Holy Martyrs, flies and coincidences
Located in the northeast of Catalonia, the province of Gerona lies adjacent to the French department 66 the Pyrenees Orientales which has the Pyrenean mountain range as its natural border . The coast line which boasts fine beaches, coves and turquoise waters is washed by the Mediterranean and has been given the name Costa Brava, a name well known to tourists as it conjures up a sunny climate, beautiful scenery and the local cuisine of seafood and fish, "à la Planxa". Gerona shines however, not only in its external beauty and charm but in its mysteries. Visiting the city of Girona, the curious passer-by will probably notice a large bas-relief from the XVth century located on the wall of a building in the square "del Vi". Four masculin figures distinguish themselves, all decked out with long beards, their eyes focused straight ahead as if willingly captivated by a mysterious vision. Unfortunately we no longer know exactly what occasion brought this on , as the inscription below the figures is very poorly preserved. A certain Jaume Fabre in his "Guide to street sculptures " written in Catalan, proposes two possible reconstructions of these words but the meaning still remains unclear.
However we do know that this is a representation of the four holy martyrs of Girona, venerated in the famous shrine of Sant Marti Vell, the very man who was so dear to the heart of Salvador Dali. Their names are respectively, Saint Germain/Germà, Saint Paulin/Pauli, Saint Just and Saint Scice/Sici. There is very little verifiable evidence concerning them nor exact details on the dates of their deaths, but we do know that they were amongst those who were sentenced in the crackdown ordered by the Roman Emperor Diocletian between 297 and 304 AD. We need to add that it remains doubtful whether these four saints had truly suffered martyrdom because of their strict commitment to Christianity. In those days it was normal for the Roman administration to distinguish between ordinary Christians, civilians, being careful to respect the institutions and the imperial power who resided mainly in the large urban areas (Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Rome, Athens) and false Christians, that is to say, the Arians... rebels who located themselves away from cities, in the deserts or in mountainous areas suitably harsh for their asceticism..... Girona fitted the bill nicely. Furthermore, it was the Arian Manicheans and not the Christians who had been explicitly condemned in the Diocletian Edict published in Alexandria in 297. This Edict proclaimed the death penalty for all those citizens who professed Manichaeism, who were all therefor Persian spies, traitors and enemies of the Empire, or of its institutions. Thus we must keep an open mind on the fact that the martyrdom of these four saints, whose deaths were dated somewhere between 297 and 304, may be attributed to several causes, from the most honorable to the darkest... which was the accusation of Manichaeism.
St Feliu Church, Girona
Onyar River, Girona
'The Martyrdom of Saint Afra'
After Paolo Caliari, il Veronese
'Saint Afra', c. 1535-1540
by the Master of Messkirch
The Martyred Saints of Girona and their Russian implications
There is another element that seems worth noting when discussing the history of the Four Martyrs of Girona. These four have the singular characteristic along with many other martyrs of the region, of being included in the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church. In addition to our Holy Germà (Germain), Pauli (Paulin), Justi (Just) and Scici (Sici), whose festival date is 21st June, we also discover Saint Cucuphas, also martyred in Girona and who is celebrated on the 7th August.... Saint Felix and Saint Romain, again martyred in Girona and celebrated around the 14th August, and finally the very important Saint Narcissus, who's fête is traditionally celebrated on October 29th (regarding this, it should be noted that the festivities in October for St. Narcissus continue on until All Saints Day - November 1st, which is considered a highlight of the special liturgical cycle. The other possible date of the martyrdom of Saint Narcissus of Girona is March 18th and we return in the next section to the implications of this fact regarding the local confraternities of penitents). Can we assume that the presence in the Russian calendar of Catalonia's Holy Martyrs is a reflection of a memory in the distant past when the Goths of Girona maintained regular exchanges with the religious people of Ukraine, that is to say specifically with Kiev, the ancient capital of Russia? In essence, is the origin of the Cult of the Holy Martyrs of Girona rooted in the Goth-Arians who presided at the emergence of the symbiosis between the Catalonian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian cultures? It would probably be presumptuous of us to state this as a sure fired fact at this point in time, but what the heck, there's no harm in making a hypothetical study.
