Sant’Eleuterio: a mystery that links Maenza and Sicily

A feast for a special patron for Maenza, near Latina, where he is revered as Bishop and martyr born in distant Sicily.

In the church dedicated in his honour, there is a relief in white marble depicting Saint Eleuterio on the day of his bishop’s ordination, together with his mother Anzia. Two other statues can be found in the church of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo and in the church of Santa Reparata. A truly heard cult!

While little is known about Eleuterio’s life, his worship is very old and well known. Probably Eleutherius (Eleuterio) was born in Messina on April 18, 121 and his mother soon became a widow of the consul Eugene. Eleutherius was ordained deacon and priest early at a young age.

After becoming a bishop he was sent to Illyricum, which today corresponds to the Dalmatian region of Croatia, where he was appreciated for the sanctity of his life and for the gift of miracles. For these reasons he suffered the persecutions of Emperor Hadrian and was brought to Rome to the judgment of the emperor.

After being imprisoned, he was subjected to an incredible range of tortures: he was condemned to lie on a fiery iron bed, then on a hot grill, as well as in the hot tub of oil, pitch and resin, and finally exposed to the lions to be devoured.

By enduring these terrible pains, thanks to God’s love, he succeeded in triumph by remaining firm in the faith. The emperor finally decided to condemn him to death and he was slaughtered on December 15th with his mother Anzia. Saint and martyr.

Eleutherius most likely is to be identified with the martyr ‘Liberal’ (Latin form of Eleutherium) buried in the cemetery “ad clivum Cucumeris”. Because of his great mission in Sicily, he is highly revered under the Latin name “Saint Liberal”.

The church of Sant’Eleuterio outside the walls in Rieti, was built in the fifth century on the sepulchre of the bodies of the Martyrs Eleuterio and Anzia his mother, stolen in Rome by an expedition of the faithful led by Bishop Primo.

Other relics are present in Rome and in Maenza where in the church of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo a relic of the Saint is jealously guarded, a bone of the right arm enclosed in a gold and silver structure that depicts an arm and a hand holding an olive branch.

Recent archaeological research has shown that, in the territory of Maenza, ceramics dating back to prehistoric Sicily were found, which links the town to the Lepini Mountains and it is presumed, Sicily.

The reason why it is celebrated in Maenza is however completely unknown. Equally inexplicable is the day when it is celebrated as the Greek rituals date back to the day of the feast on December 15, the Latin rituals to April 18, but in Maenza it is celebrated on May 28 and 29.

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