This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, March 19, 2012

March 19 -- Feast of Saints Daria and Chrysanthos

Chrysanthos and Daria?
Sometimes the legends of saints like these get so convoluted with variations and conflicting details that they begin to seem fictional.  Fortunately, the National Geographic Society is around to separate the legends from the facts.  In this case, for example, we can begin with the facts and work backwards.

In 2008, the bones of a petite woman who lives a comparatively stress-free life until her death in her mid-twenties were discovered in a cathedral vault in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  The bones of a man in his late teens were in the same vault.  Both appear to have been healthy at the time of their deaths.  Radiocarbon analysis dates the bones between AD 80 and AD 340.   Lead content of the bones suggests that these were patricians -- their indoor plumbing tended to overexpose the upper class to lead.

Working backwards, the National Geo team learned that the bones of two saints -- Chrysanthos and Daria -- were believed to have been transferred from one church to another until they came to rest in Reggio Emilia.  According to one account, they were buried alive in a sand pit, which would be a pretty good way of executing them without causing any trauma to the skeletal system.  The story says that they were killed during the reign of Numerian, probably by the order of his brother Carinus, in AD 283, which would be consistent with the carbon test.

Six of one or a half dozen of martyrs
With that in mind, here's the legend of Chrysanthos and Daria.  Polemius of Alexandria, a wealthy senator,  had a son (Chrysanthos), to whom he gave every advantage in life.  He provided the finest philosophical education, with all the dangers that implies.  Young Chrysanthos, having become a rationalist, wanted to examine for himself the ideas of these Christians rather than taking the words of other polytheists.  He read some New Testament readings, including apparently the Acts of the Apostles.  The more he read, the more he was attracted to Christianity, so he sought out a presbyter named Carporphoros to instruct him.

When Chrysanthos accepted baptism, his dad tried to reverse the tide.  He arranged a marriage to a woman named Daria.  One account says she came from Athens, where she had served as a priestess of Minerva.  Another account says she had been a Vestal Virgin in Rome.  There are some problems with that, including the notion that Vestals had a thirty year term of service and the bones were those of a twenty-something.  Vestals were not released from service prematurely, and the first punishment later subjected to Daria (according to the legend) is not one they'd inflict on a former Vestal, even for apostasy. In any event, Daria was apparently a few years older than her husband and definitely a polytheist.

The Blessed Couple, who never had kids
Chrystanthos went ahead with the marriage, but persuaded his new wife to become a Christian and live in celibacy.  After the death of Polemius, they even lived apart so they could preach and move converts into their homes with them.  Low birth rates among the upper class Romans had been a concern since the Emperor Augustus, so it wasn't long before the tribune Claudius called Chrysanthos and Daria to task.  The young man held up so well under torture that Claudius himself became a believer, leading his wife Hilaria, his sons Jason and Maurus, and all his household to accept baptism.

The Urban Prefect and the Emperor heard about this and reacted with cold brutality.  Claudius was drowned at sea, his sons, soldiers, and servants beheaded, and Hilaria was tortured to death, or maybe hanged.  Daria was packed off to a brothel (not something they'd do to a ex-Vestal), but a lioness entered the house and wouldn't let any of the customers touch her.  Chrysanthus was tossed into the sewer to drown, but a soft light and sweet fragrance sustained him, so they fished him out for another execution.  Again, reports that they were stoned to death are not supported by the bones recovered, so the couple was buried alive in a sand pit. 

I'm wondering who, if anyone, got what they wanted in this story.  Salvation aside, Chrysanthos wanted the philosophically pure life, which seldom ends well.  He seems to have gotten it.  His dad  wanted either happiness or respectability for his son.  If it was the former, he got it, though he might not have recognized it.  If it was the latter, he got that too, and although it took a few centuries, it has lasted for centuries.  We don't really get to know what Daria wanted, but she is portrayed as faithful and brave throughout.  Let's hope she had that much comfort.  I doubt everyone who followed Claudius into death shared his zeal, but maybe.  One the whole, for a story with almost as many corpses as Hamlet, it is not too unhappy an ending.

No comments:

Post a Comment