Feast Day : July 19
Symmachus, son of Fortunatus, was born in Sardinia. He was baptized in Rome and joined the Roman clergy, rising to the post of archdeacon under Pope Anastasius II (the successor of St. Gelasius I). On November 22, 498, he was elected to the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican’s Lateran palace. That same day a dissident faction of the clergy, with Byzantine leanings, elected the archpriest of St. Praxedes, Laurentius, bishop (and thus antipope), in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. When King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths ruled in favor of Symmachus on the grounds that he had been elected first and by a majority of the clergy, Laurentius capitulated, and subsequently was made bishop of Nocera in Campagna (also Campania). His Byzantine supporters were not so easily mollified. They brought trumped-up charges against Symmachus and occupied the Lateran palace, obliging him to move to the Church of St. Peter outside the walls of the city. They then reinstalled Laurentius and asked Theodoric to consider their charges. They were not above using violence. On his way to speak at a synod considering the charges against him, Symmachus and his entourage were ambushed; although Symmachus himself escaped, several priests were killed or severely wounded. However, thanks to support from clergy outside Rome, the matter was finally decided in favor of Symmachus at a synod on November 6, 502. In his remaining years as pontiff, Symmachus was concerned with more typical matters: fighting heresies, shoring up Church discipline and undertaking new construction. In addition to building or repairing ecclesiastical buildings, he built three asylums for the poor. He also sent money to Catholic bishops in Africa to ransom Christians from their Vandal persecutors. His generosity to the poor led to the bestowal of the well-deserved title, “father of the poor.” Symmachus died on July 19, 514, and was buried in St. Peter’s the following day. He is venerated in the Roman Church as a saint.