February 9, 2021

Saint Sabinus, Bishop of Canosa (+ 566)

St. Sabinus of Canosa (Feast Day - February 9)
Born in 461, Saint Sabinus was Bishop of Canosa, in the Apulia region of southern Italy from 514.

He was sent twice as a papal envoy to Constantinople, in 525, by Pope John I and in 536 to accompany Pope Agapitus I, who lost his life on the journey, to defend the true faith against the Monophysite heresy. He attended the Synod of Constantinople (536), which confirmed the deposition of the Patriarch Anthimos I of Constantinople and condemned three prominent anti-Chalcedonians living in Constantinople, causing the Emperor Justinian I to ban all four from the capital.

In 531, in the papacy of Pope Boniface II, he took part in the Synod of Rome. He was a builder of churches and other religious buildings, according to the Benedictine discipline of Ora et labora ("Work and pray"). 

Sabinus was a friend of Saint Benedict, whom he visited at Montecassino and to whom, as recorded by Pope Gregory the Great, he once expressed his preoccupations on the incursions of the Ostrogoth King Totila into the Italian peninsula. According to Gregory (Dialogues, 2, 15):

"The Bishop also of Camisina [Canosa] used to visit the servant of God [Benedict], whom the holy man dearly loved for his virtuous life. The Bishop, therefore, talking with him of King Totila, of his taking of Rome, and the destruction of that city, said: 'This city will be so spoiled and ruined by him, that it will never be more inhabited.' To whom the man of God answered: 'Rome,' quoth he, 'shall not be utterly destroyed by strangers, but shall be so shaken with tempests, lightnings, whirlwinds, and earthquakes, that it will fall to decay of itself.' The mysteries of which prophecy we now behold as clear as the day: for we see before our eyes in this very city, by a strange whirlwind the world shaken, houses ruined, and churches overthrown, and buildings rotten with old age we behold daily to fall down. True it is that Honoratus, by whose relation I had this, saith not that he received it from his own mouth, but that he had it of other monks, which did hear it themselves."

Gregory further writes (Dialogues, 3, 5) of the time Saint Sabinus, now old and blind, was tested by King Totila for his prophetic gift:

"Certain religious men, well known in the province of Apulia, do report that which many both far and near know to be most true, and that is of Sabinus, Bishop of Camisina, who, by reason of his great age, was become so blind that he saw nothing at all. And for as much as Totila, King of the Goths, hearing that he had the gift of prophecy, and would not believe it, but was desirous to prove whether it were so or no, it happened, that coming into those parts, the man of God did invite him to dinner. And when the meat was brought in, the King would not sit at the table, but sat beside at the right hand of venerable Sabinus, and when the Bishop's man brought him, as he used to do, a cup of wine, the King softly put forth his hand, took the cup, and gave it himself to the Bishop, to try whether he could tell who he was that gave him the wine. Then the man of God taking the cup, but not seeing him that did deliver it, said: 'Blessed be that hand.' At which words the King very merrily blushed, because, albeit he was taken, yet did he find that gift in the man of God which before he desired to know."

He then speaks (Dialogues, 3, 5) of a miracle of Saint Sabinus:

"The same reverent man, to give good example of life to others, lived until he was passing old, which displeased his Archdeacon, who desired his Bishopric, and therefore upon ambition he sought how to dispatch him with poison, and for that purpose corrupted his cup-bearer, who, overcome with money, offered the Bishop at dinner that poison in his wine which he had received from the Archdeacon. The holy man, knowing what he brought, willed himself to drink that which he offered him. The wretch trembled at those words, and perceiving his villany to be detected, thought better to drink it, and so quickly dispatch himself, than with shame to suffer torments for the sin of so horrible a murder. But as he was putting the cup to his mouth, the man of God hindered him, saying: 'Do not take it, but give it me, and I will drink it myself, but go thy way, and tell him that gave it thee, that I will drink the poison, but yet shall he never live to be Bishop.' And so blessing the cup with the sign of the cross, he drunk it without any harm at all; at which very time the Archdeacon, being in another place, departed this life; as though that poison had by the Bishop's mouth passed to his Archdeacon's bowels. For although he had no corporal poison to kill him, yet the venom of his own malice did destroy him in the sight of the everlasting Judge."

Saint Sabinus reposed after 52 years as bishop, on 9 February 566.

His relics were translated to the present Canosa Cathedral on 1 August in an unknown year of the 8th century by Bishop Pietro. After the destruction of the town by the Saracens, the relics were rescued from the ruins by Saint Angelarius in 844 and taken to Bari Cathedral.

Saint Sabinus is venerated in Canosa and Bari, in both of which places the cathedrals are dedicated to him, in Torremaggiore and Furci.