Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Saint Pope Sixtus II, Martyr

Attributed to Niccolo di Giacomo da Bologna (c. 1325 – c. 1403)
Saint Pope Sixtus II, and  Deacons Felicissimus and Agapitus
In Initiale S pour la Saints-Sixte-Félicissime-et-Agapit
From Missal of Clément VII/Pope Urbain V
c 1370
(Made in Bologna)
Avignon - BM - ms. 0136, f. 259v

Pope St Sixtus II (Elected 31 Aug., 257, martyred at Rome, 6 Aug., 258) was bonus et pacificus sacerdos

He was martyred in the persecution of the  Emperor Valerian

In August 258, the Emperor issued an edict ordering that bishops, priests, and deacons to be summarily put to death. Sixtus with two of his deacons were among the first to perish

They were beheaded

The aim of the persecution was to destroy the leaders of the Church and rob it of its wealth for the benefit of the Imperial treasury

The Pope entrusted the material riches of the Church to St Lawrence, one of  the deacons of Rome. He was to distribute the wealth among the poor.

St Lawrence (c. 225–258),  one of the most widely venerated saints of the Roman Catholic Church  was martyred three days after his Pope

Neither the Pope nor St Lawrence nor any of the others attempted to bargain their way out of trouble by using the wealth entrusted to them and held by them in trust. For them there was never a conflict of interest

They never thought of benefitting personally by the wealth which they held in trust

One does wonder if there had not been a Saint Sixtus if there would have been a Saint Lawrence

In this woodcut by Albrecht Dürer we see the commemoration of the two martyrs with the proto-martyr Stephen

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528 )
St. Stephen, St. Sixtus and St. Lawrence
Woodcut print
21.2 x 14.3 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

And in this print based on an engraving by Cornelis Cort based on a painting by Taddeo Zuccari (1529/ 1556) and Federico Zuccari (1540-1541/ 1609), we see the two martyrs depicted at the Coronation of the Virgin

Cornelis Cort 1533 - 1578
Saints Lawrence and Sixtus at the Coronation of the Virgin
Engraving print
431 mm. x 593 mm
Villa Mylius-Vigoni, Menaggio, Como

But the power of the cult of Saint Sixtus II can be seen from the following plan of Old St Peters in the ninth century

Plan showing the major chapels in St. Peter’s under Pope Paschal I (817–824) (adapted from S. de Blaauw, Cultus et decor, 1994, Fig. 25)

Between 817 and 824, Pope Paschal I erected an elaborate aedicula in Old St. Peter’s dedicated to the martyrs, Popes Sixtus II (Xystus) and Fabian, then constructed a “large chapel” there dedicated to the martyrs Processus and Martinianus (the jailers of St Peter)

Paschal I translated the bodies of the martyrs to these shrines and erected altars over them

The latter was a grander affair than the former. Its front and confessio were decorated with silver sheets

That Sixtus II (Xystus) was placed  (along with his companions) near or next to the relics of the martyrs Saints Peter and Paul, Andrew, Lawrence and other illustrious papal successors and martyrs says much about the high regard Sixtus was held by the early Church

And so his veneration at the heart of Catholicism continued for 600 - 700 years until the demolition of the old St Peters and the construction of the new

And in 17th century Abbate Paolo de Angelis (1580-1647) wrote the following comment:

That there always was a very strong devotion to Saint Sixtus II can be seen by the dedication of the  Church of San Sisto Vecchio in Rome It is one of the titular  churches of Rome and is  dedicated to St. Pope Sixtus II. 

It was built in the 4th century, and is recorded as the Titulus Crescentianae. According to tradition, the church was established by Pope Anastasius I (399-401).

The church houses the relics of St. Pope Sixtus II, transferred here from the Catacomb of Callixtus in the 6th century.

It was rebuilt in the early 13th century, by Pope Innocent III.  (1198 - 1216)

For a while it was entrusted to the personal care of St Dominic and it was here hat he founded his first Roman convent

From the list of protectors one can see the close connection with the Dominican Order