Golden Legend – Saint Erasmus

detail from the painting 'The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus', by Nicolas Poussin, 1628, oil on canvas, Musei Vaticani, VaticanHere followeth the Life of the holy Bishop and Martyr, Saint Erasmus.

The holy man, Saint Erasmus, was come of noble and of great kindred, and he was not only gentle by his birth but also in deed and conditions.

In the time that Diocletian the emperor reigned, which was a great persecutor of Christ’s people, then came this holy man Saint Erasmus in the land of Campania, which was under the jurisdiction of the said Diocletian, and there this holy man preached to the people the word of God, and taught unto them the christian faith, and he baptized them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Then was this holy man chosen and made bishop of all the land of Campania, and preached and taught the people how they should serve God and love him, and avoid sin.

Then it came to the knowledge of the emperor that Saint Erasmus had converted all the land of Campania into his belief and to his God that he called Jesu Christ, that was born of a pure virgin that hight Mary.

Then was the emperor sore troubled, and sent forth his knights for this holy man, Saint Erasmus, and commanded them that they should constrain him to forsake his God that he called Jesus Christ, and if he would not do that, then they should torment him with the greatest pain that they could imagine. So it happened that they found this holy man, and they bound him as though he had been a thief or a manqueller, and brought him before the judge, and with a fell and spiteful mood the judge said to him: Thou rude and unbelieving man, wherefore cost thou with thy devilish works convert all the people from their belief to thy belief, and to thy God?

