Erasmus of Formiae

From Academic Kids

Saint Erasmus of Formiae (died AD 303), also known as Saint Elmo, is the patron saint of sailors. St. Elmo's Fire is named after him. Erasmus or Elmo is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, shadowy figures of Christian mythology who were venerated especially in Central Europe as intercessors.

The Acts of Saint Elmo were compiled partly based on legends that confuse him with a Syrian bishop Erasmus of Antioch. Jacobus de Voragine in the Golden Legend credited him as a bishop at Formiae over all the Italian Campania, as a hermit on Mount Lebanon, and a martyr in the persecutions under Diocletian.

According to his legend, when the persecutions of Diocletian began, Elmo was called before a judge, beaten around the head, spat upon and "besprinkled on him with foulness." Elmo bore up. So he was beaten with leaden mauls til all his veins broke and burst, which Elmo suffered in good heart. So Elmo was thrown into a pit of snakes and worms, and boiling oil and sulfur were poured on him but "he lay therein as he had lain in cold water, thanking and loving God." Then thunder and lightning came and fried everyone around, save Elmo. Thus Saint Elmo could protect from lightning. Diocletian had him thrown in another pit, but an angel came and slew all the vipers and worms.

Then, came the emperor Maximian "and he was much worse than was Diocletian." Erasmus would not cease preaching the Gospel, even though he was "put into a pan seething with rosin, pitch, brimstone lead, and oil, and did pour it into his mouth, for which he never shrinked." A searing hot cloak and a searing hot metal coat were both tried on him, to no effect, and an angel eventually carried him away to safety. "And when this holy man came before the false gods" to which he was to be forced to sacrifice, they "fell down and brake all in pieces, and consumed into ashes or dust." That made the emperor so angry he had Erasmus enclosed in a barrel full of protruding spikes, and the barrel was rolled down a hill. But an angel healed him. Further tortures ensued:

"his teeth to be plucked out of his head with iron pincers. And after that they bound him to a pillar and carded his skin with iron cards, and then they roasted him upon a gridiron...and did smite sharp nails of iron in his fingers, and after, they put out his eyes of his head with their fingers, and after that they laid this holy bishop upon the ground naked and stretched him with strong withes bound to horses about his blessed neck, arms, and legs, so that all his veins and sinews that he had in his body burst."

The version of the Golden Legend did not relate how Elmo fled to Mount Lebanon and survived on what ravens brought him to eat, an interesting pre-Christian mytheme. When he was recaptured, he was brought before the emperor and beaten and whipped, then coated with pitch and set alight (as Christians had been in Nero's games), and still he survived. Thrown into prison with the intention of letting him die of starvation, Erasmus managed to escape.

He was recaptured and tortured some more in the Roman province of Illyricum, after boldly preaching and converting numerous pagans to Christianity. Finally, according to the legend, his stomach was slit open and his intestines wound around a windlass. This late legend may have developed from interpreting an icon that showed him with a windlass, signifying his patronage of sailors.

Elmo may have become the patron of sailors because he is said to have continued to preach even after a thunderbolt struck the ground beside him. This prompted sailors, who were in danger from sudden storms and lightning to claim his prayers. The electrical discharges at the mastheads of ships were read as a sign of his protection and came to be called "Saint Elmo's Fire."

Gregory the Great recorded in the 6th century that his relics were preserved in the cathedral of Formiae. When Formiae was razed by the Saracens in 842, the cult of Elmo was translated to Gaeta.

Besides mariners, Elmo the patron saint of Gaeta, is invoked against colic in children, intestinal ailments and diseases, cramps and the pain of women in labor, as well as cattle pest.

See Also

St. Elmo Hall fraternity

External links


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