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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Jbeil-Byblos > Church Aquilina

Aquilina, Holy Martyr of Byblos

What does the word martyr really mean? Under what circumstances can a human person make this sublime sacrifice which is so personal, so individual and so convincing?

In these present times when revolution and anarchy rage on all sides, every victim is called a martyr. This is clear and needs no explanation. However, the martyr properly so called is one who accepts death, torture and suffering as witness to faith, to a cause, to a religious or patriotic conviction.

Martyrs are all saints or heroes. In our Lebanon here, land of saints and of martyrs, little Aquilina was born the eaglet of this town of Byblos which remains even now as picturesque as ever.

The following events took place towards the end of the third century after Christ, characterized by the persecution and slaughter of Christians as the Roman Empire endeavored to survive and avoid decline during the rule of Emperor Diocletian.

Aquilina was born towards the year 280 at Jbeil-Byblos and at the age of nine months was baptized by Bishop Utilios of Byblos. When she was bout nine years old she lost her father, but grew up intelligent, wise and educated in the Christian faith thanks to the care of the same Bishop Utilios.

She preached the Gospel Good News to her fellow townsfolk, still not all Christian, by force of her good behavior reinforced by the piety of her mother. She came under the notice of the pagan Roman governor Volutianus, who like all potentates, great or small, was inclined to abuse his power for his own pleasure. And so the martyrdom of our little girl began.

She rejected the advances of this man, protesting that she was Christian, and he then ordered her forcible seizure and had her tortured. Her ears were pierced with red-hot needles and her flesh was burnt and torn by a heated metal comb, all to no effect. Aquilina held firm and offered her sufferings to Christ. Once again long red-hot spikes were driven into her head, until it seemed that her brain was destroyed and she was dead. Her body was carried away and thrown on to a rubbish heap outside the town. But Divine Providence willed that she should recover and it is said that an angel came to revive her; she rose up and returned to the governor in the town to show herself to him and so prove the reality of the miracle. But this only made him all the more enraged and he ordered her head to be cut off. This was on June 13th, 293.

The Christians of Byblos carried her body away and buried it outside the town (Histoire des Maronites,...) with no outward show, only the emotions, the tears, the prayers, and the respectful attitude of the mourners. On this June 13th, 293, little Aquilina could only have been twelve or thirteen years old.

This day of the year came to be celebrated as the anniversary of her martyrdom by the Byzantines, Latins and Maronites alike. Today the site of her tomb remains unknown for certain, but it is supposed to be somewhere near Our Lady of Mawnet, Our Lady Maritime, or Our Lady of Al-Makbousseh, where just outside the municipal boundary one may see the ruins of a small temple long known as the Temple of Our Lady of Aquilina.

When Father Atallah, monk and superior of the priory, was parish priest, a small chapel was erected in the old bazaar. The present-day patriarchs, their Beatitudes Rahi (then in 1988 Bishop of Byblos) and Sfeir, solemnly blessed the chapel, which has since become an oratory for recollection and daily prayer.

Sainte Aquilina is honored in Byblos and throughout the Easter, like the saints Agnes of Rome, Lucia of Naples, and Agatha of Syracuse. A chapel dedicated to her was built in Constantinople but it was destroyed presumably by the fire of 532 A.D.. Now from the four corners of the world Christians and believers turn their eyes to the land of Saints Sharbel, Rafca, Hardini, Estephan, and Aquilina, to mention only a few. Pious visitors to the chapel are steadily becoming more and more numerous, addressing prayers to Aquilina and asking graces through her intercession. Sightseers coming to look at the early remains of the most ancient city in the East, with its citadel, port and walls all many centuries old, often end up by dropping in on the little chapel of Aquilina, which is always lit up and decorated.

A local artist painted the saint as a young girl dressed in a white robe and a red cloak, on her knees in prayer with in front of her the instruments used to torture her, the spikes, the comb, and a scimitar, with a cedar tree and an angel dominating the scene.

Every year on June 13th the Christians of the town gather around the chapel for a solemn liturgical celebration at which the bishop officiates surrounded by all the monks of the neighboring religious houses.

The little saint deserved no less!

Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

Church Aquilina: >> View Movie << (2013-12-15)



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