Who Was St Tarcisius?


The Story of St Tarcisius

Tarcisius was an acolyte who lived during one of the fierce Roman persecutions of the third century, probably during the persecution of Valerian.

The Christians would celebrate Mass in the catacombs, which were entered by secret entrances on the outskirts of Rome.  After Mass, Hosts would be wrapped up in a clean white cloths and smuggled to the Christians awaiting death in prison in the Coliseum.  After one of these Masses, there were no adults available, so  Tarcisius stepped forward.  He was twelve-year’s-old and small in stature.  He offered to take the host to the prisoners.  Because he was so young, it was felt that no one would suspect him.

Knowing how dangerous it was, the priest would have hesitated, fearing for the lad’s safety.  If he was discovered, he would almost certainly be killed.  But Tarcisius was insistent, and the Sacred Hosts were carefully wrapped and concealed under his tunic, against his chest.

So Tarcisius left the catacombs and was walking along the Appian Way, when he was spotted by some pagan friends of his, who called to him to come and play with them.  St Tarcisius said that he was sorry and explained that he couldn’t today because he had an important errand to complete.

Because of the way he was clutching his tunic, the boys became suspicious.   St Tarcisius refused to show them what he was guarding and things rapidly got out of hand.  St Tarcisius was so badly beaten that he would have died where he fell had not a Roman solder stumbled upon the scene and chased the boys off.

The soldier’s name was Fortunatus and he was also a Christian; he possibly recognised Tarcisius from the catacombs.  He picked up the boy and tenderly carried him away, but the boy was so close to death that he died in Fortunatus’ arms.  There was nothing the soldier could do, except carry him to the catacombs.  There, he was venerated as a martyr and his remains were treated with the utmost reverence.

St Tarcisius is honoured by the Catholic Church as a martyr of the Eucharist and he is the Patron Saint of Altar Servers.  His remains are now kept in the church of San Silvestro in Capite.