Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Dionysius, and His Companions

Saint Dionysius the AeropagiteArticle

Athens, in Greece, was the birthplace of Saint Dionysius, the great Apostle of France. Already in his youth he devoted himself with so much zeal to the study of science, especially astronomy, that he was rightly counted one of the most learned men of the city. Hence he became one of the twelve judges or magistrates of Athens, who were called Areopagites, because they administered justice at a place named Areopagus. When, at the time of the Crucifixion of Christ, a three hours’ darkness, covered the earth, Dionysius was at Heliopolis, and as he perceived that this darkness was against the course of nature, he publicly declared while contemplating it: “Either the Lord of nature is suffering, or the world is coming to an end.”

When, some years later, Saint Paul came to Athens and announced to the inhabitants of the city the only true God and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, he was taken to the Areopagus, that he might there justify his new teachings. The holy Apostle did so with great energy, and when, in conclusion, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, and at the same time said that all men would rise again from death, some shook their heads doubtingly, others derided him, but some believed his words. Among the latter was Dionysius, who invited Saint Paul into his house, and after being instructed by him, was baptized. The holy Apostle perceived in Dionysius great abilities for disseminating the Christian faith. Hence he instructed him most thoroughly in everything pertaining both to faith and to the practice of a Christian life, and consecrated him Bishop of Athens. Dionysius led many heathens by his sermons and virtuous example to the knowledge of Christ, and to a life worthy of their belief. At one time he made a journey to Jerusalem, as well to visit the places watered with the blood of the Saviour, as also to see Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, who was still living. He afterwards related that, at the sight of her, he was so much overcome, that he would have worshipped her as a Goddess, had not his faith taught him that there was only one God.

Some years later, he appointed some one else to take his place as bishop, and went to Rome to the holy Pope Clement. Greatly rejoiced at his fervor and zeal to convert the heathen, the Pope sent him to France; to win the inhabitants of so large a country to the sweet yoke of Christ; as those, who had been sent thither by Saint Peter, were no longer among the living. Saint Dionysius set out on his journey, accompanied by a priest named Rusticus, and by Eleutherius, a deacon, and a few other zealous men. Many say that he went first to Arles, where many had become Christians, having been converted and baptized by Saint Trophimus. Here he remained for some time to the great benefit of the faithful, to whom he gave a bishop, that they might be strengthened and still better instructed in their new faith. From Arles, the Saint repaired to Paris, the Capital of the land, where he preached the Gospel with such energy, and confirmed his words by so many miracles, that the inhabitants became converted in great numbers. They broke to pieces or burned the idols they had until then worshipped, and erected several Churches to the true God; one in honor of the Holy Trinity, others dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Stephen. The first stood where afterwards the Church of Saint Benedict was built, and where yet remain in the chapel of Saint Denis, the words: “In this chapel Saint Dionysius invoked the Holy Trinity.”

The devil, finding the rapid growth of Christianity unendurable, incited against the Saint the idolatrous priests, who went to the Pagan Governor, Fescennius, and accused the new teachers as seducers of the people, and enemies of the gods. They at the same time insisted that he should do away with them, if he would save the city from ruin. Fescennius immediately had the Saint and his companions taken prisoners and brought into his presence. Immediately on their arrival he commanded them to revoke the doctrines they had preached and to worship the old gods. Dionysius, indignant at this order, represented to the governor the falsity of the Pagan gods; but the blinded tyrant gave no heed to his words and condemned him and the others to be tortured. First they were scourged; then tied upon gridirons, and slowly roasted, so that their death might be as painful as possible. The Almighty, however, took from the fire all power to burn, and the holy martyrs remained unharmed. Fescennius, still more embittered by this miracle, confined them in a dark, damp dungeon, the air of which was stifling, and a few days later cast them before wild beasts. But Saint Dionysius, by making the sign of the holy Cross over himself and blessing the animals, made them so tame that they laid themselves down quietly at his feet. The governor, more wild, more cruel than the beasts of the forest, would not be conquered, but commanded Saint Dionysius to be put upon the rack and to be torn with iron hooks. The holy Martyr bore this torture fearlessly, and praised and thanked God that he was found worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake, and ‘exhorted all present to be converted to Christianity. All who were witnesses of the fearful spectacle were greatly astonished and moved, that a man of 106 years bore with such undaunted courage the most terrible pains, and had the fortitude to announce Christ even in the agonies of death. A great many concluded from it,, that the faith he preached must be true, and confessed publicly that they would embrace Christianity. Hence, Fescennius, to end the martyrdom of the Saint, ordered him and his companions to be beheaded. The joy which Saint Dionysius felt at this sentence can hardly be expressed, as he looked upon his death as the commencement of eternal happiness. When the head of the Saint was severed from his body, he, by a wonderful miracle, seized the head with both hands, and carried it to a place two miles from Paris. A city named after him was afterwards built on the spot, in commemoration of this miracle. Catulla, a holy matron, who had been converted by the Saint, went to meet him and received the head, which she guarded as a precious treasure during the persecution, after which it was buried with the rest of the body with all due honors. This great miracle had so many witnesses, that its truth cannot be doubted. Many of the heathens who had seen it were in consequence converted to Christianity. Three centuries after the glorious death of Saint Dionysius, Saint Genevieve erected over his tomb, a magnificent church, which again two centuries later, was changed by King Dagobert into a still more splendid one, with a monastery attached to it which in time became quite celebrated. The Kings of France selected this Church for their last resting-place. There are still extant some learned books written by Saint Dionysius; but the enemies of the Church refuse to acknowledge the Saint as the author of them, because he clearly proves that those ceremonies and customs which they have rejected, were already used in the Catholic Church, more than a thousand years before Luther, and that the true Christians of those days believed all that Catholics now believe in regard to holy Mass and other articles. I know also that some Catholics, though for other reasons, doubt the authenticity of the same works; but it is also known that many learned Catholics have refuted the objections which have been brought against them. There are also some historians, who maintain, that it was another Dionysius that preached the Gospel in Paris, and suffered martyrdom there. Their reasons for thus saying are, however, not conclusive. Many men, renowned for their learning, give it as their conviction, that the objections raised against the ancient traditions are groundless, and follow, as we have done, the Roman Breviary and Martyrology.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Dionysius, and His Companions”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 May 2018. Web. 21 November 2018. <>