Wherefore believest thou not upon the same god that Diocletian and we believe upon? I tell thee for truth if thou wilt not forsake and deny thy God, that thou namest Jesus Christ, and pray to the wise god, we will hang thee so horribly that all the veins of thy body shall break. Then answered the good Saint Erasmus meekly and softly, and said: Almighty God, that made all things, hath wrought heaven and hell and all that is therein, him will I not forsake for no thhlg that can or may be done to me, for his goodly grace hath given to me such grace, and to other his chosen friends, that he was made man and hath tasted and suffered the bitter death for me and for all sinners. As the judge heard that of this holy man, he swelled upon him for anger, and made him for to be beaten upon his head, and spitting upon his blessed face, and besprinkled on him with foulness that he seemed a leprous man. When this tyrannous judge saw that this good Saint Erasmus thus patiently suffered, and that always he thanked our Lord Jesu Christ of all then went he in great cruelness and did that holy man to be beaten so cruelly with leaden malles, that all his veins must break and burst, of which he cared nothing, for he suffered it heartily, thinking for Christ’s sake. Then commanded the cruel judge that this holy man should be put into a deep pit, that was full of snakes, adders, paddocks, and other worms, and after that he did take brimstone and oil, and did seethe it, and did do cast this holy man therein, and he lay therein as he had lain in cold water, thanking and louing God. When this unmerciful judge saw that this no thing him perished, then waxed he more angry, and took sodden pitch and oil, and did put it in to his holy mouth, sitting alway in the pit or furnace, thanking and louing God. Then rose there so great tempest of thundering and lightning, that the fumace burned that Saint Erasmus sat on, and he no thing grieved nor hurt, but all the other cruel people that were by were burned up with the same fell weather. When the emperor heard this he was so angry that for wrath he did make great chains and bolts of iron, and smote it about his holy neck, and did him so to be cast into the foresaid pit that was full of worms, for that they should eat this holy man Erasmus. Then came there an angel from God and did light all the pit and did slay all the worms. And then was this holy Erasmus throughly whole, and fulfilled greatly with the grace of God, and against the will of the evil people he came again out of that pit, and went again and preached the word of God so long, till the cruel emperor Diocletian died, and then came another emperor, that hight Maximian, and he was much worse than was Diocletian; and when this Maximian heard of the life of this holy Erasmus, then he did him to be taken and would have made him to forsake his God and his belief. And when he saw that he would not change his belief, then he did do this good man to be put into a pan seething with rosin, pitch, brimstone lead, and oil, and did pour it into his mouth, for which he never shrinked. And when this cruel emperor saw that this pain hurt him no thing, then made he a cloak of metal as brass or copper, and made it glowing hot, and put it upon his holy body. And as soon as that cloak had touched his holy body the cloak burned and consumed all the evil and wicked people that were by. By which miracle many folk were turned unto the christian faith. Then appeared to him the angel of God, and comforted him in his great tribulation, and made him whole and strong, and carried him thence, and said to him: O Saint Erasmus, the most chosen friend of God, be strong in thy tribulation, for through thy great martyrdom shall many come to the eternal life, therefore believe steadfastly in God and forsake him not. When Saint Erasmus heard this, he went again gladly and preached and converted much people unto the christian belief, more than ever he did before. And when the emperor understood this, he pursued the holy man still, and ordained for him a coat of iron, and he commanded that it should be made glowing hot, and so put it upon the naked body of the holy man. And when they had found Saint Erasmus preaching, they took him and said: If thou wilt not forsake thy God and thy false belief, and pray and worship our god, we will put on thy naked body this burning coat. Then answered the good Erasmus and said: My Lord and my God hath for me so much done and suffered more than I have deserved. Wherefore I will suffer all that I may suffer for him, for he hath deserved it so highly against me and against all sinners, therefore I tell you for certain that I will never forsake him, suffer all that I may suffer for his holy name, and I commit me wholly to his holy grace. Then they with great wrath put this burning coat upon his blessed naked body. Then he kneeled down and called meekly upon God and said: O Almighty God, have mercy upon me. And forthwith burst the burning harness from his blessed body and burned all them that so wrathfully would have punished him, by the which miracle many a man was converted and was christened of Saint Erasmus. Then appeared to him again the angel of God and said: O Erasmus, God ‘s champion, thou shalt go again into Campania, and there shalt thou suffer passing great pain, and God commandeth thee to convert there much people, and what thing thou desirest of him to thy soul’s health, it shall be granted. Then kneeled Saint Erasmus meekly down and said: O Almighty God, Father of heaven, thy will be fulfilled in me. Then went he again gladly into the land of Campania and there preached he again the word of God, and converted many folk to the christian faith. Then then this emperor Maximian did do take this holy man, and let him be brought before him, and he commanded him to be led to the false gods, and he should worship them. And when this holy man came before the false gods, then might they no longer stand, but fell down and brake all in pieces, and consumed into ashes or dust. And when this came to the knowledge of the emperor then was he sore aggrieved, and then he ordained a tun to be cast full of iron nails, and did this holy man to be put therein naked, and closed it fast, and let it fall down from a high hill. And then came the angel of God and comforted this holy man and holp him out of the tun and made him whole, and said to him: O Erasmus the very chosen servant of God, cease not, but go and preach again, and take heed of no pain. Which commandment he meekly obeyed. Then the emperor did do take him again, and commanded his teeth to be plucked out of his head with iron pincers. And after that they bound him to a pillar and carded his skin with iron cards, and then they roasted him upon a gridiron, and as he lay he spake to the tormentors merrily: I lie here better than I am worthy, for I lie upon a bed well strewed with sweet roses, and I see the light everlasting, the Son of God, sitting on the right hand of his Father. Then spake the cruel emperor. As this is a very tarrier of time, and he mocketh us and our gods, he deserveth to be brought to the most cruel death that we can for him imagine. Then took they this holy man and did put him in a deep pit that was full of stench. And then this fell and cruel emperor took counsel what martyrdom and pain that they might do to this holy man to bring him to death. Then found they in their minds that they vvould bring this holy man to death though they should martyr and pain him a year long, and so they did before and after every Sunday, with new pain the heaviest and sharpest that they could for him imagine. When the emperor had thus taken his shrewd counsel, then took they this holy Erasmus out of that stinking pit, and did smite sharp nails of iron in his fingers, and after, they put out his eyes of his head with their fingers, and after that they laid this holy bishop upon the ground naked and stretched him with strong withes bound to horses about his blessed neck, arms, and legs, so that all his veins and sinews that he had in his body burst. Then let they him lie in the field that the beasts should eat him. Then came a voice from heaven, and said: O Erasmus lift up thine eyes, the crown of everlasting life is ready for thee. And with that he lift up his holy eyes unto heaven, and he saw the everlasting joy open, and said: O God, where hast thou been? blessed be thy name. Then was the holy man whole and sound, and an angel brought him a purple cloth from heaven, and commanded him that he should go again and preach the word of God, which he did more strongly than he did before. And when the emperor with his false council understood this, he waxed out of his wit for anger, and called with a loud voice like as he had been mad, and said: This is the devil, shall we not bring this caitiff to death? Then found he a counsel for to make a windlass, and that was upon the last Sunday of the year, and they laid this holy martyr under the windlass all naked upon a table, and cut him upon his belly, and wound out his guts or bowels out of his blessed body. But when this cruel emperor saw that they could not bring this holy man to death with all these pains and torments, they chained and bolted him hands and feet with great irons, and with great woodness cast him into a foul stinking pit, and let it be shut with great iron bolts, so that he would never more see him. Then appeared to him an angel of God with great clearness and said: O Erasmus stand up. And forthwith fell from him all his irons and bands, and he was brought into a town called Fremyana, and there he raised a child from death to life which was a gentleman’s child, the father hight Anastasius, by the which miracle many thousands of people were converted to the christian faith; in which town this holy man abode seven days, preaching the word of God and strengthened the people in the christian belief. And when the hour was come that this holy bishop and martyr of God should depart out of this world, then was preferred a Ioud voice perfectly, coming from heaven saying 0 Erasmus, my true servant, thou hast done me true service, wherefore come with me and go and enter into the bliss and joy of thy Lord, and I promise thee and all people that think upon thy great pain and call upon thy holy name, and thee sue and worship every Sunday, what that they ask of me in thy name for the weal of their souls, I shall grant it. Now come, my true and chosen friend, be glad and comforted with mine ascension. I will that thou arise with me and come sit upon the right hand of my Father. Then was this holy man right glad and joyful, and he cast his eyes upward to heaven, with lifting up his hands, and there he saw, a clear shining crown come from heaven upon his blessed head. Then gave he louing and thanking to Almighty God with bowing his head and kneeling, and both his hands upward to heaven, and meekly said: O Lord in thy hands yield I my spirit, and this Sunday receive my soul into thy peace and rest. And with saying these words he yielded up his ghost, which was seen with many men s eyes, shining clearer than the sun, and how that he was received of the holy angels, and was led through the height of heaven into the uppermost plan of heaven: there he standeth with God, with all the holy company, and is there a true helper to all them that call truly to Saint Erasmus for ghostly health, which joy and ghostly health let us pray that he for us all of our Lord God may obtain.

The Life of Saint Erasmus does not occur in the first edition of the Golden Legend, but is found in all subsequent issues till the final black-letter edition of 1527. The text here given is that of Wynken de Worde’s edition of 1527.