St. Barbatus fought against Germanic paganism in Italy
A quote attributed to C.S. Lewis asks, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” St. Barbatus of Benevento devoted his life to assuring that the answer would be “yes” for him and others.
Barbatus (also known as Barbas) was born into a Christian family in the early 7th century in Benevento (south-central Italy). As a youth, he enjoyed meditating on Scripture and was known for his sanctity, simplicity and purity of heart. He was ordained to the priesthood as soon as he was old enough.
Because of his eloquence, his bishop assigned Barbatus to preach. He was later appointed pastor of St. Basil Parish in nearby Morcona, where he loudly and persistently urged people to repent their sinful ways. They refused to listen and began to persecute Barbatus in hopes he would stop. He was patient and humble, but continued his calls for reform. So they began to slander him, finally forcing him to leave.
He returned to Benevento and worked to end superstition among the Lombards, a Germanic tribe who ruled Italy from 568 to 774. The people venerated both a golden viper and a tree from which they hung an animal hide.
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Barbatus preached against these practices while praying and fasting for the people’s conversion. He finally got their attention when he warned of the terrible things that would happen when the Byzantine army of Constans II invaded Italy.
After the attack began, people began listening to Barbatus. They renounced their errors and abandoned idolatry when Barbatus promised that would end the siege. When the invaders withdrew, Barbatus chopped down the tree and melted the viper, turning it into a chalice he used at Mass.
Ildebrand, bishop of Benevento, died during the invasion, so Barbatus was consecrated as his successor on March 10, 663. He continued his efforts to eliminate superstition. It is also said that he ordered the destruction of a Temple of Isis for use as the foundation for rebuilding the city’s defensive wall.
In 679, Barbatus assisted at a council in Rome called by Pope Agatho (678-681). He also attended the Sixth General Council held in 680 at Constantinople. It ended the schism between Constantinople and Rome. Barbatus died soon after the council.
Sources: “The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints”; catholic.org; saints.sqpn.com; saintpatrickdc.org; and wikipedia.org.