Let us continue though, because two of these Saints deserve our particular attention and it may be that the odities revealed in the story of their lives can lead us to new perspectives and help us to refine our views about them.
Saint Narcissus and mysterious prostitute of Augsburg
These German sects, particularly in Cologne, have been especially remembered in history because of their abuses towards the clergy around the year 1000AD and because of their despicable practices on the dead. Afra, by her martyrdom became a pious example, barely Christian when you think about it, of "salvation by works alone", a form of belief described as unacceptable by St. Augustine and which is akin to what we explained above. We have here, in this purifying mortification, of which Afra's is a very poignant example, something long known about and so well documented.... yet rejected by Yahwehism.
Yahvéism which, since the time of it's inception by Moses, has hastened to condemn, through this doctrine, the perversion which consisted of the Chaldeans denying man the possession of his own Spirit.. which would make him, in a theological sense .... the "Son of God."
Man, being equipped only with the soul of a fallen angel, could not approach Divinity, nor be saved by his Faith, let alone be able to lay claim to Resurrection and therefore, not permitted to place the source of his own salvation in anything other than factors external to himself. These external factors were tariffed penitences, works of mortification, etc.. intended to pay the clergy for the prayers necessary for their reincarnation, or to provide in the same way for the maintenance of the bones of the dead. This was all very common in these early times, because Arianism was widespread.
Firstly we have St. Narcisse, known for preaching to the tribes in certain parts of Germania. It is said he was of Spanish nationality and had lived in the latter half of the 3rd century, travelling widely as far away as Rhaetia (Switzerland), or Germania, usually accompanied by his deacon Felix. The Catholic Church seems to attribute him with missionary efforts among certain barbarians located in the Swiss canton of "Grisons" as well as having a religious influence in a part of Bavaria, around Augsburg.... a city which later became the seat of a Catholic Diocese . It was during this period when Saint Narcissus stayed in Germany (Germania at that time) that it's claimed that he met a prostitute named Afra. She apparently lived in the center of Augsburg and according to the legend was very immoral, known throughout the region for her debauchery. Having met Saint Narcissus, she was converted, but without ever having been baptised. Catholics add at this point that it was because she didn't have enough time because Afra was arrested by Roman soldiers. Convicted under the Diocletian decree on Manichaeism, this disciple of Saint Narcissus would then refuse to swear allegiance to the Emperor and she herself declared that because she had sinned greatly she must be subjected to physical punishment. This was done and Afra was subsequently taken out to an island in the River Lech, and as far as we know she was burned at the stake they had assembled there. We add here that her parents and three of her former servants (or handmaidens), wanted to give her a burial according to their rituals. Curiously, the Roman authorities were alarmed by this practice, a practice which was perhaps not quite as innocent as it seems at first glance. The administration dispatched some soldiers to bring these people in for questioning. The interview that Afra's parents and friends had with the Roman authorities doesn't seem to have turned out in their favour, because all these people suffered her fate and again, according to the legend were all burnt to death on the same deserted island.
Afra's unusual death had her considered as a martyr and then as a Saint, because her Faith was expressed in such a clear and unquestionable way. However the Cult of Saint Afra would act very negatively on the spirit of the people of Cologne and Augsburg where she was held in great veneration. In effect the Catholics adapted Afra to their own ways and turned her into the figure of Mary Magdalene. That is to say, a deformed non-Christian evocation of the Chaldéenne religion of Eve the Temptress, guilty of having involved the whole of humanity in an irreparable fall. A fall which could not be erased even by the Resurrection, but could on the contrary find a single remedy by the use of the Chaldean mortuary rituals, supposedly bringing about the reincarnation of souls. Afra thus became the Patron Saint of penitent women...i.e. female elements of the local heretical brotherhoods.