August 22, 2018

Holy Martyrs Eulalia and Felix of Barcelona

Sts. Eulalia and Felix of Barcelona (Feast Day - August 22)

The Holy Virgin Martyr Eulalia lived in Spain, near the city of Barcionum (now Barcelona), and she was raised by her parents in piety and the Christian faith. (Another tradition places her in Emerita, the capital of Lusitania, modern Mérida in Spain). Already at fourteen years of age, the maiden spent a solitary life in her parental home with others of her own age, occupied in prayer, the reading of Holy Scripture, and handicrafts.

During the time of a persecution against Christians under the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian (305-311), the governor Dacian arrived in the city of Barcionum to rid it of Christians. Hearing of this, the maiden secretly left her home at night, and by morning had made her way into the city. Pushing her way through the throng of people, the girl made a bold denunciation of the judge for forcing people to renounce the true God in order to offer sacrifice to devils instead.

Dacian gave orders to strip the girl and beat her with rods, but she steadfastly endured the torment and told the judge that the Lord would deliver her from the pain. They tied the martyr to a tree and tore her skin with iron claws, and they then burned her wounds with torches.

During her torment, Dacian asked the Saint, “Where then is your God, Whom you have called upon?” She answered that the Lord was beside her, but that Dacian in his impurity could not see Him. During the Saint’s prayer: “Behold, God helps me, and the Lord is the defender of my soul” (Ps. 53/54:4), the flames of the torches turned back upon the torturers, who fell to the ground.

Among her thirteen tortures, Eulalia also suffered by being put into a barrel with knives (or glass) stuck into it and rolling it down a street (according to tradition, the one now called Baixada de Santa Eulalia or "Saint Eulalia's descent"). Her breasts were then cut off. Finally she was crucified on an X-shaped cross.

The Martyr Eulalia began to pray that the Lord would take her to Heaven to Himself, and with this prayer she died. People saw a white dove come from her mouth and fly up to Heaven. Then a sudden snowstorm covered the martyr’s naked body like a white garment (the Saint’s commemoration is sometimes given as December 10, which may be more correct, in view of the snow). (According to another tradition, Eulalia was beheaded and a dove came forth from her neck.)

Three days later, the martyr’s parents came and wept before her hanging body, but they were also glad that their daughter would be numbered among the saints. When they took Saint Eulalia from the tree, one of the Christians, named Felix, said with tears of joy: “Lady Eulalia, you are the first of us to win the martyr’s crown!” Saint Felix himself soon accepted death for Christ, and is also commemorated on this day.

A shrine over her tomb was soon erected. Veneration of Eulalia was already popular with Christians by AD 350; Prudentius' poem, who devoted Book 3 of his Peristephanon ("About Martyrs") to Eulalia, increased her fame and relics from her were distributed through Iberia. Bishop Fidelis of Mérida rebuilt a basilica in her honor around AD 560. Her shrine was the most popular in Visigothic Spain. In c. 780 her body was transferred to Oviedo by King Silo. It lies in a coffin of Arab silver donated by Alfonso VI in 1075. In 1639, she was made patron saint of Oviedo.

Chapel of Saint Martin, where, according to tradition, St. Eulalia was in prison

Eulalia is commemorated with statues and street names throughout Barcelona. Her body was originally interred in the Church of Santa Maria de les Arenes (St. Mary of the Sands; now Santa Maria del Mar, St. Mary of the Sea). It was hidden in 713 during the Moorish invasion, and only recovered in 878. In 1339, it was relocated to an alabaster sarcophagus in the crypt of the newly built Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. The festival of Saint Eulalia is held in Barcelona for a week around her feast day on February 12.

The different traditions in Spain seem to be due to a confusion between Saint Eulalia of Barcelona (Feb. 12) and Saint Eulalia of Mérida (Dec. 10). Though there are slight differences, they seem to be the same person, and she is commemorated as one person by the Orthodox Church on August 22.

Tomb of Saint Eulalia in the crypt of Barcelona Cathedral