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Sts. Sergius and Bacchus

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist Narrative:

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus are ancient Christian martyrs who were tortured to death in Syria because they refused to attend sacrifices in honor of Jupiter. Recent attention to early Greek manuscripts has also revealed that they were openly gay men and that they were erastai or lovers. These manuscripts are found in various libraries in Europe and indicate an earlier Christian acceptance of homosexuality.

After their arrest, the two saints were paraded through city streets in women’s clothing, treatment that was meant to humiliate them as officers in the Roman army. They were then separated and each was tortured. Bacchus died first and appeared that night to Sergius who was beginning to lose heart. According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus told Sergius to persevere, that the delights of heaven were greater than any suffering, and that part of their reward would be to be reunited in heaven as lovers.

The inscription at the bottom of the icon is their names in Arabic. The saints are particularly popular throughout the Mediterranean lands and in Latin America and among the Slavs. For nearly a thousand years they were the official patrons of the Byzantine armies and Arab nomads continue to revere them as their special patron saints.

Their feast day is October 7.

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Martyrs, d. in the Diocletian persecution in Coele-Syria about 303. Their martyrdom is well authenticated by the earliest martyrologies and by the early veneration paid them, as well as by such historians as Theodoret. They were officers of troops on the frontier, Sergius being primicerius, and Bacchus secundarius. According to the legend, they were high in esteem of the Caesar Maximianus on account of their bravery, but this favor was turned into hate when they acknowledged their Christian faith.

When examined under torture they were beaten so severely with thongs that Bacchus died under the blows. Sergius, though, had much more suffering to endure; among other tortures, as the legend relates, he had to run eighteen miles in shoes which were covered on the soles with sharp-pointed nails that pierced through the foot. He was finally beheaded. The burial-place of Sergius and Bacchus was pointed out in the city of Resaph; in honor of Sergius the Emperor Justinian also built churches in honor of Sergius at Constantinople and Acre; the one at Constantinople, now a mosque, is a great work of Byzantine art.

In the East, Sergius and Bacchus were universally honored. Since the seventh century they have a celebrated church in Rome. Christian art represents the two saints as soldiers in military garb with branches of palm in their hands. Their feast is observed on 7 October. The Church calendar gives the two saints Marcellus and Apuleius on the same day as Sergius and Bacchus. They are said to have been converted to Christianity by the miracles of St. Peter.

According to the "Martyrologium Romanum" they suffered martyrdom soon after the deaths of Sts. Peter and Paul and were buried near Rome. Their existing Acts are not genuine and agree to a great extent with those of Sts. Nereus and Achilleus. The veneration of the two saints is very old. A mass is assigned to them in the "Sacramentarium" of Pope Gelasius.

—Excerpts from The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII by Klemens Loffler