Monday 3 December 2012

Saint Lucius of Coire, December 3

December 3 is the commemoration of a saintly king whose story has fascinated me since I first read about it on Father Ambrose's celt-saints list. This is the story of Lucius, an early king of Britain, who is credited with being a missionary to an area of Switzerland later associated with the Irish saint Fridolin. Scholars suspect that some sort of confusion has arisen here and caused a British [Welsh] king who requested a missionary effort to his own land to be conflated with a missionary who laboured in Switzerland and was martyred there. Below is the text of a paper on Saint Lucius and his sister Saint Emerita, who is commemorated on the day after her brother. It appeared in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record of 1895 and gives a good account of the devotion which these early martyrs still inspired in the region at the end of the nineteenth century, especially as the author was able to access the Coire Breviary and read the Lessons for the saints' feasts. 


COIRE, Chur, or Quera for by all these names it is known, according as its title is French, German, or Romanesque will always have a special interest for Catholics of the British Isles, on account of its connection with St. Lucius, and St. Fridolin. From the former, a British prince, this part of Switzerland received her faith in the earliest ages of Christianity; whilst the latter, an illustrious Irish Abbot, revived the faith and spread monasticism in the sixth century. From a visit paid in1879, and also in the May of this present year, and from sundry information derived therefrom, the writer hopes to awaken some interest in this ancient capital of Rhoetia, the modern Canton of the Grisons.

This town, of about eight thousand inhabitants, almost equally divided between Catholics and Lutherans, is situated on the slope of the Mittenburg, a lofty and well-wooded mountain. The latter dwell in the lower part, and are split up into two sects ; each have a separate Church ; and, from a onversation with a priest of the cathedral, they seem to have lost all prestige, to have no bishop, and, in fact, are destitute of that dignity which a State Church enjoys in Protestant countries. Nevertheless, they appear to live on good terms with their Catholic neighbours. On the other and, the true Church seems to hold the ascendancy, as well from a topographical as from a religious point of view. The highest part of the city is known as the "Episcopal Quarter," and here in the "Hof," or square, stands the quaint old cathedral, flanked on one side by the residences of the bishop and clergy, and on the other, by the handsome day-schools for boys and girls of the parish. In the centre of the square (which is strictly a spacious triangle) is a large stone cistern, with a finely-carved pillar in the centre, having four statues of saints in the niches, with water constantly flowing from four spouts. The whole is an interesting piece of mediaeval Gothic work. This square is entered from the lower town, through what may be called the apex of the triangle, by the steep tunnelled passage of an old gate-way, the rooms over being known as the "Ampthor," or the "Canons' Tavern." A gloomy tower of great antiquity adjoins the Episcopal Palace, and is said to be partly of Roman construction, and to mark the site of the martyrdom of St. Lucius. It is called the Marzol (martiola), and is used [as an archive office and muniment room. An ecclesiastical seminary stands higher up the mountain, overlooking the cathedral, and near at hand is the large Cantonal School for Higher Education. Here boys of thirteen to eighteen years, from the town and adjacent country, are taught music, drawing, languages, &c. They are conspicuous as they stroll along the streets, or woodland paths, in their handsome uniform of dark blue, and silver buttons; and though all are polite in manner, the Catholic students always raise their caps to a priest.

In the centre of the town is the Rhoetian Museum, full of curiosities and paintings, interesting to Switzers, the chief being a wonderful work on oak-panels of Holbein's "Dance of Death." When we consider the treasures kept here, and the library of twenty-five thousand volumes, as also the sacred shrines of silver and copper in the cathedral sacristy, it will be seen that this quaint little city is well worth a visit of the antiquarian. The following account, however poor and scanty in detail, of the connection between Coire and Great Britain, as shown in her ecclesiastical history, can hardly fail to interest the Catholic reader.

