Golden Legend – Saint Alexis

[Saint Alexius of Rome]Article

Here beginneth the Life of Saint Alexis.

Alexis is as much to say as going out of the law of marriage for to keep virginity for God’s sake, and to renounce all the pomp and riches of the world for to live in poverty.

Of Saint Alexis.

In the time that Arcadius and Honorius were emperors of Rome, there was in Rome a right noble lord named Euphemius which was chief and above all other lords about the emperors, and had under his power a thousand knights. He was a much just man unto all men, and also he was piteous and merciful unto the poor, for he had daily three tables set and covered for to feed the orphans, poor widows, and pilgrims, and he ate at the hour of noon with good and religious persons. His wife, that was named Aglaia, led a religious life, but because they had no child, they prayed unto God to send them a son that might be their heir after them of their havoir and goods. It was so that God heard their prayers and beheld their bounty and good living, and gave unto them a son, which was named Alexis, whom they did to be taught and enformed in all sciences and honours. After this they married him unto a fair damoisel which was of the lineage of the emperor of Rome. When the day of the espousals was come to even, Alexis, being in the chamber with his wife alone, began to inform and induce her to dread God and serve him, and were all that night together in right good doctrine. And finally, he gave to his wife his ring and the buckle of gold of his girdle, both bound in a little cloth of purple, and said to her: Fair sister, take this and keep it as long as it shall please our Lord God, and it shall be a token between us, and he give you grace to keep truly your virginity.

After this he took of gold and silver a great sum and departed alone from Rome, and found a ship in which he sailed into Greece, and from thence went into Syria, and came to a city called Edessa, and gave there all his money for the love of God, and clad him in a coat, and demanded alms for God’s sake, like a poor man, tofore the church of our Lady, and what he had left of the alms above his necessity, he gave it unto others for God’s sake. And every Sunday he was houseled and received the sacrament; such a life he led long. Some of the messengers that his father had sent to seek him through all the parts of the world, came to seek him in the said city of Edessa, and gave unto him their alms, he sitting tofore the church with other poor people, but they knew not him. And he knew well them and thanked our Lord saying: I thank thee, fair Lord Jesu Christ, that vouchest safe to call me and to take alms in thy name of my servants, I pray thee to perform in me that which thou hast begun. When the messengers were returned to Rome, and Euphemius, his father, saw that they had not found his son, he laid him down upon a mattress, stretching on the earth, wailing, and said thus: I shall hold me here and abide till that I have tidings of my son. And the wife of his son Alexis said, weeping, to Euphemius: I shall not depart out of your house, but shall make me semblable and like to the turtle, which after that she hath lost her fellow will take none other but all her life after liveth chaste. In like wise I shall refuse all fellowship unto the time that I shall know where my right sweet friend is become.

After that Alexis had done his penance by right great poverty in the said city and led a right holy life by the space of seventeen years, there was a voice heard that came from God unto the church of our Lady, and said to the porter: Make the man of God to enter in, for he is worthy to have the kingdom of heaven, and the spirit of God resteth on him. When the clerk could not find ne know him among other poor men, he prayed to God to show to him who it was, and a voice came from God and said: He sitteth without, tofore the entry of the church; and so the clerk found him, and prayed him humbly that he would come in to the church.

When this miracle came to the knowledge of the people, and Alexis saw that man did to him honour and worship, anon for to eschew vain glory, he departed from thence and came into Greece, where he took ship and entered for to go into Sicily. But, as God would, there arose a great wind which made the ship to arrive at the port of Rome. When Alexis saw this, anon he said to himself: By the grace of God I will charge no man of Rome, I shall go to my father’s house in such wise as I shall not be known of any person. And when he was within Rome he met Euphemius, his father, which came from the palace of the emperor with a great meiny following him. And Alexis, his son, like a poor man ran crying and said: Sergeant of of God, have pity on me that am a poor pilgrim, and receive me into thine house for to have my sustenance of the reliefs that shall come from thy board, that God bless thee and have pity on thy son, which is also a pilgrim. When Euphemius heard speak of his son, anon his heart began to melt, and said to his servants: Which of you will have pity of this man and take the cure and charge of him, I shall deliver him from his servage and make him free, and shall give him of mine heritage. And anon he committed him unto one of his servants, and commanded that his bed should be made in a corner of the hall whereas comers and goers might see him. And the servant to whom Alexis was commanded to keep, made anon his bed under the stair and steps of the hall, and there he lay right like a poor wretch, and suffered many villainies and despises of the servants of his father, which oft-times cast and threw on him the washing of dishes and other filth, and did to him many evil turns and mocked him, but he never complained, but suffered all patiently for the love of God. Finally, when he had led this right holy life within his father’s house, in fasting, in praying and in doing penance, by the space of seventeen years’ and knew that he should soon die, he prayed the servant that kept him to give him a piece of parchment and ink, and therein he wrote by order all his life, and how he was married by the commandment of his father, and what he had said to his wife, and of the tokens of his ring and buckle of his girdle that he had given to her at his departing, and what he had suffered for God’s sake, and all this did he for to make his father to understand that he was his son.

