|Saint Eulalia rebukes the Roman Praetor in this 19th century engraving |
from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
Following is a translation of Prudentius's poem celebrating the martyrdom of Saint Eulalia translated into English in 1910. Also a native of Spain, Prudentius saved some of his most eloquent poetry to commemorate his countrywoman, Eulalia. The translator of the poem below says in his introduction: "Never did this prince of Christian poets write finer verses than these."
It should also be pointed out that Prudentius's hymn is the oldest extant account of Saint Eulalia's passion and martyrdom, having been set down in the early 5th century AD—about a century after Eulalia's death.
The Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia by PrudentiusThis translation of The Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia was taken from The Liturgical Year: Advent by Abbot Gueranger and translated into English by Dom Laurence Shepherd. An excerpt of this poem, plus several more of Prudentius's works from the Peristephanon may be found in I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources.
Eulalia, noble by birth, but still nobler by her death, was born at Merida; and this city the holy virgin adorns with her relics, and cherishes with her loving protection.
Where the sun sets, there lies the birth-place of this splendid heroine: it is a powerful and populous city, but its proudest title to fame is that there the Saint shed her blood, and there rests her shrine.
But thrice four winters had passed over Eulalia, when she craved the fierce tortures of fire, and made her executioners tremble by her courage, suffering as though it were sweet to suffer.
Already had she proved to men that she would have no spouse but God, and that earthly nuptials were too poor for her. Though but a girl, she despised the toys and sports of children.
Perfumes and wreaths of roses, and golden trinkets, all were beneath her. Her look demure, her gait modest, her whole conduct, even at that tender age, as though the gravity of old age were upon it.
But when a rabid persecution began to threaten the servants of God, and the Christians were commanded to burn incense and the flesh of victims before the dead gods of the pagans.
Oh! then did Eulalia's soul chafe within her, and her high spirit thirst for the battle! She, a girl, defies the threats of men that talk of war, for her heart pants after God.
But her fond mother trembles for her courageous child, and insists on her keeping at home. She takes her into the country, as far as may be from the city, lest the dauntless child, that longed to die for Christ, should seek to purchase that glory at the price of her blood.
She ill brooks this quiet, this shelter which seems to her so unchristian: the night comes on; she is alone; she forces open the doors, and escaping from her inclosure, she tends she knows not whither.
The paths are rugged, and thorns prick her feet at every step. Yet on she goes, with angels in her company. All is silent in the dark grim night; but she has light which leads her.
As our fathers, that brave Hebrew band, had of old a pillar of light, which piercing the murky gloom of night, led them on by its bright blaze, and turned darkness into day;
So this holy maid; in her midnight journey, God gave her light; and as she fled from the land of Egypt, to enter into that of heaven, she was not hindered by the darkness.
Many a mile had she walked with her hasty step, before the day-dawn broke upon the world. And scarce had morn begun, when there stood before the tribunal, amidst the ensigns of the empire, the fearless Virgin.
"What madness is this," she cried, "which makes you lose your unthinking souls? Wasting away your love in adoring these chiseled lumps of stone, whilst you deny God the Father of all?
"O wretched men! you are in search of the Christians: lo! I am one: I hate your worship of devils: I trample on your idols; and with heart and mouth I acknowledge but one God.
“Isis, Apollo, Venus, all are nothing; Maximian, too, is nothing; they, because they are idols; he, because he worships idols; both are vain, both are nothing.
“Maximian calls himself lord, and yet he makes himself a slave of stones, ready to give his very head to such gods. And why does he persecute them that have nobler hearts?
“This good Emperor, this most upright Judge, feeds on the blood of the innocent. He gluts himself on the bodies of the saints, embowelling those temples of purity, and cruelly insulting their holy faith.
“Do thy worst, thou cruel butcher; burn, cut, tear asunder these clay-made bodies. It is no hard thing to break a fragile vase like this. But all thy tortures cannot reach the soul.”
