Legends of the Fourteen Holy Helpers – Saint Erasmus, Bishop and Martyr

detail from the painting 'The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus', by Nicolas Poussin, 1628, oil on canvas, Musei Vaticani, VaticanLegend

The pious historians of the early Christian times state, as a rule, only what the saints did and suffered for the Faith, and how they died. They deemed the martyrs’ glorious combat and their victorious entrance into heaven more instructive, and therefore more important, than a lengthy description of their lives.

Hence we know little of the native place and the youth of Saint Erasmus, except that at the beginning of the fourth century of the Christian era he was bishop of Antioch in Asia Minor, the city where the name of “Christian” first came into use. When a long and cruel persecution broke out under the Emperor Diocletian, Saint Erasmus hid himself in the mountains of the Libanon, and led there, for some years, an austere life of penance and fasting. Finally he was discovered and dragged before the judge.

At first, persuasions and kindness were employed to induce him to deny the Faith, but when these efforts failed recourse was had to the most cruel torments. He was scourged, and finally cast into a caldron filled with boiling oil, sulphur, and pitch. In this seething mass God preserved him from harm, and by this miracle many spectators were converted to the Faith. Still more enraged thereat, the judge ordered the holy bishop to be thrown into prison and kept there in chains till he died of starvation. But God delivered him, as He had once delivered Saint Peter. One night an angel appeared to him and said: “Erasmus, follow me! Thou shalt convert a great many.” Thus far he had led numbers to the Faith by suffering, now he was to convert multitudes as a missionary.

Delivered from prison by the power of God, he went forth into many lands and preached the Faith. Mighty in word and deed, he wrought many miracles and converted great numbers of heathens. At length he came to Italy, where Emperor Maximin persecuted the Christians as fiercely as did Diocletian in the East. As soon as Maximin heard of Erasmus and the conversions effected by his preaching and miracles, he ordered the slaughter of three hundred of the converts. Erasmus himself was most cruelly tortured, but to no purpose. He remained firm. Then cast into prison, he was again liberated by an angel.

At last the hour of deliverance came to this valiant and apostolic confessor and martyr of Christ. He heard a heavenly voice, saying: “Erasmus, come now to the heavenly city and rest in the place which God has prepared for thee with the holy martyrs and prophets. Enjoy now the fruit of thy labor. By thee I was honored in heaven and on earth.” Erasmus, looking toward heaven, saw a splendid crown, and the apostles and prophets welcoming him. He bowed his head, saying: “Receive, O Lord, the soul of thy servant!” and peacefully breathed forth his spirit on June 2, 308.


The tortures which Saint Erasmus suffered for the Faith seem almost incredible, and the events related of him are truly wonderful. Martyrdom and miracles illustrated the doctrine he preached; he converted multitudes and gained the crown of heaven.

Perhaps you say that in our times there are no longer any martyrs, at least not in civilized countries. Are you quite sure of it? Saint Augustine writes: “Peace also has its martyrs.” It is certainly not easy to suffer torments like the martyrs and to receive finally the death-dealing blow of the sword. But is it not also a martyrdom to suffer for years the pains of a lingering illness? Again, how difficult the combat with the world, the flesh, and the powers of hell! How carefully must we watch and pray to gain the victory! This is our martyrdom. Let us imitate the example of the holy martyrs in bearing the trials and sufferings of life, and we shall receive, as they did, the crown of heaven.

Prayer of the Church

O God, who dost give us joy through the memory of Thy holy martyrs, graciously grant that we may be inflamed by their example, in whose merits we rejoice. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

– from Legends of the Fourteen Holy Helpers by Father Bonaventure Hammer, 1908