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

December 9

The Seven Martyrs at Samosata

IN the year 297 the Emperor Maximian, returning victorious from the defeat of the Persian army, celebrated the quinquennial games at Samosata, the capital of Syria Comagene, upon the banks of the Euphrates. On this occasion he commanded all the inhabitants to repair to the temple of fortune, situate in the middle of the city, to assist at the solemn supplications and sacrifices which were there to be made to the gods. The whole town echoed with the sound of trumpets, and was infected with the smell of victims and incense. Hipparchus and Philotheus, persons for birth and fortune of the first rank in the city, had some time before embraced the Christian faith. In a secret closet in the house of Hipparchus, upon the eastern wall, they had made an image of the cross, before which, with their faces turned to the east, they adored the Lord Jesus Christ seven times a-day. Five intimate friends, much younger in years, named, James, Paragrus, Habibus, Romanus, and Lollianus, coming to visit them at the ninth hour, or three in the afternoon, found them in this private chamber praying before the cross, and asked them why they were in mourning, and prayed at home, at a time when, by the emperor’s orders, all the gods of the whole city had been transported into the temple of fortune, and all persons were commanded to assemble there to pray. They answered, that they adored the Maker of the world. James said: “Do you take that cross for the maker of the world? For I see it is adored by you.” Hipparchus answered: “Him we adore who hung upon the cross. Him we confess to be God, and the Son of God begotten, not made, co-essential with the Father, by whose deity we believe this whole world is created, preserved, and governed. It is now the third year since we were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by James, a priest of the true faith, who since has never intermitted from time to time to give us the Body and Blood of Christ. We, therefore, think it unlawful for us during these three days to stir out of doors: for we abhor the smell of victims with which the whole city is infected.” After much discourse together the five young noblemen declared they desired to be baptized, but feared the severity of the laws, saying these two were protected by their dignities in the magistracy and their favour at court; but that as for themselves they were young and without protection. Hipparchus and Philotheus said: “The earthen vessel or brick is but dirt till it be tempered with clay and has passed the fire.” And they discoursed so well on martyrdom, and on the contempt of the world, which faith inspireth, that the five young men desired to be baptized, and to bear the badge of Christ, confessing that when they first saw their two friends at prayer before the cross, they felt an unusual fire glowing within their breasts. Hipparchus and Philotheus at first advised them to defer their baptism, but at length, pleased with their ardour, they despatched a messenger to the priest James, with a letter sealed with their own seal the contents of which were as follows: “Be pleased to come to us as soon as possible, and bring with you a vessel of water, an host, and a horn of oil for anointing. Your presence is earnestly desired by certain tender sheep which are come over to our fold, and are impatient that its mark be set upon them.” James forthwith covered the sacred utensils with his cloak, and coming to the house found the seven blessed men on their knees at prayer. Saluting them he said: “Peace be with you, servants of Jesus Christ who was crucified for his creatures.” They all arose, and James, Paragrus, Habibus, Romanus, and Lollianus fell at his feet and said: “Have pity on us, and give us the mark of Christ, whom you adore.” He asked them if they were ready to suffer tribulation and torments for Christ, who suffered first for them. They answered with one voice, that nothing should ever be able to separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. He then bade them join him in prayer. When they had prayed together on their knees for the space of an hour, the priest rose up, and saluting them said, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” When they had made a confession of their faith, and abjured idolatry, he baptized them, and immediately gave them the Body and Blood of Christ. This being done, he took up the sacred utensils, and covering them with his cloak made haste home, fearing lest the pagans should discover them together; for the priest was an old man in a mean ragged garment; and Hipparchus and Philotheus were men of the first rank, and enjoyed posts of great honour, and the other five were illustrious for their birth.  1
  On the third day of the festival, the emperor inquired whether none among the magistrates contemned the gods, and whether they had all performed the duty of sacrificing on this public occasion. He was answered, that Hipparchus and Philotheus had for three years past constantly absented themselves from the public worship of the gods. Hereupon the emperor gave orders that they should be conducted to the temple of fortune, and compelled to offer sacrifice. The messengers coming to the house of Hipparchus, found the seven above mentioned assembled together; but at first apprehended only Hipparchus and Philotheus. The emperor asked them why they contemned both him and the immortal gods? Hipparchus said: “I blush to hear wood and stones called gods.” The emperor commanded that he should receive fifty stripes, with whips loaded with leaden plummets, on the back, and then be confined in a dark dungeon. Philotheus being presented before him, the emperor promised to make him prætor, and to bestow on him other preferments if he complied. The confessor replied, that honours upon such terms would be an ignominy, and that he esteemed disgrace suffered for Christ the greatest of all honours. He then began to explain the creation of the world, and spoke with great eloquence. The emperor interrupted him, saying, he saw that he was a man of learning, and that he would not put him to the torture, hoping that his own reason would convince him of his errors. But he gave orders that he should be put in irons, and confined in a separate dungeon from that in which Hipparchus was detained. In the meantime an order was sent to seize the other five that were found with them. The emperor put them in mind, that they were in the flower of their age, and exhorted them not to despise the blessings of life. They answered, that faith in Christ is preferable to life, adding, that no treacherous artifices should draw them from their duty to God: “Especially,” said they, “as we carry in our bodies the Body and Blood of Christ. Our bodies are consecrated by the touch of his Body: nor ought bodies which have been made holy, to be prostituted, by offering an outrageous affront to the dignity to which they have been raised.” The emperor entreated them to have pity on their youth, and not throw away their lives, swearing by the gods, that if they persisted in their obstinacy, they should be unmercifully beaten, and should miserably perish. He repeated, that they should be crucified like their master. Their answer was, that they were not affrighted with torments. The emperor ordered that they should be chained, and kept in separate dungeons, without meat or drink, till the festival should be over.  2
  The solemnity which was celebrated for several days in honour of the gods, being concluded, the emperor caused a tribunal to be erected without the walls of the city, in a meadow near the banks of the Euphrates, and the fields thereabouts were covered with rich hangings like tents. Maximian having taken his seat, by his order, the confessors were brought before him. The two old magistrates were first led by chains thrown about their necks: the other five followed them, all having their hands tied behind their backs. Upon their peremptory refusal to offer sacrifice, they were all stretched upon the rack, and each received twenty stripes upon his back, and was then scourged with thongs upon the breast and belly. This being done, they were carried back each to his own dungeon, with strict orders that no one should be allowed to see them, or send them anything to comfort or support them, and that they should be furnished by their keepers with just so much coarse bread as would keep them alive. In this condition they lay from the 15th of April to the 25th of June. Then they were again brought before the emperor, but looked more like carcasses than living men. He told them, that if they would comply, he would cause their hair to be shorn, and would have them washed in the bath, carried to the palace, and re-established in their dignities. They all prayed that he would not seek to draw them from the way which Jesus Christ had opened to them. The emperor, whose eyes sparkled with fury, upon hearing this answer, said: “Wretches, you seek death. Your desire is granted, that you may at length cease to insult the gods.” He then commanded that cords should be put across their mouths, and bound round them, and that they should be crucified. The cords were immediately put in their mouths, and fastened tight about their bodies, so that they could only mutter broken words, and not speak distinctly. In this condition, however, they returned thanks to God, and encouraged one another, rejoicing that they were leaving this miserable world, to go to God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. They were immediately hurried towards the tetradian, the common place of execution, at some distance from the city, and were followed by a long train of relations, friends, servants, and others, who filled the fields in the way, and rent the air with their lamentations. In the meantime the lords of that territory, Tiberianus, Gallus, Longinianus, Felicianus, Proclus, Cosmianus, Mascolianus, and Priscus, to whom, by an imperial writ, the government of the city was committed, waited on the emperor in a body, and represented to him that a great multitude of citizens followed the prisoners all in tears, grieved to see seven princes of their country led chained to a cruel and ignominious death; they alleged that Hipparchus and Philotheus were their colleagues in the magistracy, who ought to settle their accounts, and the public affairs which had been left in their hands, that the other five were senators of their city, who ought to be allowed at least to make their wills; they, therefore, begged that some respite might be granted them. The emperor readily assented, and gave order that the martyrs should be put into the hands of these magistrates for the aforesaid purposes. The magistrates led them into the porch of the circus, and having taken the cords from their mouths, privately said to them: “We obtained this liberty under pretence of settling with you the public accounts, and civil affairs; but in reality to have the favour of speaking to you in private, begging your intercession with God, for whom you die, and desiring your blessing for this city and ourselves.” The martyrs gave their blessing, and harangued the people that were assembled. The emperor was informed, and sent a reprimand to the magistrates for suffering the martyrs to speak to the people. Their excuse was, that they durst not forbid it for fear of a tumult.  3
  The emperor ascending his tribunal, would again see the martyrs; but found their resolution unshaken. He therefore ordered seven crosses to be erected over against the gate of the city, and again conjured Hipparchus to obey. The venerable old man, laying his hand upon his bald head, said: “As this, according to the course of nature, cannot be again covered with hair; so never shall I change or conform to your will in this point.” Maximian commanded a goat’s skin to be fastened with sharp nails upon his head; then jeering, said: “See, your bald pate is now covered with hair: sacrifice, therefore, according to the terms of your own condition.” The martyrs were hoisted on their crosses; and at noon several ladies came out of the city, and having bribed the guards with money, obtained leave to wipe the faces of the martyrs, and to receive their blood with sponges and linen cloths. Hipparchus died on the cross in a short time. James, Romanus, and Lollianus expired the next day, being stabbed by the soldiers whilst they hung on their crosses. Philotheus, Habibus, and Paragrus were taken down from their crosses whilst they were living. The emperor being informed that they were yet alive, commanded huge nails to be driven into their heads. This was executed with such cruelty that their brains were thrust out through their noses and mouths. Maximian ordered that their bodies should be dragged by the feet, and thrown into the Euphrates; but Bassus, a rich Christian, redeemed them privately of the guards for seven hundred denarij, and buried them in the night at his farm in the country. The Acts of their martyrdom were compiled by a priest, who says he was present in a mean garb when the holy martyrs gave their blessing to their citizens. See these authentic acts, written by the priest who was eye-witness to their sufferings, published in Chaldaic by Steph. Assemani, Act. Mart. t. 2, p. 123.  4