If you enjoy this daily blog of lesser-known saints, see my book, which contains short biographies of saints for every day of the year.
Not many saints have the honor of being memorialized in a poem by a famous writer. Prudentius (348-405) was a poet from northern Spain who lived after the Roman emperor Constantine had permitted the practice of the Catholic faith. As an unabashed Christian living in the Roman empire, Prudentius used his writing skills to remind people of the bravery of the many Christians who had died for the faith during preceding centuries. In his poem Liber Peristephanon or, in English, Crown of Martyrs, Prudentius wrote about many early martyrs, particularly pointing out how they showed their courage under pressure.
All that said, we know very little about today’s saints, Saint Optatus and his seventeen companions. We know they were arrested for being Christians in the year 304 under the persecution initiated by the Roman governor Dacian. We know that this occurred in Prudentius’ hometown of Saragossa. We know that some of these eighteen people were tortured before execution and that some of them died of the effects of their torture.
As is always the case of the early Church martyrs, it is no small matter that Christians noticed and continued to remember these martyrs for decades and centuries. The Roman empire used public torture and execution as entertainment (and an effective form of crowd control), so the deaths of eighteen Christians should have been quickly forgotten. The fact that the Christians of Saragossa did not forget their bravery teaches us that we should not forget either.
Saint Optatus and companions, pray for me to be faithful during the difficulties I face today.