December 6, 2017

Holy Martyrs Dionysia, Dativa, Emilianus, Boniface, Leontia, Tertius and Majoricus (+ 484)

Victor of Vita was a fifth century African bishop of the Province of Byzacena (called Vitensis from his See of Vita). He wrote a work titled A History of the African Province Persecution, in the Times of Genseric and Huneric, the Kings of the Vandals. This is mainly a contemporary narrative of the cruelties practiced against the Orthodox Christians of Northern Africa by the Arian Vandals. In this book he records the story of the Holy Martyrs Dionysia, Dativa, Emilianus, Boniface, Leontia, Tertius and Majoricus, who are commemorated on December 6th according to the Roman Martyrology. He writes:

At a time when those bishops had not yet been sent into exile, he [Huneric] sent simultaneously through all the provinces of the land of Africa most cruel torturers, so that there did not remain a single home or place free of wailing and lamentations. They did not spare people of any age or either sex, except those who submitted to their will. Some were tortured by being beaten, others by being hung, and others by the fire; contrary to the laws of nature, women, especially the noble, were tortured entirely naked and in full view of the public.

Of these I shall mention one, our Dionysia, in a quick and concise manner. When they saw that she was not only more courageous but also more beautiful than the other married women, they set to work first on her, to strip her and get her ready for the clubs. Trusting in her Lord she put up with these things and said: "Torture me however you like, but do not uncover those parts which would cause me shame." They, behaving still more wildly, stripped off all her clothes and made her stand up in a more prominent place, making a spectacle of her in front of everyone. Amid the blows of the rods, and while streams of blood were already flowing over her whole body, she spoke in a bold voice: "You servants of the Devil, what you think you are doing to my shame is in fact to my praise." And because she had a full knowledge of the divine scriptures, she strengthened others for their martyrdom, despite having been afflicted with punishments and being already a martyr herself. By her holy example she set nearly the whole of her country free.

When she saw that her only son, who was still of tender years and rather delicate, was afraid and in dread of the punishments, she strengthened him by casting wounding glances and threatening him with her motherly authority to such an extent that he was turned into someone far stronger than his mother. When he was in the midst of the cruel scourges she spoke to him in this way: "Remember, my son, that we have been baptized in the catholic Church our mother in the name of the Trinity. Let us not lose that garment of our salvation, in case the master, when he comes, does not find the wedding garment and says to his servants: 'Cast him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matt 22: 13) The punishment to be feared is the one which will never end, and the life to be desired is the one which will be enjoyed for ever." So it was that, strengthening her son by words such as these, she quickly made a martyr of him.

That young man, so worthy of veneration, whose name was Majoricus, breathed his last in the struggle he waged for his confession and completed his palm-strewn course. The woman, embracing the victim, truly hers, rendered thanks to the Lord with as many words as she was capable of, and she chose to bury him, in the joy of future hope, in her home, so that as often as she poured forth her prayers to the Trinity above his tomb, she would be confident that she was never far from her son. It would take long to tell how many were the people who, as we have said, were gained for God through her in that town. For there were also her sister, named Dativa, and Leontia, the daughter of the holy bishop Germanus, and Emilianus, one of Dativa's relations, a doctor worthy of reverence, as well as the religious man Tertius, who was outstanding for his confession of the Trinity, and Boniface of Sibida. So many were the things they suffered, and such were the torments with which they were tortured, that one who is capable should speak of them one at a time.

And who could tell the story of the punishments which Servus, from the large town of Tuburbo (Henchir Kasbat), a true man, eminent and noble, endured for Christ? After receiving countless blows from rods he was frequently lifted up by machines with pulleys and, as he hung, taken throughout the city for the whole day. Now he was lifted on high, but when the ropes were released again he fell quickly and tumbled down with the full weight of his body on the pebbles of the streets, coming down upon the stones like a stone. But more often he was dragged along and made to rub against stones which were very sharp, so that his skin came off and you would see it hanging from his body along his sides, back and belly. He had already suffered things quite like these in the time of Genseric, for not making public the secrets of a particular friend: how much more would he suffer now, when he was safeguarding the mysteries of his faith? And if he faithfully displayed his faith for the sake of a man, and for no gain, how much more must he have done so for the sake of the one who will render to him a reward for that faith?

But I lack the ability to narrate the deeds which were accomplished in the town of Culusi, because it is beyond human power even to count the number of martyrs and confessors there. In that place there was a married woman, Victoria, who conformed to her name. While she was being tortured by being left hanging for a good while in the sight of the common people, she was addressed in the following terms by her husband, already a lost man, in the presence of their children: "Why are you suffering, wife? If you hold me in disdain, at least have mercy on these little ones to whom you gave birth, you evil woman. Why do you forget your womb and count as nothing those you bore amidst groans? Where are the covenants of married love? Where are the bonds of that relationship which written documents once brought about between us, in accordance with the law which pertains to respectable folk? Look, I beseech you, on your children and husband, and hasten to comply with what is commanded in the king's order, so that you may escape the torments still to come and, as well, be given back to me and our children." But she, listening to neither the wailing of her children nor the blandishments of the serpent, lifted her affections far above the earth and despised the world with its desires. When those who had been torturing her saw that she had died, her shoulders having been wrenched away owing to the period for which she had hung, straightaway they took her down, completely lifeless. Afterwards she said that a virgin had stood by her and touched her limbs, one by one, and she had been healed then and there.