Mandeville, LA – On July 30th, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Persian brothers Saint Sennen and Saint Abdon. Most martyrologies discount the brothers’ story as not being very well known but as we shall see, this is a mistake.
The brothers Abdon and Sennen were Persian noblemen who were brought as captives to Rome by the Emperor Decius. It was they who had taken up the body of the martyred bishop Saint Polychrome, which had been cast contemptuously before a temple of Saturn, to bury it at night, with honor. Decius was told of Abdon and Sennen’s deed and their devotion to the Catholic faith which they shared with their Roman bretheren dwelling in the catacombs. Decius, was extremely irritated by this and sent for the two brothers to appear before his tribunal, and attempted to win them over to sacrifice to the gods which Sennen and Abdon refused.
Decius then had the brothers arraigned before the Senate, in whose presence they again testified to the divinity of Christ, saying they could adore no other. The next day they were flogged in the amphitheater; then two lions and four bears were released to devour them. But the beasts lay down at their feet and became their guardians, and no one dared approach for a time. Finally the prefect sent out gladiators to slay them with the sword, which with the permission of God was done.
Under Constantine the Great, their tombs were discovered by divine revelation and their relics reburied in the Pontian cemetery, which afterwards was called by their names. But the story doesn’t end there but moves to France and the famous legend of Saint Arnulph. From the religious photography site, Via Lucis, we learn of this story by a visitor to the abbey of Arles sur-Tech in France.
In the earliest years of Christian activity in Catalonia, the region around Arles-sur-Tech was plagued with dragons and other fierce beasts, and beset by pestilence. Nothing would abate the plague of devastation visited on the people. A local holy man, Arnulph, resolved to make the 1200 kilometer journey to Rome in order to secure relics that would combat the evils. When he arrived, the Pope was much moved by his plea and said that Arnulph might take any relics that he would like except those of Saint Peter and a few other select saints. Humbled by the choice that he was forced to make, Arnulph spent the day in prayer asking for guidance.
That night, as he slept, he had a visitation from two young men. They said that they were Persian princes, Abdon and Sennen, martyred in Rome, who revealed to Arnulph where their bodies were buried and that would fulfill the mission of saving his village. In the morning, Arnulph went to the locale revealed to him accompanied by a crowd of onlookers. They dug and found the bodies of two young men, perfectly preserved. By the scent of sanctity that surrounded them, it was clear that these were the bodies of the Persian saints.
In order to protect the bodies from thieves who might misappropriate his sacred treasure, Arnulph put the bodies in a large barrel and filled it with water. He then transported his lading by mule back across the Alps and into the Pyrénées. Just before he arrived home, on a dangerous path bordering a steep precipice, the driver, a “coarse and brutal man”, thought it necessary to give courage to his beast and gave out a great curse. Immediately, the mule fell from the narrow road and disappeared. Arnulph was desolate – he had lost the precious relics granted by the Pope. Dejectedly, he finished the voyage home.
As he arrived, he heard a ringing of all the church bells and saw all of the townspeople gathered in the square. In their midst was the mule with the precious burden, its task already accomplished. The ravening beasts had fled the region and the pestilence had been cured. The martyrs Abdon and Sennen were acclaimed the patron saints of the abbey and were much venerated through the years.
As an afterthought, Arnulph poured the water from the barrel into an empty sarcophagus. A leper washed himself in that water and was immediately cured. Merimée noted that “…warned of this property, the monks of the abbey closed the sarcophagus and charged money to receive the benefits of the water.”
The monks were able to charge money for the water for centuries because, for reasons that defy explanation, the sarcophagus, called the Sainte Tombe by the inhabitants, produces 200 litres per year of pure, clear water. In 1794, a committee of town officials, lawyers, and clergymen examined the coffin to investigate. The coffin was suspended; they detected no pipes or holes by which it could be filled. Nobody came in the middle of the night to refresh the water.
There are at least two other churches in France named for Saint Sennen and Abdon and they are the patron Saints of Arles sur-Tech. But wait, that’s not the whole story. There is another legend of the miracles worked by devotion to Sennen and Abdon in France. In the village of Montolbo there is a yearly pilgrimage performed in their honor honoring a 500 year old legend.
The legend tells that a shepherd of Montbolo, surprised by the bad weather near the pass of formentera, heard amidst the thunderous rolling of the terrible torment that was brewing, the voices of two witches who tried to bring the storm on The village, and who were quarreling over who should cross the pass first. But Saint Abdon and Saint Sennen prevented them. They could not pass the pass, and the storm at last disappeared. Montbolo was spared, and the shepherd ran Announce the good news to the village.
Since that day in 1465, the patron saints of arles-sur-tech are venerated by the inhabitants of the village of Montbolo.the exception of 1516: the oblivion of the vow was accompanied by devastating hail storms. (The rodella), an enormous roll of beeswax, 300 meters long, weighing near Of 10kg done by craftsmen according to a jealously guarded manufacturing process, all placed on a cross.
Saints Abdon and Sennen, pray for us.
Credit to Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis.