On this day in 1864, US President Abraham Lincoln formally established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It was originally to be called “Black Friday Eve” but Honest Abe thought “Thanksgiving” sounded more dignified.
Artemius of Antioch the Greatmartyr (or “Megalomartyr,” which has such a great ring) (d. 363) was a general in the Roman army. On the orders of Emperor Constantine the Great, he brought the relics of the Apostles Luke and Andrew to Constantinople, in reward for which he was made “dux” (prefect) of Egypt. (Go ahead, get the “ducks” jokes out of your system now. Ready?) There he spread the Gospel of Christ, and tore down a bunch of pagan temples, which were blocking the view or in the way of new roads or something.
When Constantine was replaced on the imperial throne by Julian the Apostate, things began to go ill for Artemius and all Christians. Julian, as our readers will remember, forsook his baptism, returned to the worship of the pagan gods, and went about destroying churches and killing Christians and in general ensuring his eternal niche in the hall of infamy. (Is that well put or what?) For example, he most impiously mingled the bones of the prophets Elisha and John the Baptist with those of animals and bad guys of some sort (“impious men” is so vague), burning the lot, and scattering the ashes to the wind. Fortunately John’s head was somewhere else, waiting to be found again. And again.
After a skirmish with the Persians, Julian was billeted in Antioch, where he, as per his wont, was trying and executing Christians, converting churches to pagan temples, and in general scaring the chickens. For some reason Artemius, by this time an old man, was in town, and he was dragged before Julian. He upbraided the apostate for his barbarity, faithlessness, and bad taste in coffee. (Or postum, or whatever they had in those days.) When he had had an earful of this, Julian accused Artemius of killing his (Julian’s) brother Gallus, and had him stripped of his rank, tortured, and thrown in prison.
The next day Artemius was brought before the emperor again, where he professed his innocence of Gallus’ death (he was in Egypt at the time, for crying out loud), and recounted the Occurrence at Milvian Creek Bridge. He was allowed to ramble for a few pages (in one source), then thrown back in prison again, where he was visited by Our Lord himself, who healed his wounds, and ministered to by the holy angels, who fed him. Meanwhile Julian went to sacrifice to Apollo at Daphne. Daphne, however, had lost her glasses — wait, that’s Thelma. Sorry. This particular statue of Apollo was an oracle, but remained mute because the relics of a saint were nearby. Julian had the relics removed, whereupon lightning from heaven struck the temple and reduced it to rubble.
Julian convinced himself that the Christians had come by night and set the temple on fire, but word of the disaster had reached Artemius (whether naturally or supernaturally), and he mocked Julian the next time they met. By this point Julian was right well fed up with Artemius, and ordered that he be crushed inside a humongous boulder that had been split in twain (love that word) specifically for that purpose. The rock did a fine job, CHILDREN LOOK AWAY UNTIL I SAY, squishing Artemius until his eyes popped out of their sockets and his guts flowed out.
CHILDREN MAY LOOK BACK. Although flattened by the boulder, Artemius was miraculously kept alive. Like something from Julian’s blackest dreams (or like Judge Doom in Roger Rabbit), he stood up and condemned the apostate one last time, foretelling his all-too-timely death. Realizing the whole torture and flattening thing wasn’t working, Julian (finally) had Artemius beheaded. The body was later gathered by a pious Christian named Arista and shipped to Constantinople for reverent burial. Meanwhile Julian perished fighting the Persians, and a Christian once again mounted the imperial throne.
Our readers will not be surprised to learn that Artemius is the patron saint of (and I do not jest) people who suffer from hernia.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
This Day in History for 20th October
The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Vol. 2: October (book on paper) – Main source
Icon of Artemius from Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule).