St. Vincent

St. Vincent was Deacon of Saragossa, and a martyr under Diocletian in 304. This most renowned martyr of Spain is represented in the dalmatic of a deacon, and has as emblems a cross, a raven, a grate, or a fire-pile. He is honored as patron in Valencia, Saragossa and Portugal. Very little can be confirmed about his life.

By order of Governor Dacian, Vincent and his bishop were dragged in chains to Valencia and kept in prison there for a long time. Then Valerius was banished, but Vincent was subjected to many cruel torments including the rack, the gridiron, and scourgings. After suffering these, he was again imprisoned in a cell strewn with shards of broken pots. He was then placed in a soft and luxurious bed, to shake his constancy, but there he expired.

After peace was restored to the Church, a chapel was built over Vincent’s remains outside the walls of Valencia.

St. Agnes

On Jan. 21, the Roman Catholic Church honors the virgin and martyr St. Agnes, who suffered death for her consecration to Christ.

Although the details of Agnes’ life are mostly unknown, the story of her martyrdom has been passed on with reverence since the fourth century. On the feast day of the young martyr – whose name means “lambâ€� in Latin – the Pope traditionally blesses lambs, whose wool will be used to make the white pallium worn by archbishops.

Born into a wealthy family during the last decade of the third century, Agnes lived in Rome during the last major persecution of the early Church under the Emperor Diocletian. Though he was lenient toward believers for much of his rule, Diocletian changed course in 302, resolving to wipe out the Church in the empire.

Agnes came of age as the Church was beginning to suffer under a set of new laws decreed by Diocletian, and his co-ruler Galerius, in 303. The emperor and his subordinate called for churches to be destroyed and their books burned. Subsequent orders led to the imprisonment and torture of clergy and laypersons, for the sake of compelling them to worship the emperor instead of Christ.

Meanwhile, Agnes had become a young woman of great beauty and charm, drawing the attention of suitors from the first ranks of the Roman aristocracy. But in keeping with the words of Christ and Saint Paul, she had already decided on a life of celibacy for the sake of God’s kingdom. To all interested men, she explained that she had already promised herself to a heavenly and unseen spouse.

These suitors both understood Agnes’ meaning, and resented her resolution. Some of the men, possibly looking to change her mind, reported her to the state as a believer in Christ. Agnes was brought before a judge who tried first to persuade her, and then to threaten her, into renouncing her choice not to marry for the Lord’s sake.

When the judge showed her the various punishments he could inflict – including fire, iron hooks, or the rack that destroyed the limbs by stretching – Agnes smiled and indicated she would suffer them willingly. But she was brought before a pagan altar instead, and asked to make an act of worship in accordance with the Roman state religion.

When Agnes refused, the judge ordered that she should be sent to a house of prostitution, where the virginity she had offered to God would be violated. Agnes predicted that God would not allow this to occur, and her statement proved true. Legends say that the first man to approach her in the brothel was struck blind by a sudden flash of light, and others opted not to repeat his mistake.

But one of the men who had at first sought to make Agnes his own, now lobbied the judge for her execution. In this respect, the suitor obtained his desire, when the public official sentenced her to die by beheading. The executioner gave her one last chance to spare her life, by renouncing her consecration to Christ – but Agnes refused, made a short prayer, and courageously submitted to death.

St. Agnes, who died in 304, was venerated as a holy martyr from the fourth century onward. She is mentioned in the Latin Church’s most traditional Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.

St. Sebastian

Sebastian was the son of a wealthy Roman family. He was educated in Milan and became an officer of the imperial Roman army, and Captain of the Guard. He was a favorite of Emperor Diocletian. During Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians, Sebastian visited them in prison, bringing both supplies and comfort. He is reported to have healed the wife of a fellow soldier by making the sign of the cross over her. During his time in the army he converted many soldiers and a governor.

Charged as a Christian in 288 in Rome, Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows, and left for dead. However, he survived, recovered, and returned to preach to Diocletian, where the emperor then had him beaten to death.

St. Canutus, King of Denmark

Saint Canutus, King of Denmark,  succeeded his elder brother Harold on the throne of Denmark in the year 1080. He began his reign by a successful war against the enemies of the state, and by planting the faith in the conquered provinces. Amid the glory of his victories he humbly prostrated himself at the foot of the crucifix, laying there his diadem, and offering himself and his kingdom to the King of kings. After having provided for the peace and safety of his country, he married Eltha, daughter of Robert, Earl of Flanders, who proved herself a spouse worthy of him.

The justice of Saint Canutus as sovereign was well known. He applied himself to the reform of all internal abuses. For this purpose he enacted severe but necessary laws for the strict administration of justice, the repression of violence and tyranny by the powerful, without respect to persons. He favored and honored holy men, and granted many privileges and immunities to the clergy. His charity and tenderness towards his subjects made him study all possible ways to make them a happy people.

During a rebellion in his kingdom, the king was surprised at church by the rebels. He confessed his sins and received Holy Communion. Stretching out his arms before the altar, he was struck down on his knees by the enemies of his Christian reign.

St. Charles of Sezze

Saint Charles was born John Charles Marchioni in Sezze, Italy on October 19, 1613.  His family was extremely pious. They lived in a rural area and as a child Saint Charles worked as a shepherd.  Due to his lack of education, it is said he learned only the basics and could barely read and write. He joined the Franciscans as a lay brother in Naziano, where he served as a cook, porter, and gardener.

