St. Caesareus. History of the Patron Saint of Terracina

With the beginning of the Triduum in all the parishes of the city, yesterday, Wednesday, 7th November, in Terracina opened the celebrations in honor of St. Caesareus that will end on Monday 12th November (civil feast).
A Spasso con Sara to discover the history of the Patron Saint of the city.

 

Who was Cesareo?

Of African origin, he was born in Carthage around 85 A.D. to a mercenary and a woman of the glorious Gens Iulia, the family clan of Julius Caesar. Caesareus, in fact, would mean “devoted to Caesar”.

When the family converted to Christianity, he devoted his life to the deaconage, the care of the poor and the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus. He left with some of his companions for Rome and sank in Terracina, where he would stop to dedicate himself to his religious mission.

 

St Cesareus and his companions are shipwrecked in Terracina (Credits: www.wikiwand.com).

 

Caesareus, witness of faith in Terracina

According to the tradition, every year in Terracina a magnificent young man sacrificed himself in Apollo. Dressed in shiny weapons, the poor man was forced to throw himself from the cliff of Pisco Montano riding a horse. Founder of this rite, a certain Firmino, a pagan priest driven by the spirit of evil.

Caesareus, having arrived in Terracina, witnessed such a practice and was arrested for having protested vivaciously against this custom. Eight days later, Lussurius, one of the city’s notables, led him to Leonzio, the Consularis Campaniae. After questioning him, he ordered Caesareus to deny his Christian faith and to sacrifice to Apollo. When he arrived in front of the temple, the pagan sanctuary collapsed and killed the priest Firmino. Caesareus was imprisoned again.

After another year in prison, Leontius recalled Caesareus and, struck by the divine glow of the deacon, converted to Christianity. Baptized and, having received the body and blood of Jesus Christ from the presbyter Julian, he died. Julian and Caesarean were captured and, after being closed in a sack, were thrown from the cliff of the Pisco Montano. The notable Lussurius, who had signed their condemnation, died after being bitten by a snake.

 

St. Caesareus. Fresco decorating the vault of the central nave of the Cathedral of Terracina dedicated to him (Credits: terracinablog.altervista.org).

 

Not only Caesareus. The Martyrdom of Eusebius and Felix

The bodies of the martyrs Caesareus and Julian, brought back to shore by the waves of the sea, were recovered by Eusebius who buried them in Agro Varano, a place in the Valley of Terracina. The monk, who remained praying at their tomb for five days, was joined by many Terracinese who, baptized by Felix, converted to Christianity.

 

Finding the body of St. Caesareus on the beach of Terracina (Credits: wikiwand.com).

 

The situation bothered, however, Leontius II, the son of the Roman consul converted by Caesareus. Desiring to take revenge for his father’s death, he had Felix and Eusebius arrested and, after having captured them, ordered them to sacrifice to the gods. Felix and Eusebius confirmed, however, their Christian faith and their bodies, after being beheaded, were thrown into the river. Carried by water, they arrived near La Pineta where Quarto, priest of Capua, found them together with their heads miraculously intact. After recovering the remains, he gave them an adequate burial.

 

San Cesareo alle Prebende, the first church of Terracina

Quarto buried Felix and Eusebius near Caesareus and Julian in an area of the Valley called “Le Prebende”, an integral part of a larger complex known as “agro Varano”. This name was used to indicate the lands of the Varii, or rather the possessions of a wealthy terracinese family which, having converted to Catholicism, offered its own house for the meetings of the Christian community and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The house of Varo, which initially housed the only remains of Caesareus and Julian, soon became a real church, known by the name of S. Maria ad Martyres. However, it was abandoned following the martyrdom of Felix and Eusebius, arrested in that place, while officiating the Christian rites.

 

Lugli reports that in 1879 some excavations were made between the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres and the road. The map, designed by Pio Capponi, shows some mosaics found randomly in a vineyard in the area (Credits: ACS, AA.BB.AA., I vers., Allegati, b.150).

 

This place of worship moved, then, at the bottom of the valley, in the pagus of St Silvianus, where the Christians, as well as a new church, also gave life to a cemetery of their own. The new sanctuary was called San Salvatore and the whole area in general was called Valley of the Saints. Contatore tells us that when the body of Silvianus was discovered, this sanctuary was called San Silviano, while that of Varo, from the Middle Ages was called San Cesareo alle Prebende.

The small church of San Cesareo alle Prebende was destroyed in 1892 by the owner of the land, but a column of white grooved marble was erected, surmounted by an iron cross that the local peasants called the Cross of S. Cesario to remember his burial place.

These events would therefore seem to confirm what has been said in other places: the first Christian places of worship in Terracina are born extra urbem, outside the town centre and, specifically, along the Appian Way and on the tombs of the first martyrs.

 

 

When was Saint Caesareus martyred?

The life and death of the patron saint of Terracina have been handed down from four different stories (passiones) that place the martyrdom of Caesareus in different historical periods.

The most discussed hypotheses are two.

One would place the story of the deacon of Terracina in the Trajan age (98-117 AD), since the saint appears in the Passio of Nereus and Achilleus, both killed under the empire of Trajan. Caesareus is remembered in this story as the one who buried the virgins Flavia Domitilla, Eufrosina and Teodora, martyred at the end of the first century AD.

 

The Emperor Trajan (Credits: capitolivm.it).

 

A second hypothesis is instead supported by Piero Longo who would move the martyrdom of Caesareus during the persecution of Decio and in the context of the Ludi Apollinares. Caesareus would have been sacrificed to Apollo in Terracina on July 13, 250 AD.

 

Caesareus is transferred to Rome

Soon, however, the remains of St. Caesareus took the road to Rome. It is said, in fact, that Galla Placidia was cured by the martyr of Terracina in his church of the Valley. The young woman, possessed by the devil, had been sent by her parents to the tomb of Sant’Isidoro, on the island of Chios, with the hope of a recovery. However, that trip was worthless. Back home, she arrived at Terracina, where Bishop Felix took her to the tomb of St. Caesareus. The deacon appeared to her in a dream and miraculously healed. After hearing the news, the emperor ordered the immediate transfer of the Saint’s remains to Rome and, with the assistance of Pope Damasus, between 375 and 379 A.D., they were placed in the Domus Augustana on the Palatine where the oratory of San Cesareo in Palatium was born.

 

Representation of Galla Placidia (Credits: chiamamicittà.it).

 

The relics of Terracina

The emperor, however, would have left some bones of the saint to the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres of Terracina. Later they were moved to the Cathedral where two reliquaries are kept. Placed under the protection of the parish priest, they are exposed to popular veneration during the feast of the patron saint.

The silver reliquary arm, would keep two bone portions of the forearm of the saint and is carried in procession during the festivities in his honor.

The urn-shaped reliquary in silver-plated brass, on the other hand, dates back to the 19th century and is attributed to local craftsmen. It contains, according to the most accredited opinion, two bones of the deacon’s forearm, although recent studies would recognize such fragments as the tibia or a tibia and the saint’s femur.

 

I reliquiari di San Cesareo a Terracina (Credits: www.wikiwand.com).

 

As we have seen, the story of St Caesareus does not present, in some cases, precise historical and chronological references. But we don’t care much because in the end Christianity is nothing other than to surrender completely to the faith of God and that of the martyrs and saints who were witnesses to his message of love.

 

Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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