The persecution of Valerian raged no where with so much cruelty as in Numidia, in 259. At Lambesa, the greatest city of the province, next to Cirtha, great numbers, both of the laity and clergy, suffered martyrdom. Saint James was a deacon of that place, and remarkable for his singular chastity and austerity of life. Saint Marian was only reader, but endued with a particular eminence of grace. He had an excellent mother, called Mary, as we learn from Saint Austin. They were companions, and probably relations, and came from some remote province of Africa into Numidia. James received on the road a vision, that gave them previous notice of their martyrdom. They arrived at a place called Muguas, near Cirtha, the capital, where the persecution was very violent. Two bishops, named Agapius and Secundinus, who had been banished for their faith, were at the same time brought thither, from the place of their exile, to stand a second trial for their lives. This was a new and unprecedented injustice, practised only against Christians, for persons already condemned to banishment to be again tried and condemned to death. As they were detained here for some days, James and Marian enjoyed their conversation, which excited them to an eager desire of martyrdom: insomuch that, when the two bishops left Muguas to continue their journey, James and Marian were fully determined to follow them. Two days after their departure, pursuivants arrived.
Muguas, which was looked upon as the retreat of Christians, and by an order from the governor, apprehended James and Marian, and conducted them to Cirtha, together with a bishop, the author of the acts of their martyrdom, and presented them to the city magistrates, who put them to the most cruel tortures. James confessed boldly that he was not only a Christian, but also a deacon; though the law of Valerian, in 258, condemned to death, without hopes of pardon, even though they should deny their faith, all deacons, priests, and bishops. They were both put to the torture; and Marian in particular was hung up, not by the hands, which was the usual method of torture, but by his thumbs, which was far more painful, weights being also hung to his feet. Amidst his torments, the more his body suffered the more was his soul strengthened by God. The martyrs having undergone the torture as long as the persecutors thought proper, were sent to prison, with several other Christians. Some were daily called out of this blessed company, and crowned with martyrdom; and, amongst others, the two holy bishops, Agapius and Secundinus, honoured on the 29th of April. The survivors passed some time in the darkness and horror of the dungeons of Cirtha, tormented also with hunger; but the word of God, say the acts, was a spiritual food that supported them. God was pleased moreover to comfort them in their prison, by a vision vouchsafed to Marian, to whom Saint Cyprian appeared sitting at the right hand of a great judge, who was Christ, and presenting Marian to drink of a fountain of which that holy bishop had first drank himself; giving Marian thereby to understand, that he was also to suffer martyrdom. God gave an assurance of the same favour to this whole company of prisoners, by a second vision, with which he favoured another of these confessors, called Emilian, of the Equestrian Order, near fifty years old, who had lived till that age in strict continency. His occupation in prison was chiefly prayer. He fasted much, and often abstained from food by choice for two days successively. He acquainted this blessed company with what he had also seen in his vision; namely, that his heathen brother asked him how they liked the dark dungeons and hunger? He answered, that the word of God served both for light and nourishment to the soldiers of Jesus Christ. His brother said: “You know that as many of you as continue obstinate can expect nothing but death. But do you all hope for equal rewards?”
Emilian said: “Lift up your eyes to heaven: have all the stars you see there the same lustre? Don’t they differ in brightness, though they have all the same light? Those in like manner who shall have suffered most, and have had the greatest difficulties to struggle with, shall receive the most glorious crown.”
All these visions contributed not a little to keep up the spirits of the Christian prisoners. The magistrates of Cirtha, seeing the confessors invincible, sent James, Marian, and a great part of the prisoners to Lambesa, to the governor of the province. They suffered much on the way, it being twenty-four miles distant from Cirtha, and the roads very rough. They were lodged in the dungeons of Lambesa, and every day some were called out to martyrdom; the laity first, whom the Pagans hoped more easily to vanquish. Amongst them a woman and her two little children, twins, were martyred on the 2nd or 3rd of May. Also Tertulla and Antonia, two holy virgins, whom Saint Agapius had a singular regard for. He prayed long in prison that they might not be deprived of the glory of shedding their blood for Christ, and at length received from heaven this answer: “You need not ask by so many prayers what you have obtained by the first.” Saint James and the other clergy were grieved to see their victory retarded; but it was not long before he saw in his sleep the bishop Agapius preparing a great feast, and expressing much joy, and cheerfully inviting him and Marian to it, as to one of the ancient Agapæ, or love-feasts. Here they met an infant, who was one of the twins that had suffered with their mother three days before. He had round his neck a crown of roses, and a very green palm in his right hand; and he bade them rejoice, for they should all sup together the day following, the same on which James, Marian, and several others of the clergy were condemned to die. They were accordingly brought to the place of execution, which was a valley, through which ran the river Pagydus, with hills on each side convenient for the spectators. The martyrs were placed in rows on the banks of the river, that the executioner might pass conveniently from one to the other in cutting off their heads. “While they had their eyes bound, they had most of them some token given them by God of their approaching felicity. Marian also foretold the wars, and other evils, which threatened the empire in revenge of the innocent blood of the just. This was verified—the persecuting Emperor Valerian being taken and most barbarously treated by the Persians, in 260; not to mention the thirty tyrants, a dreadful pestilence, and other calamities which afflicted the empire. Mary, the mother of this blessed martyr, like the mother of the Machabees, says Saint Austin, followed her son to the place of execution to encourage him: on seeing him dead, she embraced his corpse, and oftentimes kissed his neck, and blessed God for having made her the mother of such a son. Their triumph happened in 259, or 260, probably on the 6th of May, on which the ancient calendar of Carthage, drawn up in the close of the fifth century, mentions them. The other Latins honour them on the 30th of April. Saints James and Marian are patrons of Eugubio, in the duchy of Urbino, the ancient Umbria, and their bodies are said to be kept in the cathedral there. The names of these martyrs are consecrated in the Roman Martyrology.
- Father Alban Butler. “Saints James, Marian, and Companions, Martyrs in Numidia”. , 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 28 April 2013. Web. 26 February 2017. <>