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Saint Barbatus, Confessor,
Bishop of Benevento

February 19 (A.D. 682)

Saint Barbatus was born in Benevento, Italy, in the beginning of the Seventh Century, toward the end of the pontificate of Saint Gregory the Great. His parents gave him a Christian education, and, in his youth, Barbatus laid the foundation of that eminent sanctity which recommends him to our veneration. Devout meditation on the Holy Scriptures was his chief entertainment; and the innocence, simplicity, and purity of his manners, and extraordinary progress in all virtues, qualified him for the service of the altar, to which he was assumed by taking Holy Orders as soon as the Canons of the Church would allow it. He was immediately employed by his bishop in preaching, for which he had an extraordinary talent; and, after some time, became curate of Saint Basil’s, in Morcona, a town near Benevento. His parishioners were hardened in their irregularities, and averse to whatever looked like establishing order and discipline amongst them. As they desired only to slumber on in their sins, they could not bear the remonstrances of their pastor, who endeavored to awaken them to a sense of their miseries, and to sincere repentance: they treated him as a disturber of their peace, and persecuted him with the utmost violence. Finding their malice conquered by his patience and humility, and his character shining still brighter, they had recourse to slanders, and, such was their virulence and success, he was obliged to withdraw his charitable endeavors amongst them. By these fiery trials, God purified his heart from all earthly attachments, and perfectly crucified it to the world. Barbatus returned to Benevento, where he was received with joy by those who were acquainted with his innocence and sanctity.

The seed of Christianity had been first sown at Benevento by Saint Potin, who is said to have been sent there by Saint Peter, and is looked upon as the first bishop of this See. When Saint Barbatus entered upon his ministry in that city, the Christians themselves retained many idolatrous superstitions, which even their duke, Prince Romuald, authorized by his example. They expressed a religious veneration to a golden viper, and prostrated themselves before it; they paid also a superstitious honor to a tree, on which they hung the skin of a wild beast; and these ceremonies were closed by public games, in which the skin served for a mark at which bowmen shot arrows over their shoulder.

Saint Barbatus preached zealously against these abuses, and labored long to no success: yet desisted not, but joined his exhortations with fervent prayer and rigorous fasting, for the conversion of this unhappy people. At length he roused their attention by foretelling the distress of their city, and the calamities which it was to suffer from the army of the emperor Constans, who, landing soon after in Italy, laid siege to Benevento. In their extreme distress, and still more grievous alarms and fears, they listened to the holy preacher, and, entering into themselves, renounced their errors amid assurance that the siege should be raised and the emperor bested, which happened as he had foretold.

Upon their repentance, the saint, with his own hand, cut down the tree which was the object of their superstition, and afterward melted down the golden viper which they adored, of which he made a chalice for the use of the altar. Saint Barbatus was consecrated bishop on March 10, 663; for this See was only raised to the archiepiscopal dignity by Pope John XIII around the year 965. Barbatus, being invested with the episcopal character, pursued and completed the good work which he had so happily begun, and destroyed every trace or the least remains of superstition in the prince’s home, and in the whole state.

In the year 680 he assisted in a council held by Pope Agatho at Rome, and the year following in the sixth general council held at Constantinople against the Monothelites. He did not survive long after this great assembly, for he died on February 29, 682, being about seventy years old, almost nineteen of which he had spent in the episcopal chair. He is named in the Roman Martyrology, and honored at Benevento among the chief patrons of that city.