St. Denis and his Companions

Posted by Fr. Mason Waldhauser on

"And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them."

Today we commemorate the feast of St. Denis and his companions. St. Denis is venerated as an early bishop of Paris and a martyr, alongside a priest named Rusticus and a deacon named Eleutherius. Out of the three, St. Denis is the most famous and is venerated as one of the patron saints of France.

There is some confusion about who this martyr was exactly, however, and it is likely that the Church has lumped together several early Christians of the same name in venerating (on this day) St. Denis. The Church of the middle ages tended to conflate people who had the same name, imagining them to be one person. There is the bishop of Paris, St. Denis, who was beheaded for his faith. Then there is the figure in today's Lesson, Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17:34), who believed the gospel as Paul preached it on Mars Hill. (Denis is the French form of the Greek name, Dionysius.) And there is the mystical writer who wrote under the name "Dionysius the Areopagite," and who scholars now call "Pseudo-Dionysius."

At any rate, whether we commemorate today one saint or three, what each persona has in common is a strong commitment to the faith, whether that of laying down his life as a martyr, of believing the gospel with the other Greeks rejected (on account of the resurrection of the dead), or of proclaiming the same mystical truths which St. Paul promulgated about the God "in whom we live, move, and have our being," and who is not far from any one of us.

Because he was killed by beheading, St. Denis is considered the patron of those with headaches, and he is depicted as holding his head in his arms, with the halo up where his head used to be. We actually have a statue of him on the back wall of our Lady Chapel. He's not hard to spot!