St. Acacius the Centurion: The Iconography

In Constantinople, St. Agathius the Centurion. During the persecution of Diocletian and Maximian he was taken before the tribune Firmus because he was a Christian. Then under the judge Perinthus Bibianus he was severely tortured and finally condemned to beheading by Flaccinus the Proconsul of Byzantium. His body was miraculously carried to Scylla in Calabria, where it was honorably preserved. – Roman Martyrology for May 8

The entry quoted above from the Roman Martyrology tells most of the basic story. The torture that St. Acacius suffered was mostly in the form of continual beatings with flails, cudgels, and iron bars; but portraits use only a leafless stick as his attribute.

The Acta Sanctorum presents a number of brief accounts and one passio in which the saint debates at length with Firmus and Bibianus. One of the brief accounts explains that his body was first buried in Stauropolis, in Asia Minor, but when that town was invaded by Moslems the citizens packed it up in a lead casket and consigned to the sea, which carried it safely to Scylla.

The passio sets St. Acacius's age as 25, so in the portraits he is usually presented as a young person dressed in either military costume or contemporary fashions.

St. Acacius the Centurion is not to be confused with the St. Acacius who was crucified in the second century along with 10,000 (!) companions. Neither of these martyrs is the St. Achatius numbered among the "14 Holy Helpers."

Prepared in 2018 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.

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St. Acacius as a young man in contemporary (16th-century) finery and holding the leaf-less branch that is his attribute. Some other images have him in military dress. (See the description page.)

DATES

  • Feast day: May 8

NAMES

  • Also called Agathius or Acatius

HAGIOGRAPHY