Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saints Saturninus, Dativus, and Others, Martyrs of Africa

Article

A.D. 304.

The emperor Dioclesian had commanded all Christians under pain of death to deliver up the holy scriptures to be burnt. This persecution had raged a whole year in Africa; some had betrayed the cause of religion, but many more had defended it with their blood, when these saints were apprehended. Abitina, a city of the proconsular province of Africa, was the theatre of their triumph. Saturninus, priest of that city, celebrated the divine mysteries on a Sunday, in the house of Octavius Felix. The magistrates having notice of it, came with a troop of soldiers, and seized forty-nine persons of both sexes. The principal among them were the priest Saturninus, with his four children, viz.: young Saturninus, and Felix, both Lectors, Mary, who had consecrated her virginity to God, and Hilarianus, yet a child; also Dativus, a noble senator, Ampelius, Rogatianus, and Victoria. Dativus, the ornament of the senate of Abitina, whom God destined to be one of the principal senators of heaven, marched at the head of this holy troop. Saturninus walked by his side, surrounded by his illustrious family. The others followed in silence. Being brought before the magistrates, they confessed Jesus Christ so resolutely, that their very judges applauded their courage, which repaired the infamous sacrilege committed there a little before by Fundanus, the bishop of Abitina, who in that same place had given up to the magistrates the sacred books to be burned: but a violent shower suddenly falling, put out the fire, and a prodigious hail ravaged the whole country.

The confessors were shackled and sent to Carthage, the residence of the proconsul. They rejoiced to see themselves in chains for Christ, and sung hymns and canticles during their whole journey to Carthage, praising and thanking God. The proconsul, Anulinus, addressing himself first to Dativus, asked him of what condition he was, and if he had assisted at the collect or assembly of the Christians? He answered, that he was a Christian, and had been present at it. The proconsul bid him discover who presided, and in whose house those religious assemblies were held: but without waiting for his answer, commanded him to be put on the rack and torn with iron hooks, to oblige him to a discovery. They underwent severally the tortures of the rack, iron hooks, and cudgels. The weaker sex fought no less gloriously, particularly the illustrious Victoria; who, being converted to Christ in her tender years, had signified a desire of leading a single life, which her pagan parents would not agree to, having promised her in marriage to a rich young nobleman. Victoria, on the day appointed for the wedding, full of confidence in the protection of Him, whom she had chosen for the only spouse of her soul, leaped out of a window, and was miraculously preserved from hurt. Having made her escape, she took shelter in a church; after which she consecrated her virginity to God, with the ceremonies then used on such occasions at Carthage in Italy, Gaul, and all over the West. To the crown of virginity, she earnestly desired to join that of martyrdom. The proconsul, on account of her quality, and for the sake of her brother, a pagan, tried all means to prevail with her to renounce her faith. He inquired what was her religion? Her answer was: “I am a Christian.” Her brother Fortunatianus undertook her defence, and endeavoured to prove her lunatic. The saint, fearing his plea might be the means of her losing the crown of martyrdom, made it appear by her wise confutations of it, that she was in her perfect senses, and protested that she had not been brought over to Christianity against her will. The proconsul asked her if she would return with her brother? She said: “She could not, being a Christian, and acknowledging none as brethren but those who kept the law of God.” The proconsul then laid aside the quality of judge to become her humble suppliant, and entreated her not to throw away her life. But she rejected his entreaties with disdain, and said to him: “I have already told you my mind. I am a Christian, and I assisted at the collect.” Anulinus, provoked at this constancy, reassumed his rage, and ordered her to prison with the rest to wait the sentence of death which he not long after pronounced upon them all.

The proconsul would yet try to gain Hilarianus, Saturninus’s youngest son, not doubting to vanquish one of his tender age. But the child showed more contempt than fear of the tyrant’s threats, and answered his interrogatories: “I am a Christian: I have been at the collect, and it was of my own voluntary choice without any compulsion.” The proconsul threatened him with those little punishments with which children are accustomed to be chastised, little knowing that God himself fights in his martyrs. The child only laughed at him. The governor then said to him: “I will cut off your nose and ears.” Hilarianus replied: “You may do it; but I am a Christian.” The proconsul, dissembling his confusion, ordered him to prison. Upon which the child said: “Lord, I give thee thanks.” These martyrs ended their lives under the hardships of their confinement, and are honoured in the ancient calendar of Carthage, and the Roman Martyrology, on the 11th of February, though only two (of the name of Felix) died on that day of their wounds.

The example of these martyrs condemns the sloth with which many Christians in this age celebrate the Lord’s Day. When the judge asked them, how they durst presume to hold their assembly against the imperial orders, they always repeated, even on the rack: “The obligation of the Sunday is indispensable. It is not lawful for us to omit the duty of that day. We celebrated it as well as we could. We never passed a Sunday without meeting at our assembly. We will keep the commandments of God at the expense of our lives.” No dangers nor torments could deter them from this duty. A rare example of fervour in keeping that holy precept, from which too many, upon lame pretenses, seek to excuse themselves. As the Jew was known by the religious observance of the Sabbath, so is the true Christian by his manner of celebrating the Sunday. And as our law is more holy and more perfect than the Jewish, so must our manner of sanctifying the Lord’s Day. This is the proof of our religion, and of our piety towards God. The primitive Christians kept this day in the most holy manner, assembling at public prayer, in dens and caves, knowing that, “without this religious observance, a man cannot be a Christian,” to use the expression of an ancient father.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saints Saturninus, Dativus, and Others, Martyrs of Africa”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 10 February 2013. Web. 28 July 2014. <>