Saints of the Day – 6 August – Saints Justus and Pastor – The Holy Martyred Children of Alcala de Henares in Spain. (Died 304). Born c 295-297 in Spain and died by being scourged and beheaded in 304 at Alcala, Spain at ages 9 and 7. Patronage – Alcalá de Henares; Diocese of Alcalá and Madrid. Saints Justus and Pastor of Alcala were two brothers, who in their tender age overcame, with an heroic courage, the rage and power of Dacian, armed with all the instruments of cruelty.
“Do not fear death of the body nor the torments, little brother. Calmly receive the strike of the sword. The God who has seen fit to call us to such a great grace will give us the necessary strength to endure the sufferings that await us.”
During the Roman Empire, Christians were subjected to numerous persecutions, the harshest of which was perhaps the persecution of the emperor Diocletian in the fourth century. Instigated by Galerius, Diocletian promulgated the first edict against Christians on February 23 in the year 303 in Nicomedia, which demanded the destruction of Christian Churches and holy books and prohibited, that the faithful gather together, causing Christians, established in dignity to lose their honour. Following this first edict were three others – the second edict ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all clergy; the third granted the freedom of imprisoned clergy who apostatised and abandoned Christianity and harsh tortures for those who refused and the fourth obliged Christians to sacrifice to the gods of the Empire or suffer death.
To comply with the edict, the prefect Publius Dacianus was sent to Hispania (Spain) to cruelly and strictly enforce the imperial order. Christianity had taken strong root in Spain, clearly seen from the large number of Martyrs who shed their blood during the prefect’s rule. Among them are St Cucuphas, St Felix the “African,” St Pontius and St Narcissus, St Engracia and her eighteen companions, St Aquilina, etc.
Dacianus reached Complutum, today known as Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) in August of the year 304. Complutum was founded during the first century in the valley of Henares. The city had an ideal central location and enjoyed great prosperity during the third and fourth centuries. In this city, the “holy children,” Justus and Pastor, won the palm of Martyrdom. Very little has been written about them but we do know that they were from a good and holy Christian family. We also know the circumstances of their Martyrdom. The liturgy mentions that they were 7 and 9 years old respectively.
The most important part of the account of their Martyrdom has been passed on to us by tradition. When the imperial edict was made public in Complutum, the two brothers, Justus and Pastor, were at school. Stirred by an interior inspiration and an ardent desire to give their lives for Jesus Christ, they threw the slate tablets they used for writing on the ground and ran in haste to Dacianus’ residence with ardent hearts, ready to bear witness to their faith even to the point of Martyrdom. Despite their young age, the love of Christ had a profound effect in their hearts. They were unwilling to deny their God for anything in the world.
Upon seeing them so young, the doorkeepers thought they were playing but because the young boys insisted on seeing Dacianus, they were eventually taken to his presence. Before the prefect, they confessed firmly and with confidence that they were Christians and that they were unwilling to sacrifice to idols. In vain, the prefect tried to win them over with gifts and appeasements but seeing that he was unable to persuade them, he ordered them to be flogged with rods. The punishment was so severe that the two boys ended up bathed in blood.
The bodies of the children were battered but their souls were anchored in God and their fortitude left those who contemplated them in awe. Justus and Pastor knew well in whom they had believed (cf. 2 Tim 1:12) and desired nothing other than to find the One who first loved them and said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not prevent them” (Mt 19:14). Full of anger and fearful of the courageous example the holy children could give to Christians, Dacianus ordered the executioners to take them out of the city and behead them.
Centuries later, St Isidore of Seville wrote concerning their Martyrdom: “While they were taken to the place of torment, the two little lambs mutually encouraged one another. Justus, the youngest, fearful that his brother would falter, spoke to him thus, ‘Do not fear death of the body nor the torments, little brother. Calmly receive the strike of the sword. The God who has seen fit to call us to such a great grace will give us the necessary strength to endure the sufferings that await us.’ In reply, Pastor said, ‘You have spoken well, my brother. I will gladly accompany you in Martyrdom to gain the glory of this combat.’”
On a stone. in a field outside the city walls of Complutum, later known as Campo Loable or Laudable (Praiseworthy or Laudable Field), the children’s Martyrdom took place. Justus was the first to be beheaded followed by Pastor. Laudate pueri Dominum! Children, praise the Lord! The sacrifice was accomplished. The inhabitants of Complutum zealously guarded the place of the Martyrdom as well as the Martyrs’ remains and later built a chapel over their burial place to honour their memory.
Fearful of what the Muslims could do, in the year 760 St Urbez transferred the relics of the “holy children” to the hermitage of Santa Maria, a remote place in the Valley de Nocito. Later on, they were transferred to San Pedro el Viejo in Huesca.
In 1567, St Pius V promulgated a papal bull in which he ordered part of the relics of Saints Justus and Pastor to be taken from Huesca to Alcalá de Henares, the city of their birth and Martyrdom. In November of that same year, Philip II and his son prince Charles sent letters addressed to the Bishop of Huesca so that the Pope’s order could be fulfilled. Thus, part of the relics of Saints Justus and Pastor were sent to the city of Alcalá de Henares where the “Holy Children” were considered patrons.
How did the children Justus and Pastor have the strength to face Martyrdom? God Himself vested them with fortitude and made them ready for battle against the forces of evil, “the grace of God led the conflict against Him and delivered the weak and set them as firm pillars, able through patience to endure all the wrath of the evil one. They joined battle with Him, undergoing all kinds of shame and injury. Regarding their great sufferings as little, they hastened to Christ, revealing truly that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.'” (Eusebius of Caesarea-Bishop and Historian). The power of God is fully made manifest in weakness.
Below is the Basilica of Sts Justus and Pastor in Alcala, Spain