Monday, February 5, 2018

The Purge and Consecration of the Church of Saint Agatha of the Goths in Rome

What is today known as Sant'Agata dei Goti (Saint Agatha of the Goths) is a church in Rome dedicated to the martyr Saint Agatha. It was built by Ricimer for the Goths c. 460. The Goths were Arians, so when Arianism was suppressed in Rome, the building was taken over by the Church, in 592 or 593, and reconsecrated by Pope Gregory the Great after placing there portions of the relics of Saints Stephen and Agatha. It was restored in the ninth century, and a Benedictine monastery was founded next to it. The apse of the church collapsed in 1589, and it was partially rebuilt in 1633, without major changes to the building itself apart from the new apse. The small courtyard outside the church was laid out at this time. The church has been served by the Stigmatines since 1926. Their generalate is adjacent to it. It is the only Arian church that has been preserved in Rome.

Below is the account of Pope Gregory the Great, from his Dialogues (Bk. 3, Ch. 33), in which he describes the purge of the Arian church of its demons, and its subsequent consecration.

By St. Gregory the Dialogist

Neither is that to be passed over in silence which God of his mercy vouchsafed, two years since, to show in this city, to the great condemnation of the Arian heresy: for part of that which I intend now to speak of, many of the people know to be true, while part the priest and keepers of the church affirm that they saw and heard.

A church of the Arians, in that part of the city which is called Subura, remained until two years since with the doors shut up; at which time, being desirous that it should be hallowed in the Catholic faith, we brought with us thither the relics of the blessed martyrs Saint Stephen and Saint Agatha. And so with great multitudes of people, singing praises to almighty God, we entered the church. When the liturgy was being celebrated, and the people, by reason of the straight place, thrust one another, some of them that stood outside the chancel heard a hog running up and down through their legs, and each one perceiving it told it to his next fellow, but the hog made towards the church door to flee, striking all those into great admiration by whom he passed; although they heard him, yet there were none that saw him, which strange thing God allowed to show for the sake of piety, to the end that we should understand how the unclean spirit, which before possessed that place, was now departed and gone.

When liturgy was done we went away, but the night following such a noise was heard in the top of the church, as though somebody had there run up and down; and the next night after that a far greater, and of a sudden, such a terrible crack there was, as though the whole church had been quite falling down, which forthwith vanished away, and never after was the church troubled any more by the old enemy, but by the great stir which he kept before his departure, he made it apparent that he went very unwillingly from that place, which so long time he had possessed.

Not many days after, in a passing fair and clear day, a cloud miraculously descended upon the altar of the same church, covering it as it had been with a canopy, and filled the church with such a kind of terror and sweetness, that though the doors were wide open, yet none did presume to enter in. The priest also and the keepers of the church, and those who had come to liturgize, beheld the selfsame thing, and they could not go in, although they felt the sweetness of that strange perfume.

Likewise upon another day, the lamps hanging without light, fire came from heaven and set them a burning, and a few days after, when liturgy was ended, and the keeper of the church had put out the lamps, and was departed, yet returning back again, he found them burning which before he had extinguished; but thinking that he had done it negligently, he did it now more carefully the second time, and so departed the church and shut the door; but returning three hours after, he found them again burning as before: to the end that by the very light the world might manifestly know, how that place was from darkness translated to light.