my Marche
Art and Culture

Who was San Ciriaco? And how did his relationship with the city of Ancona arise?

To answer these questions, we must refer both and above all to historical sources and to narratives handed down orally and linked to popular traditions. As we will see, both areas tell us about events that concern our Ciriaco, starting, however, from a phase of his life in which his name was not the one we know. In fact, in an ancient story inspired by documents from the 300th century, there is talk of a man named Judas, a Jew who, in the Holy Land, made Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, find the crosses of Christ and the two thieves. This happened in the first half of the 630's. In reality, Judas would not have wanted to reveal the secret that he jealously guarded, but, as we know, in those times, one was not too subtle when it came to making one's will prevail: Judas was closed for six days in a cistern without food or water and, after such treatment, it is clear that the poor man was convinced to speak and have the crosses found. It was not difficult to recognize among the three, the one that had belonged to Christ, as it was the only one that soon revealed itself to be miraculous. For this reason, during the following centuries, that wood was coveted by predatory hands during various war events, until the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, having obtained a great victory over the Persians, definitively regained the sacred relic. It was the year XNUMX when Heraclius himself, barefoot and dressed as a pilgrim, brought the cross back to Jerusalem.

 We must not forget, however, that the credit for the discovery must be attributed entirely to Judas who, following this event, converted to Christianity, was baptized with the name Cyriacus and in 327 was consecrated bishop of Jerusalem by Pope Sylvester I. .

And it was Cyriacus, bishop of Jerusalem, who landed one day in the port of Ancona after a long sea voyage, probably undertaken to fulfill his mission as a spreader of the faith. Certainly his fame had reached our shores, because, during his stay in the city, the population designated him bishop of Ancona.

Cathedral of San Ciriaco, Ancona


After some time spent in the city of Ancona, however, Ciriaco felt the desire to revisit the country from which he came and to rediscover the sacred places to which he was linked by fundamental events in his life: he returned to Jerusalem. The welcome he found there, unfortunately, was not the best: he was imprisoned by the emperor Flavius ​​Claudius Julianus (known as the Apostate) with the intention of forcing him to renounce his beliefs. Naturally Ciriaco, firm in his faith, did not bow to this imposition. So it was that his tormentors took to the 'strong lines', subjecting him to multiple forms of torture. Poor Ciriaco was spared nothing: mutilations, molten lead, floggings, fire, snakes. And since, despite the tortures, the saint did not die, they finished him by piercing his head with a sword.

He was buried on the slopes of Mount Calvario together with his mother who, at the same time as him, had been subjected to similar cruelties.

At this point all that remained was a poor tortured body. In what way and through what vicissitudes the martyr's remains reached Ancona, we learn from the "Croniche anconitane" by Lazzaro Bernabei. The chronicler states that the translation was due to the intervention of the daughter of Emperor Theodosius, Galla Placidia, around the middle of the 5th century. The intercession of this princess of royal blood was necessary to overcome the law that prohibited the movement of the bodies of saints in order to prevent the trade of relics.

Again according to the chronicle of Lazzaro Bernabei, the coffin was initially placed in the church of Santo Stefano (which now no longer exists) and later, around the year 1000, in the church of San Lorenzo, the current Cathedral of San Ciriaco . When the coffin was opened, where the saint's body was found in an attitude of prayer, a large number of people flocked with offerings and gifts as a sign of devotion. It seems that, at a certain point, one of the participants cut off one of the saint's toes and attempted to escape, taking the 'relic' with him. But the villain did not succeed in his aim because a mysterious force immobilized him and prevented him from finding the 'exit. He was thus forced to return the stolen goods! The finger was put back in its place. The failure of the 'theft' was attributed to divine will.

So far the news supported by documents and writings. But, for the more curious, it will also be interesting to know what legend has handed down on the subject. According to oral tradition, the tortured body of Saint Cyriacus was placed by his tormentors in a lead coffin and thrown into the sea. One day in May, some fishermen from Ancona noticed the chest at the bottom of the blue waters of the Adriatic. Not without difficulty and with various expedients they managed to beach the heavy object. Once the coffin was opened, the body of Saint Cyriacus appeared to the incredulous eyes of the fishermen and the crowd that had gathered in the meantime.

But are we so sure that those remains kept with great care in a shrine inside the Cathedral of Ancona are precisely those of San Ciriaco, bishop and martyr?

This question must have been asked several times over the centuries by the religious and civil authorities in charge of the matter, because from 1017 onwards various exhumations of the saint's body were carried out with the aim of certifying the authenticity of the remains. In each of these exhumations important confirmatory elements were found. An authoritative survey in 1755 identified with certainty the mummified body in the crypt as that of San Ciriaco.

But the most recent canonical survey carried out with all the trappings of science was carried out in 1979, on the mandate of Archbishop Carlo Maccari. The examining commission composed of various renowned doctors, historians and archaeologists established the authenticity of the body through radiographs, histological and chemical tests.

And so since then there has been the certainty that that body resting up there on the Guasco hill, inside a crypt, inside the cathedral of Ancona, that cathedral that bears his name, is precisely that of San Ciriaco.

The thousand-year history that unites San Ciriaco with Ancona is a story that establishes the profound bond that exists between the city and its patron, a bond that is perpetuated through the imposing presence of that cathedral which, with its name, reminds all the people of Ancona the existence of their patron saint.



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