St. Polycarp's Day

St. Polycarp's Day

February 23 (formerly January 26)
St. Polycarp (c. 69-c. 155) was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and one of the earliest fathers of the Christian Church. He became bishop of Smyrna in 96 and, when the persecution of Christians was ordered by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, he was condemned to be burned at the stake. But according to legend, the fire formed an arch over his head and his body was left unharmed. When a spear was plunged into his heart, so much blood poured out that it quenched the flames. He finally succumbed, although the date of his martyrdom has been questioned, with some asserting it took place sometime between 166 and 169. That would have made him an astonishing 120 years old. Scholars believe there are good reasons for the original date of 155, however, which would have made him 86 when he was martyred.
Polycarp's friends and fellow Christians got together afterward to discuss how they might best carry on his memory. In fact, it was the martyrdom of St. Polycarp that gave rise to one of Christianity's richest traditions: the annual commemoration of the anniversary of a saint's death, a practice that didn't become universal until the third century. The earliest of these observances consisted of a memorial banquet, but by the fourth century they included a vigil service followed by celebration of the Eucharist.
SOURCES:
AnnivHol-2000, p. 31
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 33
DictWrldRel-1989, p. 463
OxYear-1999, p. 89
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 81
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