St Telemachus

Monk & Martyr


St Telemachus
St Telemachus
Monk & Martyr

Picture courtesy of

Telemachus had never been to Romse before. In fact in his whole life he had probably traveled no more than about 50 miles from his home. He was a hermit, devoted to a life of prayer and self-denial. It had been a scary thought then, when he had sensed God saying to him one day, "I want you to go to Rome." The captial of the Roman Empire, the captial of the known world. Despite being terrified at the prospect, Telemachus had obeyed. True courage is not to be without fear, but to be afraid but do it anyway.

After weeks of journeying on foot over dusty roads, he finally arrived. Rome was in celebration mood. It was the early 5th Century and the barbarian forces that threatened to overrun what remained of the empire had just been defeated. Alaric the Goth was a distant memory (at least for the moment).

Looking for clues as to why God wanted him in Rome, Telemachus followed the crowds to the Coliseum. He had no idea where they were going or what he would find there. Taking a seat in that huge stadium be could hear the roar of wild animals below the stadium. Men, dressed for battle, poured into the centre of the arena. They faced the emperor and shouted, "We who are about to die, salute thee." Telemachus felt a chill go up his spine. Even though he still had little idea of what was about to happen, he knew it was not good.

Gladiatorial games had become one of the main forms of entertainment for the Roman population. A sign that the Roman Empire was corupt and decaying - the sight of men killing each other in front of amused crowds.

As the 'games' began, Telemachus felt a sickening knot in his gut. The moral outrage was too much. Rising from his seat to leave, he was gripped by the conviction that he shouldn't, couldn't just walk away. He must do something.

The small, rural monk hopped up to the top of the perimeter wall and shouted out. "In the name of Christ, stop this!"

This had no effect - so he jumped into the arena. Running out in to the middle he attempted to get between 2 of the gladiators, shouting, "Stop! This is madness. In the name of Christ, please stop!" One of them pushed him away with his shield. He landed sprawled on the sand. Climbing back to his feet, he rushed at another couple of gladiators in battle, begging them to stop. The crowd roared, thinking it was part of the entertainment, laughing and cheering.

Telemachus continued to try and stop the fighting, getting in the way of the battle, and soon a couple of the gladiators got angry with the little fellow. Sensing their frustration, the crowd saw he was distracting them, they joke over jeers and yells came, "Run him through!", "Slice him in half."

One of the gladiators did just that, slicing the small monk across the stomach. He slumped to the ground still gasping with his last breath, "In the name of Christ, stop!"

The stadium fell strangly silent. From the top of the Coliseum, someone stood up and walked out, followed by another and then another. People suddenly started leaving in droves, soon the whole stadium was virtually emptied. They did not return, this was the last gladiatorial contest ever held in the Roman Coliseum. While other things may have contributed, the small monk's foolhardy and almost naive action was the thing that brought the madness to an end.

That is the story as it is often told from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. The first recorded version however is from Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria and claims that he was stoned to death by the spectators who turned into a violent mob by the vicious entertainment which they did not want ended. All too late they realize they have killed an innocent peacemaker. The Emperor in response calls for an end to the games! Telemachus normal feast day is 1 January but I just heard his story for the first time, as part of a study for Lent, I think I will keep his observance here at the beginning of Lent. For me it is a thought provoking story of one who transformed by Jesus did what Jesus would have done and changed the world forever. It shows one person can make a difference and also that if enough people stop supporting the wrong things eventually they will disappear.

BORN: Eastern Roman Empire.

DIED: 1 January 404 (or 391), Colosseum, Rome, Italy, Roman Empire.