Every 3rd of December, the capital of the Grisons keeps high festival "in honour of her Apostle and Patron, the "solemnity," as it is styled in their Calendar, of St. Lucius, king and martyr. Through the kindness of one of the clergy, I obtained the Proper Lessons from the Breviary of the diocese of Coire, Breviarium Curense, to aid me in writing this article. These Lessons, along with the scattered fragments gathered from other sources are the only matter at hand for this purpose.

In that most authentic record, the Roman Martyrology, there occurs for December 3rd, the following : "At Coire (Curiae), in Germany (!) St. Lucius, king of the Britons, who, first of those kings, received the faith of Christ, in the time of Pope Eleutherius." Likewise, in the British Martyrology, for the same date, occurs this notice: "At Coire, or Chur, in the land of the Grisons, the festivity of St. Lucius, said to have been a British prince, who, through the zeal of the glory of God and the conversion and salvation of souls, going abroad, preached the faith of Christ among the" Switzers and Grisons; where he was made Bishop of Coire, and at length ended his days by martyrdom. His feast is solemnly kept with an octave, in the diocese of Coire, where there is, not far from the city, an ancient monastery which bears his name." December 4th, "At Coire, the festivity of St. Emerita, virgin and martyr, sister to St. Lucius."

The interesting question now arises as to who is this St. Lucius, and is he the same as the Leurwg Vawr, or "Great Light" (Latinized into Lucius), who sent to Pope Eleutherius for an Apostle to convert his subjects. It is a most pleasing discovery, that from such scanty accounts as we possess of the primaeval Christianity of Western Europe, there seems no doubt but that he is one and the same saint. Thus, a spiritual relationship is established between our country and the Grisons Canton, which through many vicissitudes and the throes of the Reformation has clung to the faith, and yet preserves with honour the bones of her Apostle in the cathedral of Coire.

Before turning to the Proper Lessons of the Coire Breviary for the feast of St. Lucius, let us notice the Third Lesson of the English Supplement to the Breviary, for St. Eleutherius, May 29th: " He (the saint) received, by ambassadors, letters from Lucius, King of the Britons, asking for ministers of the Divine Word, to whom he despatched Fugatius and Damianus, priests of the Roman Church. The king and his whole family, as well as nearly all his subjects, were by them regenerated in the holy laver of baptism." This fact is also mentioned in the Roman Martyrology for May 26th.

The oldest Welsh records, such as the Book of Llandaff, give the names of four missionaries sent from Rome – Dyfan, Ffagan, Medwy, and Elvan; and it is certain that churches dedicated to these saints formerly existed near Llandaff. It is stated in this book, that Leurwg erected the first church at Llandaff. which was the first in the island of Britain, and he bestowed the freedom of the country and nation upon those who were of the faith of Christ." Hence it was that Llandaff naturally laid claim to the Archiepiscopal dignity, being styled, in this book, the "foundation of Leurwg ap Coel" (i.e., Lucius, son of Cole). The evidence of the British Martyrology is interesting on these points of our early history:

" Jan. 2. At London, the commemoration of the holy Confessors, Elvan and Medwyne, who (according to divers historians and ancient records) being sent to Rome by King Lucius to the holy Pope Eleutherius, to desire missionaries from thence, who might receive him and his people into the Church of Christ, returned home so well instructed in the Christian faith, as to become both eminent teachers and great saints. Elvan is said to have been the second Bishop of London, and to have converted many of the Druids to the faith of Christ."

" Jan. 3. At Avallonia, now Glastenbury, the commemoration of the Apostolic Missionaries, Fagan and Dwywan, or Deruvian, honoured by the ancient Britons among their primitive saints. They are called by the Lessons of theRoman Breviary, May 26, Fugatius and Damianus : and are there said to have been sent by St. Eleutherius, the Pope, for the conversion of the Britons, which they happily effected. The antiquities of Glastenbury further inform us that they, in their progress through Britain, visited the solitude of Avallonia, and found there the old church, supposed to have been built by St. Joseph of Arimathea and that they there appointed twelve of their disciples to lead a monastical, or eremitical life in the neighbourhood of that holy church; which number of twelve, they say, was kept up by succession till the days of St. Patrick."

