Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Serapia and Saint Sabina, Martyrs

bas-relief of Saint Sabina from the Santa Sabina Polyptych, by Antonio Vivarini, 1443, church of San Zaccaria, Venice, ItalyArticle

Saint Serapia was born at Antioch, the capital of Syria; but when the persecution of the Christians broke out, her parents went with her to Italy, where they both soon died. Serapia’s hand was sought in marriage by several Roman youths, on account of her uncommon beauty and modest manners; but she desiring no other but the heavenly bridegroom, refused all riches and honor offered to her, and hired herself as servant to a noble widow named Sabina. This lady, although a pagan, was very respectable, and exercised herself in many good works. She stood high in favor at court on account of her late spouse, who had been an officer of great renown in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. Serapia had hardly been two years in the service of Sabina, when she had so entirely won the heart of her mistress, that she was no longer treated as a servant but as a friend. Under these circumstances, it became easy to convince Sabina so thoroughly of the truth of the Christian faith, that, recognizing the falsity of paganism, she was baptized and numbered among the faithful. Alter this, Serapia advised Sabina to leave the city and go to one of her country seats, where she would have better opportunities to exercise herself in the Christian religion. The newly converted widow, eager to assure herself of salvation, followed the advice, taking Serapia and a few other pious virgins with her. The life which these holy women led was truly holy. Serapia, born in the light of Christianity, was to all a bright example of virtue. The persecution of the Christians under the Emperor Adrian began some years later, and Berillus, Governor of the Province, received the cruel order to torture and execute all who refused to sacrifice to the gods. Berillus resolved to commence with the society Sabina had formed, as the life of its members served to edify and animate all the Christians. Being informed that Serapia was the principal instructress of this society, he called her to him. She appeared, but was accompanied by Sabina. Although Berillus severely reproved Serapia for not having sacrificed to the gods, and tor preventing others from doing so, he dare not say more in the presence of Sabina, and soon after dismissed them. Scarcely, however, had three days elapsed, when he had Serapia brought alone before him and commanded her immediately to sacrifice to the gods, if she wished to save her life. The pious virgin did not permit herself to be frightened, but answered courageously: “I am a Christian, and I honor no other but the true God. To Him alone I sacrifice, not to your false idols.” “What is it you sacrifice?” asked Berillus; “and where is the temple of thy God?” “I sacrifice,” said Serapia, “neither oxen nor calves, but myself, my body, my soul, my life. The temple of my God is my body, my soul. In this temple He dwells; for I have consecrated my virginity to Him. A chaste body, a chaste soul, is a temple of the Most High.” Berillus laughed at this answer, and threatened entirely to destroy her temple. He had her cast into a narrow dungeon, and sent two debauchees to her to force her to vice and thus dishonor and ruin the so-called temple of the Lord. The horrible wretches hastened to the dungeon, entered it, and were about to lay their sacrilegious hands on the chaste virgin, when, raising her eyes towards heaven, she cried aloud: “Jesus Christ, my Saviour! Thou who hast desired to be born of a virgin, protect my virginal chastity, which I have entirely consecrated to Thee!” These words were hardly uttered, when the earth began to tremble and both the criminals sank dead to the ground. Berillus, informed of this, raved with anger, and ascribed the whole event to witchcraft. Serapia, however, said: “No, this was not done by witchcraft, but by the power of the God whom I worship.” “If your God is so mighty,” said Berillus, “obtain from him the restoration of these youths.” Serapia, sinking upon her knees, said a short prayer, and the dead were restored to life. Being present at so visible a miracle, the governor ought to have recognized that the God, whom Serapia worshipped, was the Lord of the living and the dead. But he ascribed this also to witchcraft, and ordered the garments to be torn from the chaste body of the virgin, and that she should be tortured with burning torches. The Christian heroine suffered this terrible martyrdom with invincible patience, and praised and glorified God with a loud voice, until the tyrant ordered her to be beheaded. This took place in the year of our Lord, 122. Sabina, the pious widow, almost envied her holy teacher the priceless grace of dying for the love of her heavenly bridegroom, and desired nothing but to give her life also for Him This wish was at length gratified; for, the successor of Berillus, calling her into his presence, endeavored, by flatteries and kindness, to win her to forsake Christ. But as she remained firm in her confession, and hesitated not to place the nothingness of the gods before his eyes, he ordered her to be beheaded. The joy she expressed on hearing her death-sentence pronounced, is hardly to be described. Raising her hands and eyes upwards, she said: “I give thanks, infinite thanks, to Thee, O my God, for vouchsafing me the grace to die for Thy honored name. To Thy care I commend my soul.” Then kneeling down, she offered her neck to the executioner, and received with firmness the fatal stroke.

