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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

April 22

SS. Epipodius and Alexander, Martyrs at Lyons

THEY were two gentlemen of that city, though the latter a Grecian by birth, both in the flower of their age, and from the time of their first studies together in the same school, linked by the bands of the strictest friendship, which grew up with them, and was strengthened and spiritualized by their mutual profession of Christianity. This happy union occasioned a mutual assistance and encouragement of each other in piety and all Christian virtues; especially purity, sobriety, and the love of God and their neighbour, by which they prepared themselves for martyrdom. They were both in their prime, but neither of them married when the persecution begun, in the seventeenth year of Marcus Aurelius, and 177th of Jesus Christ, which, raging at Lyons, had already swept off St. Pothinus and his companions. Pursuant to our Saviour’s advice, they endeavoured to hide themselves. They accordingly went secretly out of the city by themselves, to a neighbouring town, where they lay concealed for some time in the house of a poor Christian widow. The woman’s fidelity and the meanness of the place secured them for a while; but at length they were so diligently sought after, that they were discovered, and, in endeavouring to escape once more, Epipodius lost one of his shoes, which was found by a Christian woman, who, as the acts say, kept it as a treasure. They were no sooner apprehended, than, contrary to the custom of the Romans, they were, without any previous examination, sent to prison. Three days after, they were brought, with their hands tied behind them, before the governor’s tribunal; where having owned themselves Christians, the people made a great outcry, and the judge in a passion said: “What purpose have all the preceding tortures and executions served, if there still remain any who dare profess the name of Christ?” To prevent their mutual encouragement of each other by signs, he caused them to be separated. And calling first for Epipodius, the younger of the two, whom he had looked upon as the weaker on this account, he endeavoured to conquer his resolution by caresses, promises, and motives of pleasure. Epipodius replied: “I shall not suffer myself to be prevailed upon by this pretended and cruel compassion. Are you so ignorant as not to know that man is composed of two substances, a soul and a body? With us the soul commands, and the body obeys. The abominations you are guilty of in honour of your pretended deities, afford pleasure to the body, but kill the soul. We are engaged in a war against the body for the advantage of the soul. You, after having defiled yourselves with pleasures like brute beasts, find nothing at last but a sorrowful death; whereas we, when you destroy us, enter into eternal life.” The judge, being exasperated at this modest reply, caused him to be struck on the mouth. The martyr, though his teeth were all over blood, continued to proclaim his faith, saying: “I confess that Jesus Christ is God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is but reasonable that I should resign my soul to him who has created me and redeemed me. This is not losing my life, but changing it into a better.” Whilst he spake thus, the governor ordered him to be stretched on the rack, and his sides to be torn with iron hooks. The people were so enraged to see the courage and tranquillity with which he suffered all these torments, that they required to have him given up to them to be crushed to death or torn in pieces: for the judge seemed not to proceed fast enough for them. Afraid, therefore, lest they should come to any open sedition, he gave orders that his head should be immediately struck off, which was accordingly done.  1
  Two days after, he called Alexander to the bar, and laid before him the torments of Epipodius and of other Christians, hoping to terrify him into compliance. The martyr answered by thanking God for setting before his eyes such glorious examples for his encouragement, and expressing his desire of joining his dear Epipodius. The judge, no longer containing his rage, caused his legs to be extended wide, and ordered him to be beaten by three executioners, who succeeded each other by turns. This torment lasted a long time; yet the martyr never let fall the least word of complaint. At length the judge asked him if he still persisted in his profession of Christianity. “I do,” says Alexander, “for the idols of the Gentiles are devils; and the God whom I adore, and who alone is the almighty and eternal God, I trust will give me grace to confess him to my last breath, as the guardian of my faith and resolution.” The governor, finding him immoveable, and envying him the glory of a longer trial, sentenced him to be crucified. The instrument of his death was immediately made ready, and no sooner was the martyr fastened on it than he gave up his soul to Christ, whom he invoked with the last efforts of his voice. For by his torments he had been already quite exhausted; his entrails were visible through his uncovered ribs, and his bones hung as if they were all broken or dislocated. The Christians privately carried off the bodies of these two saints, and buried them on a hill near the city; which place became famous afterwards for the piety of the faithful, and venerable by a great number of miracles, which were wrought there, according to the author of their acts in Ruinart, who lived in the fourth century, and attests several of these miracles as an eye-witness. He relates, that the city of Lyons being visited by a pestilence, a young man of quality who was seized with it, recovered his health by a draught to which the devout poor widow had given a benediction with the martyr’s shoe. Upon the report of which miracle, innumerable other persons were cured by the like means, and many brought to the light of faith. At their tomb the devils were cast out and the sick restored to their health, in so evident and miraculous a manner, that incredulity itself could not refuse its assent, as the author of these acts moreover testifies. Their tomb was without the walls of the city when he wrote, but enclosed within them in the middle of the fifth century, when St. Eucherius, archbishop of Lyons, wrote the panegyric of these saints, in which he says, that the dust of their tomb was distributed over the whole country for the benefit of the sick. St. Gregory of Tours writes, 1 that this dust did many miracles. He says, that their bodies, in the sixth century, lay deposited with that of St. Irenæus, in the church of St. John, now called of St. Irenæus, under the altar, where the relics of these two holy martyrs were found, and respectfully translated in 1410. See Ruinart, p. 61.  2
Note 1. L. de Gloriâ Mart. c. 50. [back]