Valerian (253-260) was a tough and bloodthirsty emperor. He was convinced that the Christians were the enemies of the Empire and had to be destroyed.
Christians were forced to hide in catacombs or Roman cemeteries in order to practice their worship. The scene was often tragic: while they were praying, soldiers arrived, seized them unexpectedly and, without further ado, beheaded them or inflicted other martyrdoms on them. They all confessed their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Little Tarcisius had witnessed the execution of the Pope himself while celebrating the Eucharist in one of these catacombs. The macabre image has remained strongly etched in his childhood soul and he is determined to follow the fate of his elders when his time comes, which he says "hopefully" will be now.
Relic of Saint Tarcisius at Relics.es
One day in 217 AD they were celebrating the Eucharist in the catacombs of Saint Calixtus. Pope Sixtus reminds other prisoners that they do not have a priest and therefore cannot fortify their spirit for the coming struggle if they do not receive the Body of the Lord. But who will be this generous soul who will offer to bring them the Body of the Lord? Many hands are outstretched, from venerable old men to burly young men, to the small hands of angelic children. All are ready to die for Jesus Christ and for their brothers.
One of these tender children is Tarcisius. Faced with so much innocence and tenderness, the old Sixtus exclaims with emotion: "You too, my son? "And why not, Father? No one will suspect my young age."
Altar of the Church of St Lawrence Outside the Walls, Rome
Faced with such fearless faith, the old man did not hesitate. With a trembling hand he took the holy species and placed them in a reliquary with great devotion, handing them over to little Tarcisius, barely eleven years old, with this recommendation: "Take good care of them, my son". . Don't worry, Father, they will pass over my corpse before anyone dares to touch them."
Tarcisius left, he protected the Holy Species under his cloak. On his way, he met school friends who, at first without thinking badly, asked him to join them in playing. He refused. Intrigued at first, then furious at his refusal, his comrades wanted to seize what he was wearing, it seemed, so carefully under his toga, over his heart. Tarcisius refusing to open his arms, someone – a passerby? – pronounced the fateful word: it must be a Christian! His comrades then broke into a rage and began throwing stones at him… A Christian centurion named Quadratus passing by succeeded in scaring the populace away and carried away the corpse which was then buried in the Catacomb of St. Callistus .
A new Saint Stephen (this is how Pope Damasus calls him), Tarcisius was stoned to death to protect the holy species he always carried on his heart and to prevent them from being desecrated. This is the reason why Saint Tarcisius became the patron saint of altar boys. He is celebrated on August 26.
The legend has consolidated data that is not assured: Tarcisius would rather be a young adult, a deacon carrying the holy species to a sick person. This idea would be more consistent with the requirements liturgical that it is priests or deacons who bring the Eucharist to those who cannot attend Mass. The comparison with St. Stephen also suggests that Tarcisius was a deacon. Over time, fictionalized accounts added fictional details and the belief took hold in the 19th century that he was a young acolyte of a decade dying as a martyr on the Appian Way .
Tarcisius was buried in the eastern basilica of Saint Callixtus, probably alongside Pope Zephyrinus. In 767 his relics were transferred by Pope Paul I to the Basilica of San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and since 1596 they have been under the high altar. His sarcophagus serves as an altar in the church of the Saint Tarcisius Institute on the Appian Way in Rome where the young Salesians of Don Bosco reside. There is also exhibited a 19th century reliquary where the tortured body is sculpted above a bas-relief representing its stoning.