Today we come to the last saint in the Roman Canon, St. Anastasia. What’s that? You’ve never heard of her? Maybe that’s because her feast day on December 25, the same as Christmas Day! Kind of a bummer for her, I guess, but she also gets to share her new birthday (her martyrdom day) with the birthday of Christ!
Very little is known factually about St. Anastasia. She was the daughter of Praetextatus, a Roman citizen and nobleman, and Fausta, a Christian. She was also the pupil of St. Chrysogonus (remember him?), from whom she learned to love and witness to her faith. In the Eastern Church, she is called the “Deliverer from Potions” because of stories relating the healing miracle of a man who had been poisoned.
If you remember, St. Chrysogonus was summoned to Aquileia by the Emperor Diocletian to face martyrdom, so when her teacher was taken from her, legends tell us that St. Anastasia fled to Sirmium in present-day Serbia. She stayed with and served the Christian communities there until she was captured by Roman authorities. She was tortured, and then sentenced to death by the prefect of Illyricum (the Roman province in which Sirmium existed). We aren’t really sure whether her death came by burning or by the sword. In fact, the legend doesn’t really have much in the way of historical basis at all! Still, we know that she died in Sirmium serving the people there, and that’s good enough for us!
Now remember, she died in Serbia, which is still quite a ways from Rome. How did her name find such honor and veneration in Rome so as to be listed among the other saints in the Roman Canon? Strangely, her devotion was introduced to Rome by means of a previously existing church!
There had been an old church on the Palatine Hill in Rome above the Circus Maximus, which had been elaborately decorated with huge mosaics by Pope Damasus, who was responsible for building many of the major churches in Rome. The church was called the “titulus Anastasiae”, and was one of the original tituli parishes in Rome – but it wasn’t named after St. Anastasia…yet. It’s possible that the foundation was donated to the Church by a Roman noblewoman named Anastasia (like St. John Lateran was donated by the Laterani family), or that it was an Anastasis church commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter (“Anastasis” is the Greek word for “Resurrection”). Either way, it was already a popular church, situated near the heart of the ancient Roman government.
St. Anastasia had already become very popular in Constantinople, and as the city began to emerge as the new cultural and government capital of the Empire, some of the religious devotions filtered over to the city of Rome. The saint’s name and intercession were then applied to the old church to make it Saint Anastasia church. So there you go!
Well, this has been fun! We’re finally finished with all the saints of the Roman Canon, but there are so many other interesting, important, and obscure saints to discuss! Hopefully, I’ll be able to decide whom to write about next week!