Saint of the Day – 7 December – Saint Sabinus of Spoleto (Died c 303) Bishop of Assisi, Martyr, miracle-worker. Additional Memorial – 30 December. Patronages – Fermo, Ivrea and Spoleto all in Italy.
An entry in the Roman Martyrology under 30 December records: “At Spoleto, the birthday of the holy martyrs: Sabinus, Bishop; Exuperantius and Marcellus, Deacons; also of Venustian, governor, with his wife and sons, under the Emperor Maximian. Marcellus and Exuperantius were first racked, then severely beaten with rods; afterwards, being mangled with iron hooks and burned in the sides, they terminated their martyrdom. Not long after, Venustian was put to the sword with his wife and sons. St Sabinus, after having his hands cut off and being a long time confined in prison, was scourged to death. The martyrdom of these saints is commemorated on the same day, although it occurred at different times.”
The legend of St Sabinus seems to have been compiled in the 5th or early 6th century. He was recorded in at least three of the important 9th century Martyrologies.
The legend is set in the reign of the Emperor Maximian (286-305). It relates that Venustianus, Governor of Tuscany arrested a Bishop, St Sabinus at Assisi in 303 and ordered him to adore an idol. When he dashed it to the ground, his hands were cut off and he was forced to watch as his Deacons, Sts Exuperanzius and Marcellus were tortured and killed.
St Sabinus survived and soon after cured the blind son (or perhaps the nephew) of the widow St Serena. Venustianus also suffered from a sight disorder, so he sent for St Sabinus. When he and his family agreed to be Baptised, he was cured. The Emperor then sent another legate, Lucius to Spoleto and he ordered the arrest of Sts Sabinus and Venustianus.
All except one of the surviving versions of the legend say that they were martyred in Rome (usually at the Circus Maximus) on 18 May. His followers collected his body and buried it on 7 December. However, another version says that the Emperor Maximian and the senate, meeting in Rome, ordered the execution, which took place near Spoleto. It adds that he was buried “miliario secundo a civitate Spolitana” (at the second milestone from Spoleto.) The burial is usually attributed to the widow St Serena and the place of burial was probably the Christian cemetery near the site of the present church of San Sabino.
St Sabinus is venerated at Assisi as an early bishop of that city.
Some relics stolen in 954 by Duke Conrad of Spoleto, and taken to Ivrea, Italy in order to combat an epidemic that was raging in the city; miracles reported in connection with the relics and they were processed through the centre of the old city every 7 July for centuries.
The cult of St Sabinus is widely dispersed, generally following the dispersal of his relics:
In 598, Pope Gregory I asked Bishop Chrysanthus of Spoleto to send relics of the Saint for use in an oratory in his honour that was being built in Fermo. He also arranged for other relics to be sent to Ascoli and Rieti.
Duke Alberic I may have taken relics to Rome – a reliquary is recorded at what is now Santa Maria del Priorato on the Aventine Hill, Rome, a complex founded by his son, Alberic II in 939.
In 954, Conrad, son of Duke Berengar II of Ivrea was briefly Duke of Spoleto. He fled back to Ivrea to escape an epidemic, taking with him relics of St Sabinus. St Sabinus is still a patron saint of Ivrea. His feast is celebrated there on 7th July, which is presumably the date of the translation.
In c 970, a representative of Bishop Theoderic I of Metz acquired the relics of St Serena (see St Sabinus) from San Sabino, along with other relics that were documented, perhaps incorrectly, as those of St Gregory. Theoderic took them back to Metz. These remains and the supposed relics of St Sabinus himself turned up at the Premonstratensian Abbey of Windberg (near Regensburg) in the late 12th century. This abbey is dedicated to the Virgin and SS Sabinus and Serena – the statue below is located there.
A sarcophagus (5th or 6th century) that is thought to have housed a relic of St Sabinus survives in the church of San Savino in Fusignano, a small town near Faenza and Ravenna. It is not known why or when this relic was taken to Fusignano. Astorre II Manfredi, Duke of Imola and Faenza, transferred them to the cathedral of Faenza in 1448 and they are still venerated there. Documents written at the time of the translation refer to St Sabinus as having been the Bishop of Assisi and to the relic in question as an arm.
The cathedral of Siena first claimed the body of St Sabinus in 1215.