Saint of the Day – 6 August – Saint Sixtus II (Died 258) Pope and Martyr , Philosopher. 25th Pope from St Peter. Papal Ascension 30 August 257. Of Greek origin unknown birth date died by being beheaded on 6 August 258 in a cemetery on the Appian Way, Rome. He was Martyred along with seven deacons, (St Lawrence of Rome a few days later) during the persecutions of Christianity by Emperor Valerian. This is the St Sixtus who is commemorated in the Roman Canon Eucharistic Prayer. Also known as – Xystus. Patronage – Bellegra, Italy.
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: “At Rome, on the Appian road, in the cemetery of Calistus, the birthday of the blessed Xystus II, Pope and Martyr, who received the crown of martyrdom in the persecution of Valerian by being put to the sword. Also, the holy Martyrs Felicissimus and Agapitus, Deacons of blessed Xystus; Januarius, Magnus, Vincent and Stephen, Subdeacons, all of whom were beheaded with him and buried in the cemetery of Praetextatus. With them suffered also, blessed Quartus, as is related by St Cyprian.”
Even as the storm of persecution created by Emperor Valerian raged against the Church, the Papal Throne was not vacant. Sixtus, a Greek, was elected to succeed Stephen. The Emperor’s decrees had ordered the Christians to take part in state religious ceremonies and forbade them to assemble in cemeteries. For nearly a year Sixtus managed to evade the authorities before he was gloriously martyred.
Valerian issued his second edict ordering the execution of Christian Bishops, Priests and Deacons. Sixtus had taken to holding Mass in the private cemetery of Praetextatus because, it was not watched as closely by the authorities, as was the cemetery of Calixtus. But, in early August of 258, while Sixtus was seated on his episcopal chair and surrounded by the brethren, the soldiers broke in arresting Sixtus and four Deacons who were in attendance.
After a formal judgement, Sixtus was led back to the very place where he had been arrested, to face execution. His chief Deacon St Lawrence, upon hearing the news, hastened to his side, desiring to die with his Bishop. Sixtus consoled his Deacon by telling him that he would follow in three days with even greater glory. The soldiers then placed Sixtus in his chair and swiftly beheaded him. True to the great Pope’s words, Lawrence was arrested three days later and executed the same day.
The remains of Sixtus were transferred by the Christian faithful to the Papal Crypt in the neighbouring cemetery of St Callistus. Behind his tomb was enshrined the bloodstained chair on which he had been beheaded.
The following inscription honouring Sixtus was placed on his tomb in the catacomb of Callixtus by Pope Damasus I:
“At the time when the sword pierced the bowels of the Mother, I, buried here, taught as Shepherd, the Word of God; when suddenly the soldiers rushed in and dragged me from the chair. The faithful offered their necks to the sword but as soon as the Shepherd saw the ones who wished to rob him of the palm (of martyrdom) he was the first to offer himself and his own head, not tolerating that the (pagan) frenzy should harm the others. Christ, who gives recompense, made manifest the Shepherd’s merit, preserving unharmed the flock.“