St. Cyprian

S. Cipriano di Cartagine
Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, before becoming Bishop of Carthage and Saint, led a life that was anything but saintly. He was born in Carthage around 210 AD, the son of a wealthy pagan family. He studied rhetoric, attended university and became a lawyer and professor in his native city. His wealth, his family connections with the aristocracy of the city and his reputation allowed him to lead a life of pleasure, merrymaking and waste. Then, at twenty-five years of age, he went into a deep spiritual crisis, that made him ashamed of his dissolute life and convinced him to seek God. Yet this transformation was not easy: "How is such a radical change possible, how can I immediately reject all that grew up with me and with time has become second nature?" he confessed to his friend Donatus. His friends, his family, the centuries old customs of the Roman people, the ideas that he was taught from when he was a child: finding Christ put all this into question, and required a radical change, a new path, a soul ready to turn everything upside down, to create a new order. Cyprian chose this path, becoming deeply Christian: "That which first seemed doubt, once again took on consistency, that which was closed opened, the darkness was illuminated, what first seemed difficult became easy …all that we can be comes from God". He initially became a priest, then bishop of his city, and in 250 fled from capture by Decius, the emperor who once again began the persecution of Christians after a truce of thirty years. He took refuge in a cave, as a hermit, but maintained his contacts with the African church with numerous letters, so that it would not break up under Roman authority: there were, in fact, many Christians s who would be given the name of lapsi (lapsed) - who abjured their faith when threatened by the imperial swords. When the persecutions came to an end, he summoned a council in Carthage to establish how to readmit the lapsi to the Church. Cyprian always felt very strong links with his native land, Africa, the homeland of the first Christian fathers, saints and martyrs. When in Numidia, a territory stretching from present-day Morocco and Carthage, groups of plunderers deported the population and raided the towns, Cyprian gave 200,000 sesterces as compensation for damages. And when the whole of Northern Africa was ravaged by pestilence in 252-254, he himself organised care of the sick, regardless of whether they were Christian or pagan. Nevertheless, once again, Rome considered Christians as a potential threat. Galerius Maximus was elected proconsul of Africa with orders to punish Christian faith with death. Cyprian was arrested and put on trial and, when he refused to make a sacrifice to the emperor, he was taken to the scaffold to be beheaded. His friends and numerous faithful rushed to the scene and helped him to blindfold himself and tie his hands, so that he could undergo martyrdom. His remains, over six hundred years later, came into the possession of a group of Charlemagne's envoys on a mission to the East. When they landed in Arles, they delivered them to the Bishop of Lyons, Leidradus, who took them to Compiègne Abbey, where they remain to this date. His symbols, in the rare representations of him, include the sword, the pastoral staff and, very rarely, the palm tree.