Alexius of Rome

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Alexis of Rome
Saint Alexius
Born 4th Century
Rome, Roman Empire
Died 5th Century
Rome, Roman Empire
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church; Eastern Orthodox Church; Byzantine Catholic Churches; Syriac Orthodox Church; Armenian Orthodox Church; Maronites; Syriac Catholic Church; Armenian Catholic Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast 17 July in the West; 17 March in the East
Attributes holding a ladder; man lying beneath a staircase
Patronage Alexians; beggars; belt makers; nurses; pilgrims; travellers

Saint Alexius or Alexis of Rome or Alexis of Edessa was an Eastern Saint whose veneration was later transplanted to Rome. The relocation of the veneration to Rome was facilitated by the belief that the saint was a native of Rome and had died there. This Roman connection stemmed from an earlier Syriac legend which recounted that during the episcopate of Bishop Rabbula (412–435) a "Man of God" who lived in Edessa, Mesopotamia, as a beggar, and who shared the alms he received with other poor people, was found to be a native of Rome after his death.[1]

Greek version[edit]

The Wedding of Saint Alexius; Garcia Fernandes, 1541.

The Greek version of his legend made Alexius the only son of Euphemianus, a wealthy Christian Roman of the senatorial class. Alexius fled his arranged marriage to follow his holy vocation. Disguised as a beggar, he lived near Edessa in Syria, accepting alms even from his own household slaves, who had been sent to look for him but did not recognize him,[2] until a miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary (later this image was called Madonna of St.Alexius) singled him out as a "Man of God."

Fleeing the resultant notoriety, he returned to Rome, so changed that his parents did not recognize him, but as good Christians took him in and sheltered him for seventeen years, which he spent in a dark cubbyhole beneath the stairs, praying and teaching catechism to children.[2] After his death, his family found writings on his body which told them who he was and how he had lived his life of penance from the day of his wedding, for the love of God.


St. Alexius' veneration developed in Syria and spread throughout the Eastern Roman Empire by the 9th century. Only from the end of the 10th century did his name begin to appear in any liturgical books in the West.

Since before the 8th century, there was on the Aventine in Rome a church that was dedicated to St Boniface. In 972 Pope Benedict VII transferred this almost abandoned church to the exiled Greek metropolitan, Sergius of Damascus. The latter erected beside the church a monastery for Greek and Latin monks, soon made famous for the austere life of its inmates. To the name of St Boniface was now added that of St Alexius as titular saint of the church and monastery known as Santi Bonifacio e Alessio.

Obviously, Sergius and his monks brought to Rome the veneration of St Alexius. The Eastern saint, according to his legend a native of Rome, was soon very popular with the folk of that city, and this church, being associated with the legend, was considered to be built on the site of the home that Alexius returned to from Edessa.

St. Alexius is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology under 17 July in the following terms: "At Rome, in a church on the Aventine Hill, a man of God is celebrated under the name of Alexius, who, as reported by tradition, abandoned his wealthy home, for the sake of becoming poor and to beg for alms unrecognized."[3]

While the Roman Catholic Church continues to recognize St. Alexius as a saint, his feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969. The reason given was the legendary character of the written life of the saint[4] The Catholic Encyclopedia article regarding St. Alexius remarked: "Perhaps the only basis for the story is the fact that a certain pious ascetic at Edessa lived the life of a beggar and was later venerated as a saint."[1]

The Tridentine Calendar gave his feast day the rank of "Simple" but by 1862 it had become a "Semidouble" and, in Rome itself, a "Double".[5] It was reduced again to the rank of "Simple" in 1955[6] and in 1960 became a "Commemoration".[7] According to the rules in the present-day Roman Missal, the saint may now be celebrated everywhere on his feast day with a "Memorial", unless in some locality an obligatory celebration is assigned to that day.[8]

The Eastern Orthodox Church venerates St Alexius on 17 March. Five Byzantine Emperors, four Emperors of Trebizond and numerous other eastern European and Russian personalities have borne his name; see Alexius.

References to St. Alexius[edit]

A 1674 theatre show program for the Saint Alexis the Man of God, presented in Kiev and dedicated to tsar Alexis of Russia

St Alexius is also the Patron Saint of the religious institute known as the Alexians.

The tale of St Alexius has parallels with that of The Prodigal Son, as told in the biblical Book of Luke. As it appears in Legenda aurea[9] (later retold in the Gesta Romanorum[10]).


  1. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Alexius". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  2. ^ a b "Saint Alexius of Rome", Magnificat
  3. ^ "Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001) ISBN 88-209-7210-7
  4. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969) page 130
  5. ^ Missale Romanum 1862
  6. ^ General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII
  7. ^ General Roman Calendar of 1960
  8. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal Archived July 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., 355 c
  9. ^ Voragine (trans. W Caxton), The Golden Legend (London, 1483) chapter VI, p 96.
  10. ^ C Swan (trans.), Gesta Romanum (London, 1888) p.32ff. In a note Swan lambasts the tale, as describing "the prevailing tenets of popery". The ethics of the central character are criticised severely: "He who neglects every relative duty; he who is a cruel and ungrateful son, a bad husband, and careless master; he whose whole life is to consume time, not to employ it - to vegetate but not to exist - to dream away life, with every sense locked up...[etc.]...THIS is to be a Man of God?" (Swan's emphasis); ibid, p.363)


  • Holweck, F. G., "A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints", St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder Book Co., 1924.

External links[edit]

Austrian author Peter Handke's novel OBSTDIEBIN/ FRUIT THIEF features ALEXIA a girl re-incarnation of ALEXIUS