November 29 – Abibus of Nekressi; Saturninus of Toulouse

Abibus of Nekressi (VI cent.) (აბიბოს ნეკრესელი) was one of the thirteen (or twelve) Syrian missionaries (“apostles”) sent into Georgia by John Zedazeni. When the twelve (or thirteen) split up, Abibus went to Nekressi, which was in the hills of Kakheti, as you were no doubt aware. He preached the gospel to the Georgians, as well as the tribes of the mountains, which included the famed Dagestani. In time he became bishop of that far-away place.

The Persians were not idle, however. (How’s that for a jarring transition?) They were busy spreading their own religion, the worship of fire. They had already made many places into holy places, where perpetual fires were kept burning perpetually. Abibus found the nearest such flame, strode up to it, and doused it with a bucket of water, saying, we hope, “Perpetuate that!” The pagan priests were outraged, and once the steam cleared, they seized our saint and reported him to the marzban (“almond paste,” a Persian official). Hearing of Abibus’ plight, Simeon the Stylite of the Wonderful Mountain (which sounds like something from Grimm) send a letter and an evlogia (“blessing”—some memento, perhaps a piece of prosophora, our source suggests, or maybe a piece of gingerbread, Grimm might say). Thereby heartened, Abibus refused an offer of help to escape, and suffered himself to be taken to the marzipan—um, marzban—in Mtskheta, a town desperately in need of another vowel.

After meeting (St.) Shio of Mgvime at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (if you’re not trying to pronounce these names as we go along, you’re not getting the full effect of the story), Abibus was brought before the marzban, who railed against him for daring to raise his hand against the Persian god. “What god?” Abibus replied. “All I did was douse a fire. Some god if a little water can conquer it.” Doubtless he didn’t expect this to win him any friends, and it did not. He was sentenced to be beaten (or stoned), and he was. His body was cast to the beasts and a guard was set to prevent Christians from giving it a proper burial, although as you can no doubt guess, they did anyway, in the Samtavro Monastery.

Saturninus of Toulouse (d. ca. 257) (aka Saturnin) was a nobleman from Rome who was sent to Gaul as a missionary by Pope Fabian (Jan 20) along with six other missionaries including Denis of Paris (Oct 9). Unless he (Saturninus) was one of the 72 apostles in the first century, but my sources are all pretty convinced by the third century version, and as my readers know, I am not one to argue with sources. We don’t know much about Saturninus’ ministry, but we do know about his death, so after briefly mentioning that he is the first recorded bishop of Toulouse, we’ll get to the death part.

To reach the Christian church, we are told (to reach it from where, we are not), Saturninus had to pass before the capitol, wherein was located a pagan altar. Apparently he did this frequently, and the pagan oracles were reduced to a perpetual stony silence (get it?). Eventually the pagans kidnapped the good bishop, and invited him to sacrifice to their idols. When he refused, they tied him behind a bull, which dragged him through the town until the rope broke, which was right out front of a Mithraic holy place called the Matabiau or “killing of the bull.” Perhaps the bull realized this place was bad juju for bulls, and gave a sudden start that caused the rope to break. It’s a theory.

Saturninus’ remains were “gathered up” (causing one to think . . . well, you decide what it causes you to think) and buried by pious Christians. A wooden church sprang up over his gravesite in the fourth century, replaced in the fourteenth by a stone church named, and this is no bull, Our Lady of the Bull (Notre-Dame du Taur). Saturninus is the patron saint of bullfighters, and (strangely) ants.