There are two saints named Cerbonius celebrated today. The first, a bishop of Verona who died around 400, was said to be a very pious fellow, but little is known about him. The second, a bishop of Populonia who died around 575, is discussed below.
|Cerbonius, not devoured by beasts|
Cerbonius was a native North Africa, but he escaped to Italy during the Arian persecutions under the Vandals. He rose to the office of bishop of Populonia when his predecessor Regulus, the priest who had ordained him, was beheaded for lending aid and comfort to the Byzantines. Such were the dangers of their era.
Cerbonius seemed like a good choice, but he had the irritating habit of insisting that Mass be said at sunrise. It was all well and good for him, since he lived very close to the altar at which he said it, but that meant that parishioners had to rise well enough in advance to make it to church on time. They tried to reason with him, but he was all stone and no water. One of the disadvantages of a top-down organization like the Roman Catholic Church is that you can't fire your minister and hire one who suits your hours. The best you can do is complain to the Vatican; apparently pre-dawn trips to the church were sufficiently irritating that the parishioners chose that route.
Cerbonius was summoned to the Vatican. The summoners arrived to find the bishop eating breakfast, and since it was quite early in the morning, they accused him of heresy. One does not have breakfast until one has said Mass, I guess. He of course had already finished the Mass and begun his daily routine. He set out with them, taming some geese with the sign of the Cross en route.
He settled in and prepared for his audience with the Pope. He got up for the morning Mass. The Holy Father, Pope Vigilius, was still in bed so Cerbonius went in and woke him up. Then he asked if the Pope could not hear the angels singing the Mass.
|Saint Cerbonius, with a goose|
Totila, the King of the Ostrogoths, invaded Tuscany. In the thick of the struggle, Cerbonius was accused of hiding Roman soldiers, a charge that I figure was true. The sentence -- death by bear attack in the arena -- was probably excessive, though. Fortunately, the bear was more impressed by Bishop Cerbonius than Totila had been. Being a ferocious bear, he raised himself up on his hind legs and roared before he dropped down and licked the saint's feet.
Recognizing the miracle for what it was, Totila decided that exile to Elba was probably the safest way to go. That's the same island to which Napoleon Bonaparte would be exiled some twelve hundred years later. Napoleon escaped to raise another ruckus, but Cerbonus just lived and died there as a hermit. Before he died, however, he asked his friends to take his corpse back to Populonia for burial, but then instructed them to return to Elba immediately. They obeyed, which was lucky, as their ship had departed just before the invading Lombards swept over the town, looting and murdering indiscriminately.
I like the stories of the animals that don't attack, but those are told about a lot of saints. As someone who will see the sunrise on my way to work if I leave a little late tomorrow morning, I find Cerbonius an especially personal patron. Of course, I also like to sleep in on Sunday, so I am glad he is a man for his time, not for all time.