History of the Saints

History of Saints

At that time the Roman Emperor was Licinius, an inhuman wolf and savage beast, who was assisted by a friend and counsellor called Valerianus. In order to stop the spread of Christianity, they issued a decree against Christians in every province of the empire. In those same years an old teacher named Onesimo was dispensing his knowledge to three boys called Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino, who were born in the town of the Prefects in Gascony of the noble and rich Vitale and his wife Benedetta, both fervent Christians. An imperial delegate called Nigellione, arrived in town to find and prosecute all Christians. As he read the decree in public, many people fell into despair. This prompted the old teacher Onesimo to warn Vitale of the grave danger his children were exposed to; but Vitale’s love for Christ surpassed his natural fatherly affection, and he decided to offer to God his own life and that of his children. The pain of bidding farewell to them for the last time was abated by the hope of eternal life. Onesimo, the three boys, their nephew Erasmo, and other disciples of the teacher were reported to the authorities and arrested. They were interrogated and subjected to torture by Nigellione himself. Irritated by their stubbornness in defending their faith even in the face of severe threats, he sent them to Licinius and Valerianus in Rome. As Licinius was on his way to the East to organise the persecution of Christians in those regions, Valerianus took up the task of judging them. Before the trial the Three Saints were held in jail, with their hands and feet tied to heavy logs. During the night, however, the three brothers had a vision of the Apostles who embraced them and told them of the forthcoming pains they were to suffer in the name of faith; after this vision the three brothers found themselves free of their bondage

A few days later, they were taken, together with their companions, to be questioned by Valerianus, who became angered by his failure to convince them to renounce their Christian faith. They were stripped nude, flogged and then sent to Diomede, the Prefect of Pozzuoli. In his presence Onesimo was accused of having corrupted the youth, an allegation he vehemently refuted. The angry Diomede condemned the old teacher and the other companions of the Three Saints to death. Onesimo was crushed under a huge rock, while the others were decapitated. Alone with the three brothers, the Prefect adopted a more subtle approach to achieve his objective. He congratulated them on their noble appearance and asked whether they were the children of some important friend of the emperor or some other member of the court. But the Three Saints understood the true intentions of Diomede and replied by quoting a verse against idolatry from the Psalms, which angered the Prefect. He decided to send them to Sicily, which was governed by the terrible Tertullius, known for his merciless persecution of Christians. Before they left, however, he decided to torture them by hitting them on their mouth with a stone. Before embarking for Sicily they were kept in jail, tied to heavy logs. After sailing from Pozzuoli to Messina, the Three Saints were made to walk to Taormina, where Tertullius was waiting for them, intrigued by the three brothers who were already known for their sanctity and heroism – normally he resided in Lentini but at that moment he was in Taormina to rid that area of Christians. Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino were brought before him and subjected to the most violent interrogation. The Three Saints were not intimidated at all; they found instead the courage to address him with pride, not concerned about the consequences, as they trusted in the divine reward

To the question “Do you worship our gods?” they answered “Your gods arenothing but pieces of wood, which you worship following the instructions of your father the devil.” After this reply, obviously, they were tortured. Boiling tar was poured on their body, their long beautiful hair was shaved, and very heavy logs were laid upon their shoulders. The Governor ordered that they be taken all the way to Lentini in this condition, convinced perhaps that it would be easier to deal with them where he lived, after he had completed his task in Taormina. But on the way to Lentini supernatural events occurred. The oldest brother, Alfio, who always supported and encouraged the other two, prayed fervently to God and a sudden gale swept the heavy logs to the sea and freed the three brothers of that heavy burden. At the 4 same time, their faces became beautiful and their hair grew as it was before. The soldiers of the escort stood flabbergasted and were afraid to go near the prisoners. The party spent the night in Catania, where the prison in which the brothers were held is still visited today by the faithful. After Catania, they found the road to Lentini blocked by the flooded river Simeto. Eight soldiers tried to get the three brothers to enter the dangerous waters first, while on the other side of the riverbank the devil, disguised as a traveller, falsely reassured them of the safety of the crossing. But the brothers recognised his deceitful and diabolical plan and turned to God for help. By miracle, the waters calmed down just to allow the passage of the faithful of Christ, while the soldiers were swallowed up by the roaring waves. In the custody of the soldiers left behind, the three brothers approached the ancient city of Lentini

