St. Afra and Companions Martyrs  
AUGUST 5 A.D. 304
THE persecution of Diocletian was carried on with great cruelty by his colleague
Maximian Herculeus in Africa, Italy, Rhetia, Vindelicia, Noricum, and Upper Pannonia,
the government of which provinces fell to his share in the division of the empire. At
Ausburg, in Rhetia, the apparitors apprehended a woman called Afra, known to have
formerly been a common prostitute. The judge, by name Gaius, who knew who she
was, said, "Sacrifice to the gods; it is better to live than to die in torments." Afra
replied, "I was a great sinner before I knew God; but I will not add new crimes, nor do
what you command me." Gaius said: "Go to the capitol," and Afra answered, "My
capitol is Jesus Christ, whom I have always before my eyes. I every day confess my
sins; and because I am unworthy to offer him any sacrifice, I desire to sacrifice myself
for his name, that this body in which I have sinned may be purified and sacrificed to
him by torments." "I am informed," said Gaius, "that you are a prostitute. Sacrifice,
therefore, as you are a stranger to the God of the Christians, and cannot be accepted
by him." Afra replied, "Our Lord Jesus Christ hath said that he came down from
heaven to save sinners. The gospels testify that an abandoned woman washed his
feet with her tears, and obtained pardon, and that he never rejected the publicans,
but permitted them to eat with him." The judge said, "Sacrifice, that your gallants
may follow you, and enrich you." Afra answered, "I will have no more of that execrable
gain. I have thrown away as so much filth what I had by me of it. Even our poor
brethren would not accept of it, till I had overcome their reluctance by my entreaties,
that they might pray for my sins." Gaius said, "Jesus Christ will have nothing to do
with you. It is in vain for you to acknowledge him for your God; a common prostitute
can never be called a Christian." Afra replied, "It is true, I am unworthy to bear the
name of a Christian; but Christ hath admitted me to be one." Gaius said, "Sacrifice to
the gods, and they will save you." The martyr replied, "My Savior is Jesus Christ, who
upon the cross promised paradise to the thief that confessed him." The judge said,
"Sacrifice, lest I order you to be whipped in the presence of your lovers." Afra replied,
"The only subject of my confusion and grief are my sins." "Sacrifice," said the judge, "I
am ashamed that I have disputed so long with you. If you do not comply, you shall
die." Afra replied, "That is what I desire, if I am not unworthy to find rest by this
confession." The judge said, "Sacrifice, or I will order you to be tormented, and
afterward burnt alive." Afra answered, "Let that body which hath sinned, undergo
torments; but as to my soul, I will not taint it by sacrificing to demons." Then the
judge passed sentence upon her as follows, "We condemn Afra, a prostitute, who
hath declared herself a Christian, to be burnt alive, because she hath refused to offer
sacrifice to the gods."
The executioners immediately seized her, and carried her into an island in the river
Lech, upon which Aushurg stands. There they stripped her, and tied her to a stake.
She lifted up her eyes to heaven, and prayed with tears, saying, "O Lord Jesus Christ,
Omnipotent God, who camest to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance,
accept now the penance of my sufferings, and by this temporal fire deliver me from
the everlasting fire, which torments both body and soul." Whilst the executioners
were heaping a pile of pine branches about her, and setting fire to them, she was
heard to say, "I return thee thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ, for the honor thou hast done
me in receiving me a holocaust for thy sake; thou who hast vouchsafed to offer
thyself upon the altar of the cross a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, the just
for the unjust, and for sinners. I offer myself a victim to thee, my God, who livest and
reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost world without end. Amen." Having spoken
these words, she gave up the ghost, being suffocated by the smoke.
Three maids of the martyr, Digna, Eunomia, and Eutropita, who had been sinners as
well as their mistress, but were converted, and baptized at the same time by the holy
bishop Narcissus, stood all the while on the banks of the river, and beheld her
glorious triumph. After the execution they went into the island, and found the body of
Afra entire. A servant man who was with them, swam back, and carried the news.
Hilaria, the martyr's mother. She came in the night with some holy priests, and carried
away the body, which she interred in a sepulcher she had built for herself and family,
two miles from the city. The sepulchers of the ancients were lofty buildings, and big
enough to contain several apartments. Whilst Hilaria and her attendants were still
there, Gaius was informed of what they had done. He therefore dispatched soldiers
thither with an order to persuade the whole company to offer sacrifice, and, if they
refused, to burn them alive without any other formality. The soldiers used both mild
words and threats; but finding all to no purpose, they filled the vault of the sepulcher
with dry thorns and vine branches, shut the door upon them, and having set fire to
the sticks, went away. Thus St. Afra, her mother, and three servants were honored
with the crown of martyrdom on the same day, which was the 7th of August, as
Ruinart and Tillemont observe; though their festival is kept on the 5th. They suffered
in the year 304. St. Afra is honored as chief patroness at Ausburg. In her we admire
the perfect sentiments of a true penitent. At every word and in every thought she has
her sins always before her eyes; persuaded she never could do enough to efface
them, she never thinks on what she had already done for that end; immediately upon
her conversion, she gave what she possessed to the poor, doubtless led a most
penitential life till her death, and she rejoiced to suffer, in order to atone for her
former crimes. See her genuine Acts, copied from the public register, in Surius,
Ruinart, p. 455, &c.
[1] Butler's Lives of the Saints –Aug 5.
Lives of the Saints