Saint of the Day – 16 January – Saint Pope Marcellus I (Died 309) Papal Ascension May-June 308. Also known as – Marcel, Marcelo. Patronage – Stablemen.
Nothing of Marcellus’ life before his papacy has survived the centuries. He became Pope at the end of the persecutions of Diocletian in aound 3089. The persecutions had disrupted the Church so much, that there had been a gap of over a year without a Pope.
Once he was elected, he faced several challenges, including reconsituting the clergy, which had been decimated and whose remnant had practiced their vocation only covertly and with the expectation of martyrdom. He worked hard to recover and welcome back all who had denied the faith in order to keep from being murdered.
When a group of the apostatised, known as the Lapsi, refused to do penance, Marcellus refused to allow their return to the Church. Some of these caused such civil disruption that Emperor Maxentius exiled the Pope in order to settle the matter.
Legend says that Marcellus was forced to work as a stable slave as punishment, however we do know that he died of the terrible conditions he suffered in exile and is considered a Martyr because of that.
The account in the Liber Pontificalis continues:
“But although he served many days in the stable, he did not cease his service to the Lord with prayers and fastings. Moreover, in the ninth month, all his clergy came by night and removed him by night from the stable. A certain matron and widow whose name was Lucina, who had lived with her husband Marcus for 15 years and had been 19 years a widow, received the blessed man. And she dedicated her house as a Church in the name of the blessed Marcellus and there day and night the Lord Jesus Christ was confessed with hymns and prayers.”
This is the Church known in modern times as San Lorenzo in Lucina where a Basilica was subsequently built in the mid-4th century, restored and embellished numerous times throughout the centuries. Traces of the original Roman structure may be seen amidst the foundations even to this day.
The Liber Pontificalis continues:
“But Maxentius heard of it and sent and seized the blessed Marcellus a second time and gave orders that in that very Church, boards should be laid down and the animals of the stable should be collected and kept there and the blessed Marcellus should tend them. And he died in the service of the animals, clad only in a hair shirt.
And the blessed Lucina took is body and he was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla on the Via Salaria, 16 January.
And the Bishopric was empty 20 days.
Lucina herself was condemned by proscription.”
The remains of the Martyred Pope were later transferred to the Basilica of San Marcello al Corso in Rome. An epitaph of Pope Saint Marcellus, written by Pope Damasus about 80 years after Marcellus’s Martyrdom, was found in the cemetery of Priscilla.