|Painting of Saint Marcello in Heavenly Glory which appears above the high|
altar of the Basilica of San Marcello al Corso in Rome.
The 6th century Liber Pontificalis records the highlights of his life, including conflicts with Maxentius that ultimately cost Marcellus his life:
Marcellus, by nationality a Roman, son of Marcellus (or Benedictus) from the district of the Via Lata, occupied the see 4 years. He was bishop in the time of Maxentius, from the 4th consulship of Maxentius, when Maximus was his colleague, until after the consulship.
He established a cemetery on the Via Salaria, and he appointed 25 parish churches as diocese in the city of Rome to provide baptism and penance for the many who were converted among the pagans, and burial for the martyrs.In her footnote, Louise Ropes Loomis speculates that the “stable” in question here are those maintained as part of the imperial post. This story is not repeated in other sources, says Loomis, but it is not inconsistent with the other facts we know about this turbulent period.
He ordained 25 priests in the city of Rome and 2 deacons, in the month of December, and 21 bishops in divers places.
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He was seized by Maxentius and held in confinement because he set the church in order, and imprisoned that he might deny his bishopric and degrade himself by sacrifices to demons. Then, forasmuch as he continually despised and scorned the words and commands of Maxentius, he was condemned to the stable.
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 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 AD, restored and embellished numerous times throughout the centuries. Traces of the original Roman structure may be seen amidst the foundations even to this day.
|A fragment of mosaic flooring from beneath the present-day San Lorenzo in Lucina.|
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.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. The epitaph seems to tell a slightly different story than the one found in the Liber Pontificalis:
And the blessed Lucina took is body and he was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla on the Via Salaria, January 16.
And the bishopric was empty 20 days.
Lucina herself was condemned by proscription.
This translation of the epitaph was taken from I Am a Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources.
The truth-telling ruler, because he bade the lapsed weep for their crimes, became a bitter enemy to all these unhappy men. Hence followed rage and hate, and discord and strife, sedition and slaughter. The bonds of peace are loosed. On account of the crimes of another, who denied Christ in time of peace, he was driven from the borders of his fatherland by the savagery of the tyrant. Damasus wishes to briefly tell these things which he had found out, that people might know the merit of Marcellus.
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