A pleasing coincidence occurred to the writer when visiting Coire in last May. Having recited the Proper Lessons of the English Breviary of St. Eleutherius, above alluded to as making mention of St. Lucius, he was anxious to identify the latter saint with the patron of the city. The priest he consulted in the matter straightway handed to him the Proper Lessons from the Coire Breviary, which solved the difficulty, and which are now presented to the reader. On this same day, May 29th, the Feast of St. Augustine, our Apostle, was being kept in the Cathedral, and it seemed another link between England and Switzerland, when, at High Mass, were chanted the words of the Collect: "Concede, ut, ipso interveniente, errantium corda ad veritatis tuae redeant unitatem, et nos in tua simus voluntate Concordes."

" Dec. 3. In Solemnitate S. Lucii, Eeg. Ep. et M. Basilicao Cathedralis, ac Diocesis Curiensis gloriosissimi Patroni primarii, Duplex I. cl. cum octava."

“Lucius, King of the Britons, son of Coillus Justus, for a long while abandoned to the superstitions of the Gentiles, became acquainted with the wonderful works of the Christians, and, pondering carefully over the integrity of their lives, he determined to embrace that religion, to which he had never shown any dislike. Nevertheless, because he discovered that they appeared to be objects of hatred to other nations, and especially the Romans, and that they were subjected to every kind of suffering, insult, and torment, he judged it better to put off his conversion to another time. Afterwards, however, he learned that several Romans of high standing, and, among others, men of senatorial rank, had embraced the Christian faith, and that the Emperor himself, Marcus Antoninus, was of a milder disposition towards the Christians, by whose prayers a victory had been gained.

Without any further delay, ambassadors were sent to Eleutherius, the Roman Pontiff, to say that he wished to be admitted within the ranks of the Christians. In order to gratify his devout behests, the Pope sent Damianus and Fugatianus into Britain, who instructed and baptized the king."

"Lucius, now filled with heavenly zeal, began to despise the things of. this world, and having abdicated his throne, he wandered over large tracts of country, in order to spread the Christian faith. Coming to Rhoetia, he reached a town called Augusta-Vindelicorum, and there converted a leading man, named Patritius, along with his entire family, and many of the citizens. On this occasion, the first temple was built to the true God, which place, by a change of name, is said to be now the town of St. Gall. But the hatred and envy of wicked men were now excited, and he was beaten, stoned, and finally cast into a well, whence he was drawn out by pious hands in a half dead condition.

"He now departed to Alpine Rhoetia, where he took up his abode in a rocky cave, where a throng of persons came to him, on account of a fountain (which exists to this day), sovereign for diseases, but especially those of the eyes. Thus, by word and example, he brought almost the whole of Rhoetia under the yoke of Christ ; and being made bishop of that nation, he ruled for a long period, glorious for his virtues and miracles, until he was seized by the pagans and stoned to death. He received the crown of martyrdom on the 3rd day of December, about the year 182, in the tower called the Martiola (Marzol), at Coire, which is now the episcopal see."

This Coillus, or Cole, is, doubtless, the British Prince, who founded the ancient town of Colchester (Coili-castra), which was in our earliest times a bishopric. In Butler's Lives of the Saints, May 26th, it is stated that the Bishop of Colchester was present along with two other British bishops at the Council of Aries, A.D. 314.

The Gospel used for the feast of St. Lucius is that of the "Good Shepherd," the same as is used for St. Thomas of Canterbury.