Practical Considerations

• “A chaste body, a chaste soul, is a temple, a dwelling of God.” These were the words of Serapia. Whose temple and whose dwelling is then the body and soul of the unchaste? Most certainly of no other than of him whose greatest delight is unchastity, as this draws thousands of souls into hell. See whether God or the devil dwells in your soul, and judge with whom your eternal home will be. God most miraculously protects a chaste soul, because it is His temple, His dwellings as Saint Serapia experienced. Satan precipitates unchaste souls into his dark abode, as many thousands have experienced. If you desire to be guarded by the Almighty, and one day to inhabit heaven, take care that you keep your soul free from all stain, and give it to God as a permanent dwelling. Should you, however, be addicted to unchastity, and allow the impure spirit to abide long in your soul, tremble; for he will prepare a place for you in hell, where you shall live in eternal flames. You hope to drive him away some day, by penance, and to prepare your soul to be a dwelling of the Lord. But I fear that you deceive yourself, to your own great harm. For, as I have already remarked elsewhere, there is no vice from which it is more difficult to tear ourselves by penance, when we have been long a slave to it, than the vice of unchastity. Persons who have been long addicted to it, either do not think at all of repentance, or their souls fall into so sad a condition, that they do not desire to do penance, or they think that it is too late to hope for pardon “And I gave her time that she might do penance,” says God of an unchaste person, “and she will not repent of her fornication.” (Apocalypse 2) Hence, Saint Cyprian rightly called unchastity, “the mother of impenitence.” Saint Chrysostom says that a lewd person can- not be moved to repentance, either by admonition, by menaces, or descriptions of heaven or of hell. “It is a greater miracle when a person, who has long lived an unchaste life, reforms, than when a legion of devils are exorcised from one possessed.” Hence, what must be done? If the unclean spirit has dwelt until now in your soul, do not suffer him to do so one moment longer, but expel him by true penance. If he has never found an abode in you, receive him not at any future time. Avoid most earnestly the horrible and dangerous vice of unchastity.

• Sabina, while yet a pagan, exercised herself in good works, and God brought her, by the persuasion of her servant, to the true faith. Understand it well! The good works of Pagans, Heretics and Jews merit not eternal life; as, according to the well-known words of the holy Apostle, it is impossible for such to please God. Also the good works performed by Catholics, when they are not in a state of grace, cannot merit heaven, as you were informed yesterday. It does not, however, follow from this, that we should omit good works altogether, so long as we are either not in the true faith, or in a state of mortal sin; but that we should endeavor to convert ourselves to the true faith and gain by repentance the grace of the Almighty. It is further to be remarked, that although God does not recompense in heaven the good works performed either by heathens and Jews, or by I Catholics living in mortal sin, He rewards them in this world. To those who are zealous in the practice of them, the infinite mercy of I God often gives a long time to be converted and do penance. He averts punishment from them which otherwise they would have deserved, gives them many good inspirations and other graces that they may be converted and thus save their souls. These graces and inspirations they would not receive, if they omitted to do deeds of kindness and charity. Hence, non-Catholics, as well as Catholics living in mortal sin, should endeavor to do good works, as both will derive great benefit, by thus opening a way toward their conversion. The heathen Centurion, Cornelius, spoken of in the Acts, was devoted to prayer and alms-giving and hence God called him to the true faith. The Prophet said to King Josaphat: “Thou did indeed deserve the wrath of the Lord; but good works are found in thee!” (2nd Paralip. 19) On account of these, God averted the deserved punishment. Daniel advised the godless king Nabuchodonosor to redeem his sins with alms; (Daniel, 4) in order that God might have pity, and bestow grace on him to do true penance and thus obtain the forgiveness of his sins.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Serapia and Saint Sabina, Martyrs”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 April 2018. Web. 20 January 2019. <>