Saints of the Day – Sts Marcellinus and Peter – Martyrs/Priest and Exorcist (martyred in 304).
While very little is known today about the lives of these holy men, Marcellinus and Peter were prominent enough in the early Church to be included amongst the saints of the Roman Canon and their names continue to be mentioned during celebration of the Eucharist. Further evidence of the veneration and respect of the Church lives on in the basilica that Emperor Constantine built over their tombs in Rome.
The story of the lives and martyrdom of Marcellinus and Peter was recorded by Pope Saint Damasus, who learned of their heroic acts directly from their executioner—a man who converted to Christianity shortly after their deaths. According to the saintly pope, the executioner was deeply troubled following his role in the martyrdom and could not shake the feeling that a faith that had given Marcellinus and Peter such peace of mind and steady joy in the face of death must be authentic.
Marcellinus was a priest and Peter was an exorcist (authorised by the Church to work against demonic possession in individuals) who worked alongside him. Imprisoned during the persecution of Christians under the reign of Diocletian, Marcellinus and Peter embraced their suffering, seeing it as an opportunity for evangelisation and quickly had converted the majority of prisoners in jail with them—including the jailor and his entire family. This was accomplished when Peter set the daughter of the jailer free from an evil spirit which possessed her. Shortly thereafter, the jailor, his wife and their other children were baptised into the faith—right in the cell of Peter and Marcellinus.
When Diocletian heard of their activities, he was greatly incensed and had them tortured, stripped naked and thrown into cells filled with only broken shards of glass. When it was observed that this only served to increase their faith and joy in suffering, he had them taken to the forest of Silva Nigra and dig their own graves. Then, he had them beheaded in the forest, so that other Christians would not find their bodies, bury them properly, and then subsequently venerate them. However, that was not to be the case. Shortly following their death, a Christian matron by the name of Lucilla learned of their martyrdom through a dream (or possibly a prophetic vision) and came with some fellow faithful to the gravesite. The relics of the holy martyrs were removed and translated to a more proper burial place, a set of catacombs in Rome. When Christianity was restored as a “legal” faith tradition under Constantine, he had a great basilica built in their honour over their tomb.