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St Anastasius (17th August)

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An entry in the Roman Martyrology under 17th August reads:

  1. “At Teramo [Terni ??], St Anastasius, bishop and confessor”. 

The legend of St Anastasius of Terni (BHL 0407b, translated into Italian by Edoardo d’ Angelo, referenced below, 2015, at pp. 261-9) is in reality a sermon.  It refers to St Anastasius as “nostri patris et pontificis  ... patronus et defensor inestimabilis” (our father and bishop, patron and inestimable defender of the city), and gives the feast day as 17th August.  However, it provides little information about St Anastasius himself, but rather relates principally to the discovery of his relics (see below) and accounts of subsequent posthumous miracles.  Edoardo d’ Angelo, referenced below, 2015, at p. 144) suggested that this account was written in the period 1145-94.

A version of this legend (BHL 0407d) in the Leggendari del Duomo (the legendaries in the Duomo, Spoleto, in a volume dated 1184-94) has been analysed by Edoardo d’ Angelo (referenced below, 2010).

In the bull by which he restored the diocese of Terni in 1218, Pope Honorius III recorded that the Duomo had previously belonged to the glorious martyrs, St Valentine and St Proculus and to the confessor, St Anastasius.  SS Valentine, Proculus and Anastasius remained the patron saints of Terni until 1644, when the decision was taken that St Valentine alone should have this designation, a decision ratified by Pope Urban VIII.

Relics of St Anastasius

According to  the legends mentioned above, the location of the relics of St Anastasius remained unknown until “tempore Lotharii magnifici regis” (i.e the reign of the Emperor  Lothar I, i.e. 840-55), when a farmer from San Gemini had a dream in which St Anastasius ordered him to search for his relics near the left door of the “domum genetricis Ihesu Christi” (the house of the Mother of Christ, i.e. the Duomo).  He ignored this instruction, but a marble funerary urn was found there soon after during a burial service and, when it was opened, an odour of sanctity was detected.  Since Terni formed part of the diocese of Spoleto at this time, Bishop Liutardus of Spoleto was called to verify the discovery.  He ordered an “altare venerandum” to be built on the site of the grave.  Since Bishop Peter II, Liutardus’ successor, was in office by 842, we can place the recognition of the relics in the period 840-42.

Excavations carried out in 1999-2000 under the portico  of the Duomo revealed the remains of the apse (now visible under plastic) of an ancient oratory that had been built in a small cemetery.  This oratory, which seems to have been in use until the first Duomo was built above it, may well have been built to house the grave of St Anastasius.  Edoardo d’ Angelo (referenced below, 2015, at pp. 145-6) dated it to the 6th century, and noted that it presumably pre-dated the extinction of the independent diocese in ca. 598 (when it was absorbed by the diocese of Narni).

The nave of the ancient oratory, which subsequently served as a crypt under the Cappella di Sant’ Anastasio on the counter-facade of the Duomo, housed the relics of St Anastasius for many centuries.  Bishop Bartolomeo Ferri translated the relics to a temporary location in 1573 so that the chapel could be rebuilt.   This chapel passed to the Castelli family in 1591. 

The crypt below the facade seems to have survived until 1783, when the pavement of the Duomo was relaid.   The relics were presumably moved at that point to their current location, in the present crypt.  Two Cosmatesque mosaics (12th century), which probably came from the Cappella di Sant’ Anastasio, have been inserted to the sides.  They have inscribed prayers to St Anastasius that read:

  1. Tua, Sancte Anastasii, interventio ad baratrum ubi nulla est redentio succurrat ne Guido vadat” (on the left); and

  2. Celesti regno potiatur Rusticus huius precibus ac meritis Anastasii presulis almi” (on the right).

In 1904, Luigi Lanzi, who was engaged at this time in the restoration of the present crypt, discovered in the nearby orchard pieces of a Roman sarcophagus that he believed had originally contained the relics of St Anastasius.  He therefore embedded them in the right wall of the crypt.

Identity of St Anastasius of Terni

While some local historians have suggested that St Anastasius of Terni could have inspired the author of the Legend of the 12 Syrians (in which the leader of the group has the same name), this is roundly dismissed by the Bollandists.  Nothing in the legend suggests that the Syrian St Anastasius ever travelled in Italy after arriving in Rome.  In addition, when the remains of St Anastasius of Terni were miraculously recovered in ca. 840, nothing was known about his life.  Bishop Liutardus of Spoleto (ca. 829-44), who formally recognised the newly-discovered relics, appears to have made no connection between these two figures.

In his “Storia di Terni” (1646), Francesco Angeloni asserts that St Anastasius was a Syrian who was came to Italy in 516 and lived as a hermit at Ferentillo.   This story is probably derived from the Legend of the 300 Syrians, and was also accepted by Ludovico Jacobilli.  Angeloni then adds that St Anastasius became Bishop of Terni and suffered persecution under Totila; that he died in 553 and was buried near the Duomo; but that his relics were subsequently lost.  This is probably the source for the inscription (1653) on the facade of the Duomo, which attributes its foundation to St Anastasius in 550. 

The material remains of the oratory that was discovered in 1999-2000 under the portico of the Duomo strongly support the historical existence of Bishop Anastasius  in the 6th century.  Edoardo d’ Angelo (referenced below, 2015, at p. 70) placed him within the period between Bishop Bono (died 514) and the extinction of the independent diocese in 598.

Read more:

E. d’Angelo, “Terni Medievale: La Città, la Chiesa, i Santi, l' Agiografia”, (2015) Spoleto 

E. d’ Angelo, ‘Il Dossier Latino su Sant' Anastasio di Terni e la Redazione del Leggendario Spoletino di San Felice di Narco (BHL 407b)’, Rivista di Storia della Chiesa in Italia, 64:2 (2010) 631-97

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