Jul 13, 2021 / Written by: Tonia Long
Feast August 15
The only historical information concerning this early Roman martyr is found in a poem composed in his honor by Pope Damasus (366–384), who compares him to the deacon Saint Stephen and says that, as Stephen was stoned by a crowd, so Tarcisius, carrying the Blessed Sacrament, was attacked by a group and beaten to death.
The first five lines say that both Stephen (the first Christian martyr) and Tarsicius are equal in merit, and Stephen's death (as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles) is retold poetically. The last four lines can be translated as:
When an insane gang pressed saintly Tarsicius, who was carrying the sacraments of Christ, to display them to the profane, he preferred to be killed and give up his life rather than betray to rabid dogs the heavenly body.
Little else is known about this heroic martyr. Since Damasus compares him to Stephen, he may have been a deacon. A sixth century account refers to him as an acolyte, that is, a person assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession.
According to one version of the detailed legend that developed later, Tarsicius was a young boy during one of the fierce 3rd-century Roman persecutions, probably during the reign of Emperor Valerian (253–259). On the day he earned the martyr’s crown, he was entrusted with the task of bringing the Holy Eucharist to condemned Christians in prison. Told to turn over his precious Charge to an angry mob, he preferred death at their hands rather than deliver to them the Blessed Sacrament.
He was originally buried in the Catacombs of San Callisto and the inscription by Damasus was placed later on his tomb. Some time later his relics were moved to the San Silvestro in Capite church in Rome.
His feast day is celebrated on 15 August; that day is widely observed as the Feast of the Assumption, therefore he is not mentioned in the General Roman Calendar, but only in the Roman Martyrology.
Interesting Facts about Saint Tarsicius
- His story was greatly expanded by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, who portrays him as a young acolyte in his novel Fabiola, or The Church in the Catacombs.
- The municipality of Saint-Tharcisius in Quebec, Canada, is named after him.
- A 77-pound bell in the Stephansdom in Vienna, Austria, is dedicated to Saint Tarsicius.
- Saint José Sánchez del Río (March 28, 1913 – February 10, 1928) was nicknamed "Tarcisius," due to his young age, his noble defense of the Holy Altar and his willingness to die for his Faith at the hands of an angry mob.