Saint Charles was known for his holiness, simplicity, and charity.  He was generous to travelers and sought out spiritual advice.  In 1656 he worked tirelessly with victims of the plague. He also wrote several mystical works including his autobiography entitled “The Grandeurs of the Mercies of God”. Tradition states he was called to the bedside of the dying Pope Clement IX for a blessing. St. Charles told the Pope that they would meet again on January 6.

Saint Charles died on January 6, 1670 in Rome of natural causes, fulfilling his promise to meet Pope Clement IX, and he is buried in Rome in the Church of Saint Francis. He was Canonized by Pope John XXIII on April 12, 1959.

St. Anthony of Egypt

On his Jan. 17 feast day, both Eastern and Western Catholics celebrate the life and legacy of St. Anthony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism whose radical approach to discipleship permanently impacted the Church.

In Egypt’s Coptic Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have a special devotion to the native saint, his feast day is celebrated on Jan. 30.

Anthony was born around 251, to wealthy parents who owned land in the present-day Faiyum region near Cairo. During this time, the Catholic Church was rapidly spreading its influence throughout the vast expanses of the Roman empire, while the empire remained officially pagan and did not legally recognize the new religion.

In the course of his remarkable and extraordinarily long life, Anthony would live to see the Emperor Constantine’s establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire. Anthony himself, however, would establish something more lasting – by becoming the spiritual father of the monastic communities that have existed throughout the subsequent history of the Church.

Around the year 270, two great burdens came upon Anthony simultaneously: the deaths of both his parents, and his inheritance of their possessions and property. These simultaneous occurrences prompted Anthony to reevaluate his entire life in light of the principles of the Gospel– which proposed both the redemptive possibilities of his personal loss, and the spiritual danger of his financial gains.

 Attending church one day, he heard –as if for the first time– Jesus’ exhortation to another rich young man in the Biblical narrative: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.â€� Anthony told his disciples in later years, that it was as though Christ has spoken those words to him directly.

He duly followed the advice of selling everything he owned and donating the proceeds, setting aside a portion to provide for his sister. Although organized monasticism did not yet exist, it was not unknown for Christians to abstain from marriage, divest themselves of possessions to some extent, and live a life focused on prayer and fasting. Anthony’s sister would eventually join a group of consecrated virgins.

 Anthony himself, however, sought a more comprehensive vision of Christian asceticism. He found it among the hermits of the Egyptian desert, individuals who chose to withdraw physically and culturally from the surrounding society in order to devote themselves more fully to God. But these individuals’ radical way of life had not yet become an organized movement.

After studying with one of these hermits, Anthony made his own sustained attempt to live alone in a secluded desert location, depending on the charity of a few patrons who would provide him with enough food to survive. This first period as a hermit lasted between 13 and 15 years.

Like many saints both before and after him, Anthony became engaged in a type of spiritual combat, against unseen forces seeking to remove him from the way of perfection he had chosen. These conflicts took their toll on Anthony in many respects. When he was around 33 years old, a group of his patrons found him in serious condition, and took him back to a local church to recover.

 This setback did not dissuade Anthony from his goal of seeking God intensely, and he soon redoubled his efforts by moving to a mountain on the east bank of the Nile river. There, he lived in an abandoned fort, once again subsisting on the charity of those who implored his prayers on their behalf. He attracted not only these benefactors, but a group of inquirers seeking to follow after his example.

 In the first years of the fourth century, when he was about 54, Anthony emerged from his solitude to provide guidance to the growing community of hermits that had become established in his vicinity. Although Anthony had not sought to form such a community, his decision to become its spiritual father – or “Abbot�– marked the beginning of monasticism as it is known today.

 Anthony himself would live out this monastic calling for another four decades, providing spiritual and practical advice to disciples who would ensure the movement’s continued existence. According to Anthony’s biographer, St. Athanasius, the Emperor Constantine himself eventually wrote to the Abbot, seeking advice on the administration of an empire that was now officially Christian.

“Do not be astonished if an emperor writes to us, for he is a man,� Anthony told the other monks. “But rather: wonder that God wrote the Law for men, and has spoken to us through his own Son.�

Anthony wrote back to Constantine, advising him “not to think much of the present, but rather to remember the judgment that is coming, and to know that Christ alone was the true and Eternal King.�

 St. Anthony may have been up to 105 years old when he died, sometime between 350 and 356. In keeping with his instructions, two of his disciples buried his body secretly in an unmarked grave.

St. Marcellus, Pope 

Nothing of Marcellus’ life before his papacy has survived the centuries. He became Pope at the end of the persecutions of Diocletian in aound 308-309. The persecutions had disrupted the Church so much that there had been a gap of over a year with no Pope. Once he was elected, he faced several challenges, including reconsituting the clergy, which had been decimated and whose remnant had practiced their vocation only covertly and with the expectation of martyrdom. He worked hard to recover and welcome back all who had denied the faith in order to keep from being murdered.When a group of the apostacized, known as the Lapsi, refused to do penance, Marcellus refused to allow their return to the Church. The Lapsi had a bit of political pull, and some members caused such civil disruption that emperor Maxentius exiled the Pope in order to settle the matter. Legend says that Marcellus was forced to work as a stable slave as punishment, but this appears to be fiction, however we do know that he died of the terrible conditions he suffered in exile, and is considered a martyr because of that.He was initially buried in the cemetery of Saint Priscilla in Rome, but his relics were later transferred to beneath the altar of San Marcello al Corso Church in Rome where they remain today.