Feast Day : February 23
Patronage: earache sufferers
Little is known about the life of Polycarp of Smyrna, who was born about 70, but the details of his martyrdom are preserved in a written account. At about age 10 Polycarp was converted by St. John the Evangelist and became his disciple. At about age 26 he was consecrated bishop of Smyrna by John before the apostle’s banishment to the isle of Patmos. According to accounts, Polycarp was a wise and prudent bishop, one of the foremost in Asia; St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote that he was privileged to receive instruction from him when Irenaeus was a young man. St. Ignatius of Antioch (another martyr) called him one of the most important figures bridging the apostolic and patristic eras of the Church. Polycarp was a vigorous opponent of the Marcionite heresy. When bloody persecutions began against Christians, Polycarp was targeted for arrest. He was persuaded by friends to take refuge in a house outside Smyrna, where he prayed day and night. He moved to a second farmhouse. He was betrayed by a servant who was threatened with torture. Polycarp was not caught offguard. Three days prior to his arrest he had a trance vision in which his pillow was in flames, and knew he would be martyred by fire. He surrendered himself willingly when the soldiers arrived, and invited them to dinner. Upon his request, they granted him two hours to pray. During the journey by chariot to Smyrna, the soldiers urged Polycarp to obey the imperial edict to sacrifice to the pagan gods in order to save his life. When he refused, they pushed him from the chariot, and he bruised (or broke) his leg in the fall. Polycarp was taken before the proconsul, Statius Quadratus, who ordered him to blaspheme Jesus Christ. Polycarp refused and was threatened with wild beasts. This did not daunt him, so the proconsul decreed that he should be burned alive. Polycarp asked not to be nailed to the stake, promising that he would not move. According to an account of his execution, “the fire making the appearance of a vault, like the sail of a vessel filled by the wind, made a wall round the body of the martyr; and it was there in the midst, not like flesh burning, but like [a loaf in the oven or like] gold and silver refined in a furnace. For we perceived such a fragrant smell, as if it were the wafted odor of frankincense or some other precious spice.” Exasperated, the pagans stabbed him to death. Out of the wound came a dove and so much blood that the fire eventually was extinguished. Christians asked for the body but were refused; the body was burned in another fire. Polycarp’s supporters stole his bones for burial. According to Irenaeus, a “voice like a trumpet” announced in Rome, “Polycarp is martyred” at the exact time the deed was committed in Smyrna. Different dates of his martyrdom have been given, from 155–156 to 160 to 167–168. His age at death is given as 86, which, depending on the year of death, would affect the date of his birth. Extant is a letter from Polycarp to the Philippians, an inspiring message that the Philippians solicited and that quotes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles and the first letters of Peter and John.