After this, when it pleased God for to show and manifest the victory of our Lord Jesu Christ in his servant Alexis, on a time on a Sunday after mass, hearing all the people in the church, there was a voice heard from God crying and saying as is said, Matthew, eleventh chap.: Come unto me ye that labour and be travailed, I shall comfort you. Of which voice all the people were abashed, which anon fell down unto the earth. And the voice said again: Seek ye the servant of God, for he prayeth for all Rome. And they sought him, but he was not found.

Alexis in a morning, on a Good Friday, gave his soul unto God, and departed out this world, and that same day all the people assembled at Saint Peter’s church and prayed God that he would show to them where the man of God might be found that prayed for Rome. And a voice was heard that came from God that said: Ye shall find him in the house of Euphemius. And the people said unto Euphemius: Why hast thou hid from us that thou hast such grace in thine house? And Euphemius answered: God knoweth that I know no thing thereof. Arcadius and Honorius that then were emperors of Rome, and also the pope Innocent, commanded that men should go unto Euphemius’s house for to enquire diligently tidings of the man of God. Euphemius went tofore with his servants for to make ready his house against the coming of the pope and emperors, and when Alexis’ wife had understood the cause and how a voice was heard that came from God saying: Seek the man of God in Euphemius’s house, anon she said to Euphemius: Sire, see if this poor man that ye have so long kept and harboured be the same man of God. I have well marked that he hath lived a right fair and holy life. He hath every Sunday received the sacrament of the altar, he hath been right religious, in fasting, in waking, and in prayer, and hath suffered patiently and debonairly of our servants many villainies. And when Euphemius had heard all this, he ran towards Alexis and found him dead. He discovered his visage, which shone and was bright as the face of an angel. And anon he returned toward the emperors and said: We have found the man of God that we sought, and told unto them how he had harboured him, and how the holy man had lived, and also how he was dead, and that he held a bill or letter in his hand which they might not draw out. Anon the emperor with the pope went to Euphemius’s house and came tofore the bed where Alexis lay dead, and said: How well the we be sinners, yet nevertheless we govern the world, and lo here is the pope the general father of all the church, give us the letter that thou holdest in thine hand for to know what is the writing of it. And the pope went tofore and took the letter and took it to his notary for to read, and the notary read it tofore the pope, the emperors and all the people, and when he came to the point that made mention of his father, and of his mother, and also of his wife, and that by the ensigns that he had given to his wife at his departing, his ring and buckle of his girdle wrapped in a little purple cloth, anon Euphemius fell down aswoon, and when he came again to himself he began to draw his hair and beat his breast, and fell down on the corpse of Alexis his son, and kissed it, weeping and crying in right great sorrow of heart, saying: Alas! right sweet son, wherefore hast thou made me to suffer such sorrow? Thou sawest what sorrow and heaviness we had for thee; alas! why hadst thou no pity on us in so long time? How mightest thou suffer thy mother and thy father to weep so much for thee and thou sawest it well without taking pity on us? I supposed to have heard some time tidings of thee, and now I see thee lie dead in thy bed, which shouldst be my solace in mine age; alas! what solace may I have that see my right dear son dead ? Me were better die than live. When the mother of Alexis saw and heard this, she came running like a lioness and cried: Alas! alas ! drawing her hair in great sorrow, scratching her paps with her nails, saying: These paps have given thee suck. And when she might not come to the corpse for the foison of people that was come thither, she cried and said: Make room and way to me, sorrowful mother, that I may see my desire and my dear son that I have engendered and nourished. And as soon as she came to the body of her son she fell down on it piteously and kissed it, saying thus: Alas for sorrow! my dear son, the light of mine age, why hast thou made us suffer so much sorrow? Thou sawest thy father, and me thy sorrowful mother so oft weep for thee, and wouldst never make to us semblance of son. O all ye that have the heart of a mother, weep ye with me upon my dear son, whom I have had in my house seventeen years as a poor man. To whom my servants have done much villainy. Ah! fair son, thou hast suffered them right sweetly and debonairly. Alas! thou that wert my trust, my comfort and solace in mine old age how mightest thou hide thee from me that am thy sorrowful mother? who shall give to mine eyes from henceforth a fountain of tears for to make pain unto the sorrow of mine heart? And after this came the wife of Alexis in weeping, throwing herself upon the body, and with great sighs and heaviness said: Right sweet friend and spouse, whom long I have desired to see, and chastely I have to thee kept myself like a turtle that alone, without make, waileth and weepeth. And lo ! here is my right sweet husband whom I have desired to see alive, and now I see him dead; from henceforth I wot not in whom I shall have fiance ne hope. Certes my solace is dead, and in sorrow I shall be unto the death, for now forthon I am the most unhappy among all women, and reckoned among the sorrowful widows. And after these piteous complaints the people wept for the death of Alexis. The pope made the body to be taken up and to be put into a fere-tree and borne into the church. And when it was borne through the city, right great foison of people came against it, and said: The man of God is found that the city sought. Whatsomever sick body might touch the fere-tree he was anon healed of his malady. There was a blind man that recovered his sight, and lame men and others were healed. The emperor made great foison of gold and silver to be thrown among the people, for to make way that the fere-tree might pass, and thus by great labour and reverence was borne the body of Saint Alexis unto the church of Saint Boniface the glorious martyr. And there was the body put into a shrine much honourably, made of gold and silver, the seventeenth day of July, and all the people rendered thankings and laud to our Lord God for his great miracles, unto whom be given honour, laud, and glory in secula secuIorum. Amen.