Saints of the Day – Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Denis of Paris; date and artist unknown; cemetery chaple of the Croix-Bouessée, Piré-sur-Seiche, Ille-et-Villaine, France; photographed on 13 December 2013 by François GOGLINS; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

This Saint Denis, bishop and martyr, is the patron of France. He was martyred together with his two deacons. Popular accounts of the life of Saint Denis are confused because the lives of two other persons from different periods have been combined with his: Denis or Dionysius (a) the Areopagite of Acts 17:34, (b) the bishop martyr of Paris, and (c) the 5th c.Syrian writer now known as pseudo-Dionysius.

The Areopagite was the first bishop of Athens according to Saint Dionysius of Corinth, a 3rd century writer. Saint Basil’s Menology says he was burned to death during Domitian’s persecution about 95. His name has become so confused with that of Saint Denis that his feast day has been transferred from October 3 to October 9. His cult developed in the 9th century. His supposed writings (four treatises and ten letters on mysticism, which were actually by the pseudo-Dionysius) were the basis for medieval mystic theology. The pseudo-Dionysius probably wrote c.500 AD. Dionysius the Areopagite was converted in Athens by Saint Paul (Acts 17).

The Martyrology of Jerome mentions Saint Dionysius on October 9, together with Rusticus and Eleutherius, assumed by later writers to be Denis’s priest and deacon. The Denis is presumed to be the bishop-martyr of Paris, one of the seven missionary bishops sent from Rome to convert Gaul. He was martyred between 250-258 AD.

Writing in the 6th century, Saint Gregory of Tours tells the story of these three martyrs. Born in Italy, Denis was sent with six other bishops to Gaul in 250 as missionaries and became the first bishop of Paris. He was so effective in converting the inhabitants around Paris that he was arrested with his priest, Saint Rusticus, and deacon, Saint Eleutherius, and imprisoned. The three of them were beheaded on October 9 in Montmartre (Martyrs’ Hill) near Paris during Decius’s persecution. Their bodies were rescued from the River Seine, and a chapel built over their tomb later became the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Denis (Delaney).

Roeder claims that the deacon Eleutherius was beheaded in 286 and is shown as a deacon carrying his head. He is invoked against headache, frenzy, and strife. Venerated in Salzburg and Paris (Roeder).

In 1215 Pope Innocent III translated the presumed relics of the Areopagite to the popular Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris. This also added additional confusion to the stories of the three saints.

Saint Denis was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (feast 8-8). During the Middle Ages, especially in France and Germany these saints were credited with particularly efficacious intercessory power. All had/have also individual feast days. Most are non-existent, or shadowy figures of early Christianity popularized by embroidered tales. Their special powers of intercession are connected with incidents in their stories. For example, Saint Denis is shown with his head in his hands; therefore, he is invoked against diabolic possession, headache, rabies, frenzy, and strife.

For more information Saint Denis and other confused, interesting stories, see Lancelot Sheppard’s The Saints Who Never Were, Dayton, OH: Pflaum Press, 1969. Also, Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, tr. C. E. Rolt, London, 1920.

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 July 2020. Web. 25 October 2020. <>