One of Three

05 04 Saint_quiricoToday is the feast day of Saint Judas Cyriacus, bishop of Ancona, who was martyred in 360 AD. There are loads of saints and some of them have similar names, or even the same name. There is also a Saint Judas Cyriacus, bishop of Jerusalem, who died around 133 AD, who was the great-great grandson of one of Jesus’s brothers. Then the ‘Cyriacus’ part gets variously translated as: Quiriacus, Quiricus, Kyriakos, Ciriaco and Quirico. The picture on the left is the main one on his wikipedia and appears on pretty much every post I’ve seen about him. It’s certainly a good one, but I don’t think it’s him. I think it’s someone completely different from both of them. More of that in a minute though, I’ll tell you about him first.

He appears in a story about Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. She was sent to Jerusalem by her son, to search for the cross that Jesus was crucified on. There is a poem in old English called ‘Elene’ that you could look at, which will tell you the whole of this story. But it is extremely heroic and long, so probably don’t. Anyway Judas helped her, but only after he had been imprisoned in a dry well for seven days without food. Judas showed her where to find Golgotha, the site of the Crucifixion. Then there was a sort of earthquake and a smell of perfume and Judas was immediately converted to Christianity. He began to dig and, underneath three hundred years worth of debris, he unearthed three crosses. But how were they to tell which one Jesus was crucified on? This is how they found out: They brought out a dead man and held over him each of the crosses in turn. When they came to the third one, the man was miraculously restored to life. Then, the devil appeared. He was angry because he had been cheated out of a soul. But Judas argued with him until he disappeared. After some more digging, he also found the nails that had pinned Jesus to the cross. Helena sent these nails to her son Constantine who had them fashioned into a bit for his horse.

The cross was soon broken up into smaller and smaller pieces and could be found in churches throughout the Christian world. Even in the year 348, the world was said to be full of relics of the cross of Jesus. By the sixteenth century, there were so many pieces of the ‘true cross’ that a man named John Calvin said there were enough to fill a large ship. Some theologians responded to this by explaining that wood from the true cross could miraculously multiply itself, thereby creating whatever amount was required to meet the need. You can’t really argue with that.

Judas was made bishop of Ancona, which is in Italy, and was martyred during the reign of Julian the Apostate who was the last non-Christian emperor of Rome. Which brings me to this painting. According to the story of his martyrdom, he had molten lead poured into his mouth and was roasted over a fire, whilst tied to an iron bedstead. After that, he was thrown in a well full of poisonous snakes which died as soon as they touched him. Then, the emperor prepared a cauldron of boiling oil. But Judas was so happy as he got ready for his ‘bath’ that the Emperor grew angry and killed him with his sword.

Yet, the picture above is the one that wikipedia has chosen to show us. I can find no mention of a massive saw in any of his martyrdom stories. Also, the caption underneath reads ‘St Quirico’ which could be just a translation of Cyriacus into Spanish. There is a Saint Quirico, but he was martyred at the age of three, so it can’t be him either. This painting is part of a twelfth century Catalan altarpiece that definitely shows Saint Quirico in the middle, with his mum. As well as the guy being sawn in half, it also features two people waving in a cauldron, a guy being sliced with swords and another guy having nails hammered into his head. I have no idea who any of them are. If you do, please tell me…

05 04 altar from durro


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