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
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
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
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
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: