St. Acathius 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. Acathius suffered was mostly in the form of continual beatings with flails, cudgels, and iron bars..

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. Acathius's age as 25, so in the portraits he is usually presented as a young person dressed in either military costume or contemporary fashions. Un­for­tun­ately, many images confuse him with another saint named Acathius. The latter was crucified with ten thousand other Roman soldiers on trees at the base of Mount Ararat. His attribute is therefore a leafless branch, but the branch is sometimes included in images of our centurion, as at right.

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

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This painting of a young dandy holding a leafless branch seems to confuse Acathius the Centurion, a young man of 25, with another Acathius, a Roman general whose attribute is a leafless branch because he and his men were crucified on trees for converting to Christianity. (See the description page.)

DATES

  • Feast day: May 8

NAMES

  • Also called Agathius or Acacius

BIOGRAPHY

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