(Died 4th Century)
In 304 AD, a great persecution of Christians was ordered by Emperor Diocletian, the last great culling of Christ’s followers before Constantine’s Edict of Milan, granting legal status to Christians throughout the Roman Empire.
The second of the four edicts by which Diocletian planned the annihilation of Christians called for the arrest of bishops, priests, and deacons. Many were rounded up and put to death by the Roman courts. The priest Marcellinus was one of those arrested and imprisoned. Like so many others, Marcellinus refused to deny the faith.
In prison, Marcellinus met Peter, an exorcist (not a fighter of demons, but one whose responsibilities included those of a modern-day usher or warden). Together they proclaimed that Christ was crucified and had risen. Many converted and asked for baptism. There are many legends which refer to their miracles, such as the healing of the daughter of their jailor. For the judge, they were too much trouble. The two had be reduced to one. Here the story becomes more certain, thanks to Pope St. Damasus, who told it a few decades after the fact.
Marcellinus and Peter were tortured, brought into a wood known as the Black Forest, forced to the last, cruel humiliation — digging their own grazes — and finally decapitated. As far as the law was concerned, justice had been done. The decision to do it in the forest was one final insult: an effort to obscure forever their place of execution. That calculation was mistaken.
A Roman matron, Lucilla, came to know the place of their martyrdom. She located and moved the remains of Marcellinus and Peter from the Black Wood (Selva Nera) — which from then was renamed Selva Candida (White Wood) — to the cemetery today called ad duas lauros, perhaps owing to the presence of two laurels, on the Via Casilina. Pope St. Damasus composed a hymn – a carmen – that he affixed to the new tomb – and when the Goths destroyed it, Pope Vigil put it back up, and placed the names of the two martyrs in the Canon of the Mass.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: Sts. Marcellinust and Peter – Information on the Saint of the Day – Vatican News. (n.d.). Vatican News. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/06/02/sts–marcellinus–priest–and-peter–exorcist–martyrs-on-the-vi.html