St. Abdon

  • G19 South side Spire
  • 30 Jul City of Pescia, City of Sahagún (León) Swords, Fur robes, Phrygian caps, Crowns
S. Abdon
Abdon and Sennen are two martyrs who surely existed in the 3rd century and suffered martyrdom in Rome. The information regarding their lives is based on legend, though there is definitely some truth. First of all, they are remembered in many official texts and martyrologies, such as the Depositio Martyrum, the Hieronymian Martyrology, the Marble Calendar of Naples, and in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. These texts speak of the placing of the relics of “Abdos et Sennes” in the Pontian Cemetery for martyr saints in Rome, on the Via Portuensis, where Via Alessandro Poerio is now located, and some, like the Hieronymian Martyrology, mention July 30th as their day of celebration, date which then passed on to the Roman Martyrology, i.e. the official text of the Catholic Church. Also other celebrated medieval texts describe how numerous pilgrims who arrived in Rome visited the Via Portuensis, entering the basilica where their bodies lay to rest. This church was quite big and the Liber Pontificalis – the Book of Popes - says that it was restored by Popes Adrian I (772-795) and Nicholas I (858-867). The unknown author of the Passion of the two saints, perhaps driven by their exotic names, classified them as two Persian princes who, as slaves or freedmen in Rome, did what they could to bury martyrs. This commitment caused them to be accused by the emperor Decius (200-251), author of the Seventh Persecution against the Christians, who had them put in prison. Later they appeared before the Senate, dressed in respectable clothing but in chains. As they refused to make a sacrifice to the idols, as practice required, they were sentenced to death and brought to the amphitheater where Nero's Coliseum stood, between the Flavian Amphitheater and the Temple of Venus, to be devoured by ferocious animals. However, they miraculously tamed the animals, which avoided them, so Abdon and Sennen were instead decapitated by the gladiators. Their bodies were thrown in front of the statue of the Sun god, where they remained for three days, until the deacon Quirinus took them away and hid them in his house, where they remained for a very long time. Later, thanks to a revelation (a phenomenon that appears in many lives of saints), they were found again and brought to the Pontian Cemetery. In this cemetery there is a 4th-century fresco portraying them with a beard, wearing a robe and a Phrygian cap, and above the fresco there is a Latin inscription that clearly mentions them. In the fresco, Abdon appears more mature with a short and rounded beard, while Sennen has a pointed beard and is definitely younger. In that same cemetery, a 5th-century terracotta lamp was found. It featured the image of a praying figure, covered in a rich Persian cloak with a short and rounded beard, in which Abdon was identified. Their relics were then placed in the Basilica of Pope St. Mark, at the time of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). In fact, in 1948, a granite sarcophagus was found under the main altar, which contained a large cypress box with many relics and a parchment dated 1474 indicating the placing of the relics of Pope St. Mark, Abdon and Sennen martyrs, Restitutus and others. In the Middle Ages, some of the relics were transferred to Arles-sur-Tech in the Eastern Pyrennees where the French diocese of Perpignan, located there, venerates them as its patron saints. The two saints have been the privileged subjects of many works of art in many churches and cathedrals, in Italy and throughout Europe. In addition to the richness of their garments indicating their Persian origin, they often wear a royal diadem like the one often attributed to the Magi, who of course came from the East. However there is the constant presence of the sword with which they were decapitated. In the basilica of St. Mark in Rome, there is an altar dedicated to them where their relics rest.