African saints: St Deogratias of Carthage

I was only able to spend two days in Carthage and  the light hurt my eyes, the knifing brilliance on the sea, the  beaten gold dazzle of the coastal places. The city made holy by Augustine and the desert monastics. On the  street I paused between a withered fig tree and clattering palms, disoriented by the  light snapping down hard as a metal shutter. City of crumbling brown and white rubble, stone eroding to dust, an ancient city eaten away by time and successive wars.  In the late afternoons we would go  down and walk through the broken stones, looking at the pillars and  stone walls of the ruins,  dusty and  echoing remnants hammered by brazen light.  To Carthage I too came burning, burning.

The Feast of St Deogratius meaning ‘Thanks be to God’, Roman Catholic Bishop of Carthage who died in 457. He lived through the  tumult of the invading Arian heretics, the Vandals, Slavic and Germanic tribes tearing apart the older Christendom, the City of God  that Augustine has dreamed of as a living reality. In 439 the Vandal war lords  swept across Spain and took Carthage in North Africa, sacking the city.

After Gaiseric, the Vandal war lord, sacked Rome, he returned to North Africa with many enslaved captives, including family members, whom he sold apart from each other.  Bishop Deogratias, filled with compassion, sold much of the material wealth of his diocese to raise funds to ransom as many of these slaves as possible and to distribute food daily.  He also converted two large Carthaginian churches into shelters for the refugees. There  were at least two attempts to assassinate Deogratius but he  survived, to die later of exhaustion from overwork and  battle fatigue. According to the old accounts, he was deeply loved by Christians, pagans and heretics.

Opening Prayer

O God, Father of all nations,

in St Deogratias you have given to your people

a wonderful shepherd and an apostle of charity.

We pray that

inspired by his example

and strengthened by his intercession,

we may minister to our brothers and sisters

with care, love and compassion.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

carthage ruins

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