At these words the Praetor, maddening with rage, cried out: “Away, Lictor, with this senseless prattler, and punish her in every way thou canst. Teach her that our country’s gods are gods, and that our sovereign’s words are not to be slighted.
“Yet stay, rash girl! Would I could persuade thee to recall thy impious words before it is too late! Think on all the joys thou thus wilt obtain; think on that noble marriage which we will procure thee.
“Thy family is in search of thee, and thy noble house weeps and grieves after thee, their tender floweret so near its prime, yet so resolved to wither.
“What! are nuptials like these I offer not enough to move thee? Wilt thou send the grey hairs of thy parents into the tomb by thy rash disobedience? Tremble at least at all these fearful instruments of torture and death.
“There is a sword which will sever thy head; there are wild beasts to tear thee to pieces; there are fires on which to burn thee, leaving to thy family but thy ashes to weep over.
“And what do we ask of thee in order that thou mayest escape these tortures? Do, I beseech thee, Eulalia, touch but with the tip of thy finger these grains of salt and incense, and not a hair of thy head shall be hurt.”
The Martyr answered him not: but full of indignation, spat in the tyrant’s face; then, with her foot, upsets idols, cakes, and incense.
Scarce had she done it, two executioners seize her: they tear her youthful breast, and, one on each side, cut off her innocent flesh even to the very ribs. Eulalia counts each gash, and says:
“See, dear Jesus, they write the on my flesh! Beautiful letters, that tell of thy victory! O, how I love to read them! So, this red stream of my blood speaks thy holy name!”
Thus sang the joyous and intrepid virgin; not a tear, not a moan. The sharp tortures reach not her soul. Her body is all stained with the fresh blood, and the warm stream trickles down the snow-white skin.
But this was not the end. It was not enough to plough and harrow up her flesh: it was time to burn: torches, then, are applied to her sides and breast.
Her beauteous locks dishevelled fell, veiling her from worse than all their butchery, the stare of these wretches.
The crackling flame mounts to her face, and, running through her hair, surrounds and blazes over her head. The virgin, thirsting for death, opens her mouth and drinks it in.
Suddenly is seen a snow-white dove coming from the martyr’s mouth, and flying up to heaven. It was Eulalia’s spirit, spotless, eager, innocent.
Her soul is fled: her head droops, the fire dies out: her lifeless body sleeps in peace, while her glad spirit keeps feast in its ethereal home, and this sweet dove rests in the house of her most High God.
The executioners, too, see the dove issuing from the martyr’s mouth: astonished and trembling they flee from the spot. The lictor, too, is seized with fear and takes to flight.
‘Tis winter, and the snow in thick flakes falls on the forum, covering the tender corpse of Eulalia, which lay stiffening in the cold, with its fair pall of crystal.
Ye men that mourn at funerals, weeping and sobbing out your love for the dead, ye are not needed here: give place. God bids his elements, O Eulalia, do the honors of thy exequies.
Her tomb is now at Merida, illustrious city of Vettonia, whose beautiful walls are washed by the swift green waters of Ana, that celebrated stream.
‘Tis there, in a temple rich with its polished marbles, both of Spain and foreign lands, that repose in a venerable tomb the holy relics of the martyr.
The roof, above, glitters with its golden pendents; and the pavement, with its mosaics, looks like a meadow strewed with the gayest flowers.
Cull the purple violet, and the golden crocus, which even winter spares us, and with its hours of sunshine lets our fields yield plentifully enough to deck our Eulalia’s altar.
Twine them into your green garlands, and these be your offering, dear children! Mine shall be these verses for our choir; poor I know they are and savoring of the dullness of my own old age; still, they suit a feast.
Thus will we venerate Eulalia’s relics and Eulalia’s altar: she, standing before the throne of God, will be pleased with our offerings, and hearing our hymns and prayers will protect her devoted people.
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