This is a picture of the third century Roman graffito, etchings which are almost invisible in the original wall, which is surely why the graffito has lasted for so many centuries. Archaeological remains can be seen on Monte Palatino, Rome, Italy. The graffito was on part of a wall which had been salvaged from the Imperial School for slave boys on the south-western slope of the Palatine Hill during the 1800s. I took many pictures of this graffito.
Greek words had been scratched into the wall along with a drawing of Christ as a crucified jackass, and as the recipient of the worship of a boy named Alexámenos. The graffito dates to the persecution of Catholics by the Romans in the mid-third century. The words ΑΛΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ ΣΕΒΕΤΕ ΘΕΟΝ, meant Alexámenos says ‘Worship ye God!’ or, because of the artist’s poor orthography, Alexámenos worships God, so that he wanted to write ΣΕΒΕΤΑΙ ΘΕΟΝ.
Alexámenos – the name means Defender (The One Who Is Defending)– may have been a Jewish slave, who became a Christian, and who was evangelizing his fellow slaves. He risked his life by telling the others to worship Christ, at least with his own example. The response of one of the slaves — drawing such a graffito — shows that Alexámenos may well have been put to death for this evangelization, as were so many at the time, one after the other. It is even most probable that he is a martyr, perhaps put to death by the Emperor Valerian. Rome’s Palatine Hill overlooks the Colosseum, built by Jewish slaves, the Circus Maximus, which directly faces the Imperial School, and the Roman Forums.
It’s unknown what happened to the artist, but mockery arising from fear, or later, grief, can be an occasion when God’s mercy works conversion. The blood of the martyrs waters the seed bed of the Faith. It’s good to be a fool for Christ’s sake, a jackass in the eyes of the world, the off-scouring of the earth, as Saint Paul says. After all, did not Jesus become a Jackass for us, taking on such abuse so as to redeem all us, who truly are such jackasses? Yes, He did.
For all these reasons, Alexámenos is a hero of Holy Souls Hermitage, and why a detail of this graffito makes up the header for http://holysoulshermitage.com I have a special appreciation for all those held to be fools for Christ’s sake, for those who are kicked in the face for Christ, for those who are condemned by friend and foe alike for Christ’s sake, for those who are marginalized for Christ’s sake.
He is especially a hero because I know I would not be a worthy jackass for the sake of Christ, but I know I can count on his most worthy intercession for me, for all of us. Thanks for witnessing to the Lord, Alexámenos! Way to be a jackass for the Lord of all!
N.B. I mention that he might have been a Jewish convert. I say that because Jews were nicknamed as jackasses by all the gentiles since time immemorial. I’ve written much on jackasses and on Alexámenos, who is a hero in a perhaps too tightly scripted ecclesiastical thriller novel I wrote a while back of some 750 pages.
B.T.W., are not jackasses intimate members of the Holy Family? From Nazareth to Bethlehem, at the crib, from Bethlehem to Egypt, from Egypt all the way to Nazareth, at the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem… Jackasses are intelligent, they can sing, and… and… not being in the least stubborn (as mules are), jackasses only do what they understand (very smart, that).
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I’ve previously put up some snippets from that novel — Jackass for the Hour — on this blog. Here’s another, for your edification, I hope! Just some braying here. These scenes take place towards the end of the novel. There are some Islamicists who are storming into Vatican Gardens from inside Saint Peter’s Basilica soon after the Easter Vigil. Meanwhile, the Holy Father, in a certain monastery in Vatican Gardens, is finishing and signing a document that he is writing in haste immediately after the Easter Vigil, knowing that he has only minutes to live… ///
It was just now becoming apparent that a large number of the crowd inside the Basilica – upwards, it seemed, of a thousand people – were pressing toward the exit that wound its way underneath Bernini’s sculpture of Pope Alexander VII. The Swiss Guards became suspicious, but wasted the few seconds they had in trying to be polite with the diplomats whom they were moving away from the multiple sets of doors of the passageway, attempting to seal the exit to Vatican Gardens. But then the Muslims acted as one man with one voice, stampeding under the image of the skeleton holding the hourglass of the passage of time and down into the short tunnel, fatally trampling a thousand times over diplomats and guards alike. Their death chant was thunderous:
“The blasphemy will not be forgotten! Burn the jackass! The hour has come!” A Papal Knight, watching in horror, said, “Tempus fugit; memento mori… Time flies; remember death!” He also noted how one of the Muslims betrayed his provenance by screaming, “La France a l’Algérie! La France a l’Algérie!” He shouted, “Takbīr!”; the others replied: “Allāhu akbar!”
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“Si quis traditiones prædictas sciens et prudens contempserit: anathema sit,” said the Holy Father, writing the last words of the Apostolic Constitution. “The Easter Candle,” he continued, “would be appropriate for the needed flame. Alexámenos!”
Father Alexámenos went to get the Easter Candle which the Sisters lit when they returned from the Easter Vigil. While he was away, the Pontiff signed the bulla, writing, “Ego Tsur-Ēzer, Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopus, ita definiendo subscripsi.” He then punched some holes in the velum with the pen and laced the scarlet cord through it.
Father Alexámenos returned as he finished. The Pope took it from him and gave him the pen. “You too Emet… Fidèle…”, he said.
When they read it, amazed at its content, they all signed it. Padre Emet commented on the wisdom of adding that the bulla did not have to be published in the Acta Apostolicæ Sedis in order to be authentic, and that it was promulgated by the very act of its being signed and sealed with the Ring of the Fisherman. It was an ex-cathedra statement.
The Pope held the sealing lead over the flame of the Easter Candle, letting it pool over the cord. He then impressed the image of the Ring of the Fisherman into the congealed lead.
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The stampede had moved from the Basilica, around and over the cars waiting for the diplomats just outside in Piazza Santa Marta [...]
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In putting this bit up, these paragraphs, I am recalling what I mentioned immediately after the publication of the address of Pope Francis to the Diplomatic Corps, saying that it is strikingly, incisively, starkly similar to the most important points of the address of Pope Benedict XVI to the crowd at Regensburg: Pope Francis // Pope Benedict. If you want some essentially important continuity, here it is.
Pope Francis, the Pope of interreligious dialogue, is treated as an imbecile by even supposedly devout Catholic pundits. He is, instead, one of the most brilliant and believing gentlemen ever to grace the See of Rome.
Pope Francis continues to draw deep lines in the sand blasted with insults off himself, the Rock, daring all peoples to cross those lines and be converted to the goodness and kindness of Jesus. I just love it.