Tuesday, January 09, 2018

"The fire marvelous strangely turned back" ~ Saint Marcellinus of Ancona

Terracotta statue of
St. Marcellinus of Ancona,
dated to the early 1300s.
The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great contain numerous picturesque accounts of late antiquity, all framed within his stories of virtuous men and women of Italy. In many cases, these accounts amount to the only written record of the individuals described that have come down to us from ancient times.

One of these is the curious tale of Saint Marcellinus of Ancona whose feast day is today, January 9. Here is the brief account offered by Pope Saint Gregory to his interlocutor, Peter, of a great miracle wrought by Saint Marcellinus:
GREGORY: "Marcellinus, also a man of holy life, was Bishop of the same city of Ancona [as described in the previous story of St. Constantius], who was so sore troubled with the gout, that being not able to go, his servants were enforced to carry him in their hands. Upon a day, by negligence, the city was set on fire, and though many labored by throwing on of water to quench it, yet did it so increase and go forward that the whole city was in great danger, for it had laid hold of all the houses that were next it, and consumed already a great part of the town, none being able to help or withstand it.
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"In so pitiful a necessity and great danger, the Bishop, carried by his servants, came thither, and commanded himself to be set down right against those furious flames, and in that very place whither the force of the fire did seem most to bend: which being done, the fire marvelous strangely turned back into itself, and as it were cried out, that it could not pass the Bishop. And by this means was it stopped from going forward, [and] went out of itself, not being able to touch any other buildings. By which, Peter, you see what an argument of great holiness it was, for a sick man to sit still, and by his prayers to quench those raging flames." 
PETER: "I do both see it and much wonder at so notable a miracle."
For this reason, the intercession of Saint Marcellinus has been invoked against fire by pious Catholics for centuries.

It is said in secondary sources that Marcellinus was bishop of Ancona from AD 550 through AD 566. I could not find confirmation of these dates in any of the ancient sources I am able to access, but I suppose it is based on his association with the Gospels of Saint Marcellinus, a mid-sixth century manuscript that is preserved in the Museo Diocesano di Ancona to this day.

A fragment of the 6th century Gospel manuscript associated with St. Marcellinus.
If true, it means that the fire at Ancona and St. Marcellinus's subsequent miraculous intervention, took place during Gregory's own lifetime. While he clearly heard this tale second-hand—probably from the same friends who related to him the stories of Saint Constantius of Ancona—his witness is nonetheless contemporary and therefore especially noteworthy.

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