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

August 13

St. Cassian, Martyr

HE was a Christian schoolmaster, and taught children to read and write, at Imola, 1 a city twenty-seven miles from Ravenna in Italy. A violent persecution being raised against the church, probably that of Decius or Valerian, or according to some, that of Julian, he was taken up, and interrogated by the governor of the province. As he constantly refused to sacrifice to the gods, the barbarous judge having informed himself of what profession he was, commanded that his own scholars should stab him to death with their iron writing pencils, called styles; for at that time it was the custom for scholars to write upon wax laid on a board of boxen wood, in which they formed the letters with an iron style or pencil, sharp at one end, but blunt and smooth at the other, to erase what was to be effaced or corrected. 2 They also often wrote on boxen wood itself, as St. Ambrose mentions. 3 The smaller the instruments were, and the weaker the executioners, the more lingering and cruel was this martyr’s death. He was exposed naked in the midst of two hundred boys; among whom some threw their tablets, pencils, and penknives at his face and head, and often broke them upon his body; others cut his flesh or stabbed him with their penknives, and others pierced him with their pencils, sometimes only tearing the skin and flesh, and sometimes raking in his very bowels. Some made it their barbarous sport to cut part of their writing-task in his tender skin. Thus, covered with his own blood, and wounded in every part of his body, he cheerfully bade his little executioners not to be afraid; and to strike him with greater force; not meaning to encourage them in their sin, but to express the ardent desire he had to die for Christ. He was interred by the Christians at Imola, where afterwards his relics were honoured with a rich mausolæum. Prudentius tells us, that in his journey to Rome, he visited this holy martyr’s tomb, and prostrate before it implored the divine mercy for the pardon of his sins with many tears. He mentions a moving picture of the saint’s martyrdom hanging over the altar, representing his cruel death in the manner he has recorded it in verse. He exhorts all others with him to commend their petitions to this holy martyr’s patronage, who fails not to hear pious supplications. 4 See Prudent. de Cor. hym. 9 de S. Cassiano, p. 203. His sacred remains are venerated in a rich shrine at Imola in the cathedral. See Manzorius, J. U. D. et Canonicus Imolensis in Hist. Episcoporum Imolens. an 1719, and Bosch the Bollandist, t. 3, Aug. p. 16. 5  1
Note 1. Imola was anciently called Forum Cornelii from its founder Cornelius Sylla. [back]
Note 2. See Weitzii Notæ in Prud. hic. p. 605. Casaubon. in Suet. p. 58. Echard. in Symbolis, p. 536, &c. from Cicero, &c. The most ancient manner of writing was a kind of engraving, whereby the letters were formed in tablets of lead, wood, wax, or like materials. This was done by styles made of iron, brass, or bone. Instead of such tablets, leaves of papyrus, a weed which grew on the banks of the Nile, (also of the Ganges,) were used first in Egypt; afterwards parchment, made of fine skins of beasts, was invented at Pergamum. Lastly, paper was invented, which is made of linen cloth. Books anciently written only on one side, were done up in rolls, and when opened or unfolded, filled a whole room, as Martial complains; but when written on both sides on square leaves, were reduced to narrow bounds, as the same poet observes. See Mabillon De Re Diplomaticâ, and Calmet, Diss. sur les Livres des Anciens, et les diverses Manières d’Ecrire, t. 7, p. 31. &c. [back]
Note 3. Hexaëmer. l. 3, c. 13. [back]
Note 4.
“Audit, crede, preces martyr prosperrimus omnes
Ratasque reddet quas videt probabiles.”
v. 97.
Note 5. Baronius justly rejects the false legends which pretend that St. Cassian was banished from Sabiona, now Siben, a small ancient town in Tirol, in Germany, where these legends suppose the bishopric to have been originally placed, which, from the sixth century, is fixed at Brixen, a small city in the same province of Tirol, suffragan to Trent. Rubeus, the historian of Ravenna, confounds Brixen with Brescia in Lombardy. See the false acts of St. Cassian, published by Roschman, imperial librarian at Ins, who endeavours to defend their veracity in making him bishop of Siben; but he might be titular saint of the cathedral of Brixen without having been bishop or native of that country. See Vindiciæ Martyrologii Romani de S. Cassiano. Veronæ, 1751, 4to. [back]