By Denise Trull
I would have never known anything about the young and fearless Bibiana but for the fact that she has now joined the rhythmic march of my personal litany of the saints after my rosary each morning.
When our daughter-in-law Bibi was grafted on to the family tree next to Thomas, she brought this wonderful saint with her. I say her name daily right between King David and St. Thomas More and in the company of Madeleine Sophie Barat, Benedict, Dominic, Joshua, John Paul, Christopher, Anthony, and Denis. I find it a lovely thing that such a young girl holds her own among these holy giants that surround her. For, indeed, she is small but mighty.
As one legend goes, Bibiana and her sister Demetria were the cherished daughters of the Roman Knight Flavian and his wife Dafrosa, who had the unfortunate fate of living in the times of persecution begun by Julian the Apostate in 363 AD. Julian’s consuming hatred of the Church caused him to seek out and destroy every Christian in his path. Flavian and Defrosa were not phased. They continued to live their quiet home life and witness to their faith.
Flavian was discovered first and tortured. He was banished but not before he was viciously beaten, and his face badly burned by a hot iron. He was never allowed to see his wife and daughters again. But Bibiana, through the tender grace of God, would secretly get to see him before he left and would embrace him one last time. This innocent, little girl saw her own proud father, this noble Roman Knight, scarred and burned beyond recognition, but her love did not look away. Was she terrified? What did he tell her that made her so strong? His belief must have taken hold of her little soul and given her courage as she watched him walk off into exile, only later to die of his wounds. She did not waiver, this daughter who knew the love of such a father.
Next they took her mother. Dafrosa was beheaded, and now Bibiana and Demetria were left orphaned and alone. It is said Bibiana dug the graves for her mother and father all by herself near their home. She and Demetria were forced into poverty but continued to live in the house praying together, each with the strength of the other. They too were eventually summoned.
Demetria was not as strong as Bibiana, but she rose to her courage and professed her faith trembling before the governor of Rome. The effort caused her fragile body to sink to the floor and die right at the governor’s feet next to Bibiana.
Bibiana must have felt a vast and mawing loneliness at that moment. So young, so frightened, so filled with a grief that I will never know. A sudden orphan left alone to face her fear. But she did not flinch. This infuriated the governor. She was, he commanded imperiously, to be tied to a pillar and scourged with leaden balls. This tender, beautiful young girl died under this torture with a defiant smile.
I picture Flavian, Dafrosa, and Demetria cheering her on from heaven; this little clutch of martyrs who went to God as a family.
Bibiana was strong because she learned the faith from them, she prayed together with them every day, she ate with them, she learned her prayers from them. And they taught her how to die. This beautiful holy family.
It gives you pause how important it is to be a good Catholic mother and father - to pass on the faith in word and deed day after day. To teach children how to do hard things even if they be young and small. It is what made Bibiana a saint.