We here give the Lessons for the feast of St. Emerita, virgin and martyr, whose feast is kept as a "greater double," on the 4th of December, as being connected with the history of her brother :

"The virgin Emerita, sister of St. Lucius, King of Britain, having been taught by him the Christian doctrine, and baptized by the legate of St. Eleutherius, wished to copy her brother in the practice of her faith and of every Christian virtue. Wherefore she demolished the idols and their temples ; she built churches and provided them with all things necessary : she gave all her goods to the poor. Having brought many into the fold of Christ ; and spurning an earthly kingdom, in order to follow after the things that are of God, she determined, in spite of all obstacles, to go abroad after her brother. Thus, having made every careful provision for the kingdom and its needs, Emerita, despising all earthly riches and pleasures for love of Jesus Christ, took up the pilgrim's staff, and, with a pious retinue of men and women, set out in search of her holy brother. Wandering through many lands, she at length found him at that very spot which is now Coire, preaching in his mountain cave, and expounding the rudiments of the faith to the people. When she had made herself known to Lucius, and had given him her reasons for coming thither, they both gave thanks to God, and both spent a long time together in holy prayers and canticles of praise.

"Emerita, having both by word and example, confirmed the preaching of St. Lucius, was at length accused by certain Pagans of being a Christian. When these could by neither entreaties nor threats prevail upon her to abjure the Christian faith, she was put to many tortures, and at last burnt to death at the town of Trimonte. Thus did she finish her martyrdom; and the faithful, hearing of it, took the bones and ashes of the holy martyr, and placed them in a fair linen cloth. On the spot where her relics were interred, there afterwards arose a Church in honour of the Holy Virgin Mary, St. Andrew the Apostle, and of St. Emerita, Virgin and Martyr."

The rocky cavern, here alluded to, is in a wood on the Mittenberg, above the town, and is a favourite place of pilgrimage for the devout visitor to Coire. At certain times, too, it is thronged by the natives, who come here for spiritual exercises, and it can be easily reached in about half an hour by any of the climbing paths that lead to it through the forest glade. The beetling cliff shelters a small chapel dedicated to St. Lucius, in which there is a handsomely adorned altar, used occasionally for Mass. This marks the hollow spot, where, as in another " Sagro Specu" of Subiaco, our royal saint prayed and instructed, and shone as a veritable "light to the Gentiles," a "Leurwg Vawr" to the Pagans of Rhoetia. Near this small chapel is a block of stone, with a basin-like cavity, where tradition says he administered the holy rites of baptism. From this spot is a magnificent view, and one that will never be forgotten. It embraces the open valley of the Rhine, in the direction of Thusis, with the mighty Calanda and the Pizokel, right and left respectively, whilst at the foot of the mountain, immediately below this cave of the St. Luzikapelle lies snugly ensconced the city of Coire. In this net-work of walks, which extend up the mountain side of the Mittenberg, the geologist and the botanist will find much to delight and interest them. Amongst other curious flowers, we noticed a strange kind of black columbine.

The Cathedral of Coire is a quaint and irregular edifice, the nave and chancel being evidently built at separate times, since their arches do not coincide. The choir is reached by a double flight of nine well-worn steps, and contains some finely-carved stalls for the canons, and a very old high altar,over which is a splendid triptych of oak-carving, richly coloured. Here are painted groups of saints, and various mysteries of the Passion. The work is alto-relievo, and was carved in 1492, by Russ of Lucerne, being painted by Wahlgemuth, of Nuremberg. It is said by competent judges to be " among the sweetest and most beautiful creations of fifteenth century art" (Burkhard). In the nave, just below the choir, and between the two flights of steps, is a second altar, used for popular devotions, the high altar being used for the daily Canonical High Mass at 7, and Vespers at 2 p.m.

In the sacristy are some valuable treasures. The chief of these are the shrines, containing the bones of St. Lucius and St. Emerita; two splendid large silver busts, adorned with jewels, of these two saints ; a silver cross, and some old vestments. But not the least interesting remains are two copper shrines of the seventh or eighth centuries, undoubtedly of Celtic design and origin. They are covered on all sides with that well-known interlacing ribbon pattern, of the most elegant design, and would vie with any similar shrine in the museum of Irish antiquities in Dublin. They evidently point to the time when St. Fridolin and his monks dwelt in these parts.


Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 16 (1895), 1099-1106.

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1 comment:

Mimi said...

I loved the way that the meaning of St. Lucius' name was woven into his Hagiography.
Holy St. Lucius, pray to God for us.