Blog, MotD

Martyr of the Day: Saints Ansanus and Maxima

Sometimes there are always baths, always baptisms.

The nereid Thetis dipped her son Achilles into the river Styx, but only up to his heel, but only upside down, and he was a Good Strong Son until he wasn’t.

(Achilles, whom we’re not interested in, as far as this post goes, is older than he knows, and probably started as a minor river deity before he settled into the lover of Patroclus. Achilles’ name echoes Acheron, one of the five rivers in Hell, and echoes Achelous, demoted from God of All Waters to simply a river spirit, but we should think on him sometimes as we think on ozymandiously of those who withered before us.)

Maxima, a Roman nurse, probably a slave, but a Christian, secretly baptized her charge, Ansanus, dipping him, like bread into an eggwash, in the God-rich waters of a river, sealing God’s love and holiness within.

Ansanus, later, and heedlessly, the way all good saints do, professed his Christ’s Love so loudly in the last days of the Diocletianic persecution that there was nothing much left to do but arrest and execute him. He implicated Maxima, old Maxima, in his passionate joy and she, who cared for him so dearly, died dearly, too. She watched him scourged, skin flaking like a pastry, before being scourged herself, martyred all at once and much too completely.

The scourging didn’t kill Ansanus, made of sterner stuff, maybe protected like a shield from the baptism, the way Achilles was shielded, until he wasn’t. Thrown in a pot of oil like a marrow bone, he survived that too, eventually meeting his savior in death’s embrace via beheading.

We think of them both, nurse and boy, on this day, their Day of Martyrdom.

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