cut off her long locks, and dressed herself like a man, and came to the prison, and asked and paid for admittance, as a man; and the gaoler, pocketing her gold, let her through the gates. Other women followed her example.
But orders came for the speedy execution of the martyrs in their dungeons; and so it fell out that Natalia was present when her husband died. The sentence of Maximian was, that their legs should be broken by blows of a hammer on an anvil.
So the lictors came, and rolled an anvil into the dungeon, and Natalia rushed before them, and throwing herself on her knees implored, “In pity, deal first with Adrian!” And this she said, for she feared that the sight of the sufferings of his comrades might overcome her young husband's fortitude, and perhaps her own.
And when the executioner would have taken the feet of Adrian, to lay them on the anvil, “No,” said Natalia, “I will do that.” And she raised the dear feet, whose sound on the pavement had been to her so pleasant, as he returned to his home, through the few months of their married life, and reverently, and tenderly, she laid them on the iron 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.
And all the rest of the three-and-twenty had their legs broken by repeated blows, but we are not told if their hands and feet were cut off.
According to the orders of Maximian, the bodies of the martyrs were placed on a pile of wood to be burnt, but they were so many that the burning was not perfectly carried out, and a heavy rain during the night having extinguished the smouldering pyre, the Christians were able to recover the remains of the martyrs before they were completely reduced to ashes.
But Natalia preserved her husband's hand and wrapped it in spices and ointments to preserve it, and folded purple silk round it, and placed it at the head of her bed.
Not long after the death of Adrian, as Natalia was young, pretty, and wealthy, she was sought in marriage by a tribune high in office in the Imperial Court. Full of dismay, she implored three months' delay, to make up her mind then flinging herself on her knees by her bed-side, she prayed, “Be merciful. Lord! be merciful, and spare me this humiliation! For thy Name's sake, for the sake of the broken legs of thy martyrs, for the sake of their chains and bleeding arms! spare me, spare me! for the sake of Adrian, whose wife I was!”
Then she hastily prepared for flight, and carrying with her only what was necessary, took ship for Byzantium. Now the bodies of the martyrs had been conveyed by some of the faithful to the same city, and thither therefore, as to the tomb of her husband, Natalia's heart drew her.
The late author of the Acts here introduces a fictitious incident, to heighten the interest of his story.
As the boat was on its way, storm and darkness came on, and out of the gloom shot a phantom ship filled with dark forms of demons. The steersman of Natalia's vessel shouted to the captain of the phantom vessel for sailing directions, not knowing in the darkness and mist that the ship was not real, and freighted with living men. Then a tall black form at the poop shouted through the flying spon-drift, “To the left, to the left, lean over to the left!” and so the steersman turned the prow. At that instant a luminous figure stood out of the night, at the head of the vessel, with a halo about him such as we see encircle a lantern in a fog. It was Adrian in glory. And he waved his arm, and cried, “You are sailing aright! Go straight forwards.”
And Natalia uttered a cry and sprang forward, crying, “It is my husband—it is Adrian come to save us!”
Then the light vanished, and all was dark; the storm blew down on them, laden with the shrieks of the discomfited demons, as the black fiend-ship backed into the gloom.
When morning dawned the boat was off Argyropolis, and they put into port and went up into Byzantium, and sought the Christians; and Natalia was led to where the bones of her husband were laid. Then she laid by them the hand she had cherished. She was worn with fatigue and the miseries of her rough sea voyage. The kind brethren and sisters at Byzantium noted her haggard looks, and besought her to rest. But she first knelt long by her husband's grave, and then lay gently down, and laid her weary head on it, and her spirit fled painlessly from her body.
The relics of S. Adrian and S. Natalia are thought to have been brought to Rome in the 6th or 7th century. Spanish writers assert that they were translated to the abbey of S. Pedro de Estonca, in the 9th century, in the reign of Alfonso the Great, and the time of Pope John VIII. These relics have undergone partition. An arm of S. Adrian and one of S. Natalia are at Leon in the monastic church of S. Claudius. Another portion of their relics in an abbey of their dedication called Tuñon, near Oviedo; another at Balneare, near Leon; other relics at Chellas, near Lisbon. The entire bodies, it is pretended, were translated by relatives of S. Adrian to Belgium, and are now shown at Gerardmont in Hainault. But the entire body of S. Adrian is also at Rome under the high altar of the church of his name. A jaw and half an arm at Cologne, another part of an arm at Prague; the entire body, with the exception of one arm, at Raulcourt—so that there are two bodies in Belgium alone; an arm at Lobbes, part of an arm at Floreffe, two teeth at S. Crepin in Hainault, a tooth at Ninove in Flanders; some bones in Agincourt, others at Douai, at Bruges in the cathedral, and in the Jesuit church at Mecheln; a whole body at Ghent, the third in Belgium; a head at Bologna. Henry II, Emperor of Germany, claimed to use the sword of S. Adrian.
Taken from: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. X; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St Adrian, pray for us.