[Photo credit to Strega Ritardina]
Mandeville, LA – Saint Cassian was born in Provence Italy around 360. As a youth he traveled to Bethlehem where he he took up monastic life and then traveled to Egypt to pursue asceticism. From Egypt he moved to Constantinople, where Saint Cassian became a favourite disciple of St. John Chrysostom. He finally settled in the Italian city of Imola where he became a Christian schoolmaster. The Rev. Alban Butler wrote of Cassian.
Around the year 435, during the persecutions of Decius or Valerian he was taken up, and interrogated by the governor of the province. Saint Cassian refused to sacrifice to the gods as he was commanded, when the judge found out he was a schoolmaster he was sentenced to die at the hands of his students who were to stab him to death with their iron writing pencils, called styles. He was exposed naked in the midst of two hundred boys; among whom some threw their tablets, pencils, and penknives at his face and head, and often broke them upon his body. Covered with his own blood, and wounded in every part of his body, he cheerfully bade his little executioners not to be afraid; and to strike him with greater force; not meaning to encourage them in their sin, but to express the ardent desire he had to die for Christ. It took 2 days for our Saint to finally receive the crown of martyrdom.
He was interred by the Christians at Imola, Italy and his relics came to their final resting place in The Abbey of Saint Victor at Marseilles France.
He was declared the patron saint of Italian stenographers by Pius XII in 1952. Saint Cassian is mentioned in Louisiana’s most famous literary work, John Kennedy O’Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces.
“Your total ignorance of that which you profess to teach merits the death penalty. I doubt whether you would know that St. Cassian of Imola was stabbed to death by his students with their styli. His death, a martyr’s honorable one, made him a patron saint of teachers.” – Ignatius Reilly, in John Kennedy Toole’s
A Confederacy of Dunces.
Saint Cassian was also involved in a controversy over some of the teachings of Saint Augustine and is sometimes upbraided as the “semipalegian heretic. Father James Schall humorously writes of our Saint:
Cassian was evidently a pious professor and refused to make such an oath. Whereupon, the local magistrate promptly decided to make an example of him. Cunning man that he was, the official involved the man’s own students in his punishment. The students, not having finished the course, evidently had no problem with this strange form of justice. Cassian was stripped and tied to a post. From whence, his students, mindful of the man’s punishments for their own scholarly laxities, drew their iron styli, pens used to mark on wax tablets, and stabbed the man to death.
So, here we have it. A Christian teacher was stabbed to death, under orders, by his own students with their own writing instruments in the name of the state for refusing to offer sacrifices to pagan gods. Today we have a more cruel punishment. We do not grant tenure to such stubborn types!
Saint Cassian is depicted in art in at least two cathedrals I located, one in Imola Italy [photos courtesy of Strega Ritardina]:
The second is Brixen Cathedral where a painting of the Saint’s martyrdom is hung between statues of Saints Saint Ingenuinus and Albuinus.