Saint of the Day – 2 June – St Erasmus (Died c 303) Martyr – also known as Saint Elmo (Telmo, Eramo, Erarmo, Ermo, Herasmus, Rasimus, Rasmus), Bishop of Formiae, Campagna, Italy. St Erasmus or Elmo is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, saintly figures of Christian tradition who were venerated especially as intercessors. Patronages – against appendicitis, against birth pains, against abdominal or stomach pains and diseases, against colic, against danger at sea, against seasickness, against storms, ammunition, explosives and ordnance workers, boatmen, mariners, sailors, watermen, childbirth and women in labour, navigators, Gaeta, Italy, Formia, cattle pest, Fort St. Elmo, Malta.
As with many martyrs of the early Church, we known little about their lives and upbringings but much about their pious and courageous deaths, accounts of which were recorded, believed to be more instructive to the faithful than complete biographies.
The childhood and birthplace of Saint Erasmus is lost to history. In the late third century, we do know that he was appointed bishop of Antioch in Asia Minor, where he led the faithful. When Emperor Diocletian ascended to the throne, widespread persecution of Christians began and Antioch was not overlooked. Saint Erasmus fled into the mountains of Lebanon, where he undertook an austere life of prayer and fasting, going without food for days at a time. Holy legend tells us that a raven brought him food when he deprived himself for too long. Eventually, however, he was discovered by the soldiers of the emperor and dragged to judgement.
St Erasmus was urged to recant his faith and some respect was offered him. However, when he adamantly stated his belief in Christ and could not be persuaded to make offerings to the gods. He stated, “Almighty God, that made all things, hath wrought heaven and hell and all that is therein, Him will I not forsake for no thing that can or may be done to me, for His goodly grace hath given to me such grace and to other His chosen friends, that He was made man and hath tasted and suffered the bitter death for me and for all sinners.” Saint Erasmus was viciously tortured. He was at first scourged, had heated hooks jabbed into his intestines and stomach and was finally thrown into a caldron filled with boiling oil. However, despite these horrific tortures, the Lord protected Saint Erasmus from death and many were converted to the faith—including the jailor and his family.
Unable to torture him physically into recanting his faith, the judge ordered him imprisoned in chains, thrown into a pit filled with vipers and worms and forbid the jailor to feed him, insisting that he die of starvation for his crime. However, Erasmus was again delivered, with an angel appearing to him and leading him to freedom. During his escape, the angel proclaimed, ”Erasmus, Follow me! Thou shalt convert a great many.”
Erasmus fled to Europe, preaching the power of the Lord, performing miracles and converting the multitudes proclaimed by the angel. Upon his arrival in Italy, however, he was again arrested—this time by Emperor Maximin, who also persecuted Christians. History tells us that the emperor, enraged by Erasmus’ success in conversion, ordered three hundred of the newly baptised Christians killed as incentive for Erasmus to recant his faith. When he did not, he was cruelly tortured and again imprisoned. During this torture, his intestines were slowly wound around a sailor’s capstan, which is why he is the patron saint of sailors today. Eventually, Saint Erasmus dies a martyr’s death due to disembowelling and subsequent beheading, having been summoned by the voice of the Lord.
From the Golden Legend: “And when the hour was come that this holy bishop and martyr of God should depart out of this world, then was preferred a loud voice perfectly, coming from heaven saying: “Erasmus, my true servant, thou hast done me true service, wherefore come with me and go and enter into the bliss and joy of thy Lord and I promise thee and all people that think upon thy great pain and call upon thy holy name and thee sue and worship every Sunday, what that they ask of me in thy name for the weal of their souls, I shall grant it. Now come, my true and chosen friend, be glad and comforted with mine ascension . I will that thou arise with me and come sit upon the right hand of my Father.” Then was this holy man right glad and joyful and he cast his eyes upward to heaven, with lifting up his hands and there he saw, a clear shining crown come from heaven upon his blessed head. Then gave he loving and thanking to Almighty God with bowing his head and kneeling, and both his hands upward to heaven, and meekly said: “O Lord in thy hands yield my spirit and this Sunday receive my soul into thy peace and rest.” And with saying these words he yielded up his ghost, which was seen with many men s eyes, shining clearer than the sun and how that he was received of the holy angels and was led through the height of heaven into the uppermost plan of heaven: there he standeth with God, with all the holy company and is there a true helper to all them that call truly to Saint Erasmus for ghostly health, which joy and ghostly health let us pray that he for us all of our Lord God may obtain.”
Saint Erasmus is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, a group of saints invoked with special confidence because they have proven themselves efficacious helpers in adversity and difficulties . Other saints identified as Holy Helpers are: Saints Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, George, Christopher and others. Saint Erasmus, due to the manner in which he was tortured, is the patron saint of those with stomach or intestinal disorders.
Saint Erasmus, under the name Saint Elmo, is also the patron saint of sailors and the shining lights observed upon his death, continue to be reported by sailors as “Saint Elmo’s fire.” This electrostatic phenomenon has been reported throughout history, from Julius Caesar, to the journals of sailors on Magellan’s voyage around the globe, to the writings of Shakespeare, Melville and Charles Darwin.
A chronicler of Magellan’s voyage to circle the globe, observed: “During those storms the holy body, that is, to say St. Elmo, appeared to us many times in light…on an exceedingly dark night on the maintop where he stayed for about two hours or more for our consolation.” Darwin wrote that one night when the Beagle was anchored in the estuary of the Rio Plata: “Everything was in flames, the sky with lightning, the water with luminous particles, and even the very masts were pointed with a blue flame.” The appearance of St Elmo’s Fire is regarded as a good omen for sailors, as it tends to occur near the end of severe thunderstorms or weather systems, the answer to sailors’ prayers for heavenly intervention. In these moments, the guiding hand of Saint Elmo is present.
The endurance of Saint Erasmus in the face of cruel and horrific torture reminds us that the Lord is always with those who love Him. It is difficult to imagine being in a position of profound physical torture, like that many of the early Church’s martyrs endured. In our day to day lives, we often find it difficult to withstand the smallest inconveniences and hurts we experience, generally feeling lost and overwhelmed. But the lives of the early martyrs are not that different from our own. Terminal illnesses, significant financial and vocational struggles, victimisation and trauma fill our lives and the lives of those we love. Our suffering is sometimes great, albeit different from the early martyrs. Our call is to join that suffering to Christ, to look to the Lord for support and succour, to rely on Our Blessed Mother for grace and intercession. When we are able to do that—when we are able to look beyond our struggles and suffering to see the face of God present within us, we grow closer to the glorious saints and martyrs who reflected their faith for all to see, even in the midst of great pain!
St Erasmus, pray for us!