The miraculous crossing of the River Simeto, located near Lentini. On entering the town, they met a Jewish boy who was having terrible convulsions, as he was possessed by the devil. Alfio agreed to free him from the devil, provided his parents renounced their religion and became Christians. The miracle was granted and the boy was healed; this angered the devil so much that his loud screams startled the whole town. In his anger the devil cursed Tertullius, who had brought the Three Saints into town, and forecast his terrible death: wild beasts would devour him, and his soul would be damned for eternity. As a consequence of this miracle, many relatives of the boys converted to Christianity, as did many other Jews who lived in some caves of Lentini still known as the ancient shelters of the Lestrigoni. The new converts, who were soon reported to the Roman soldiers, were condemned by the Governor to be taken out of the town and stoned to death. The miracle of curing the Jewish boy further demonstrated the divine support that Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino enjoyed. They intervened again to cure a noble woman with paralysis called Tecla, who was a cousin of Alessandro, the counsellor of Tertullius, but had secretly converted to Christianity. She managed to convince her cousin, by rewarding him with money, to let her meet the brothers in the night at the prison where they were being held

The Governor eventually returned to town and soon asked Alessandro about the prisoners. Learning that they had arrived in better condition than when they left, and that twenty of the soldiers escorting them, including their leader Mercurio, had converted to Christianity because of the miracles they saw, the Governor almost went mad with rage. Mercurio and the other soldiers suffered a terrible lashing, before being taken to a secluded place called Teope (or Ceramio) and killed by the sword. The pious Tecla burned their bodies on the outskirts of Lentini, in the suburb of the Antziani, where, after Tertullius’ death, she had a church built. In the meantime, the saintly woman tenderly cared for the three brothers, visiting them in jail and soothing the pain of the wounds inflicted by the merciless Tertullius. In fact he submitted them to exhausting questioning sessions, either threatening them with gruesome punishments, or enticing them to forsake their faith with the promise of freedom and material rewards; but they held their ground, only too happy to suffer in the name of Jesus Christ. Tertullius did not desist, and his wicked mind always devised new forms of torture. After having them brutally lashed, he ordered them to be locked in a cell with their feet tightly bound to a plank and a huge log placed on their shoulder. He then watched their suffering with diabolical pleasure, as their flesh was ripped off with large hooks. But the Apostle Andrew appeared to them in the cell, and they asked him to heal their bodies, so that Tertullius could torture them again; so great was their desire to emulate the suffering of Christ

The day of the martyrdom was awaited by people of the town with mixed sentiments: the pagans were visibly happy about it, while Christians, not yet directly affected by the violent persecution of the Governor, suffered in silence and prayed at home. Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino also felt that the day was approaching when their soul would join God; hence they refused further treatment by Tecla and her sister-in-law Giustina, who had also helped them in jail. With one last good deed, Alfio obtained from God the miraculous cure of Giustina’s long-standing blindness. Alessandro was already troubled by the courage demonstrated by the martyrs, who endured severe pain rather than renounce Jesus Christ; after this prodigious cure he converted, and even found the courage to do so in front of the cruel Tertullius. The day of martyrdom finally arrived; the whole population was in trepidation, either cheering with joy or silent and stupefied. As the three brothers refused once again to renounce their Christian faith, Tertullius, from the height of his throne, pronounced the three fatal sentences: “Alfio, who spoke too much, will have his tongue cut!”, “Filadelfo will be burnt alive on the grid!”, “Cirino will be thrown into boiling water!”. The sentence was carried out at once. After seeing his brothers facing martyrdom with a smile akin to those who feel close to a divine reward, Cirino found the courage to jump into the cauldron, before he was thrown in.