May 31 – Hermias of Comana; Petronilla of Rome

Hermias of Comana (d. 160) served long in the Roman army, but when it came time to retire, he refused to take his severance pay and instead confessed his Christian faith as he signed the discharge papers. This was clearly the wrong thing to do, and before he knew it he was standing before Sebastian, proconsul in Comana (which is in Pontus, which is in northeastern Anatolia). As you might expect, he was enjoined to renounce his Christian faith and do obeisance to the emperor. As you might expect, he refused. As you might expect, he was tortured in various ways. At one point he was thrown into a burning furnace (shaped like a bull? we’re not told!) for three days, and when they came to take out the cinders, he was brought out unharmed (if a little thirsty).

Sebastian then sent him to a sorcerer named Marus, who concocted a poisonous (but hopefully quenching) brew for Hermias to drink. “Thanks, mate,” said the saint, “I can’t tell you how parched I am.” Okay maybe not those exact words. Anyway, he drank it and came to no harm. “Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy,” said Marus, and he threw everything he had into the next draught. “Aaaaah,” said the saint, perhaps wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “You do know how to mix ’em.” Marus, realizing that Hermias was being protected by Christ, confessed his faith in Jesus, whereupon he was immediately beheaded as a martyr. Sebastian stepped up the torments for Hermias, including hot oil, various body part modifications, and hanging upside-down for three days. Sebastian sent some underlings to determine if Hermias were dead yet, and when they saw him alive and not kicking, they were struck blind. They begged Hermias to help them, and calling upon the name of Christ, he healed them. At last Sebastian took his own sword and cut off Hermias’ head. Christians came and buried his body, of course, and many healings have been associated with his relics.

Was Petronilla of Rome (I or III cent.) the daughter of (St.) Peter (see Jun 29)? It has been thought so, but not always. One tradition says she was so beautiful that her father had her locked in a tower. Another says that when a pagan king named Flaccus[1] asked for her hand, she went on a hunger strike from which she died. We do know that at one point she was considered a martyr, based on a crypt painting dated to around 356 in which she is shown welcoming the newly deceased into heaven—she is indicated by her name and the abbreviation “mart.” Then for a time she was downgraded to virgin (that sounds wrong), but by the time Bede* came along she was back in the martyr rolls. The omission of her name from the fourth century matyriology argues for a date of her death in the late first or early second century (for reasons of some sort).

In 757 her remains were removed to a repurposed fourth century mausoleum near St. Peter’s in Rome. An earlier sarcophagus is attested to, but has been lost; she has had to make do with the eighth century one ever since. In the Renaissance her chapel was “embellished” by Michelangelo, which is nothing to sneeze at. Her chapel became a burying ground for French kings, due to her patronage of Charlemagne and Carloman, which is due to their being hailed as (spiritual?) sons of St. Peter, and Petronilla being (as it was supposed) his daughter. On her feast day, a mass is offered at St. Peter’s for France, heavily attended by French expats in Rome (well, Catholic ones anyway). She is the patron saint of mountain travelers, treaties between the Popes and the Frankish emperors, and the Dauphin of France (because the now-lost sarcophagus sported a painting of a dolphin, which is what “dauphin” means (but you knew that, right?)).


[1] I know what you’re thinking. Stop it.