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Lazarus of Bethany, Saint

Reputed first Bishop of Marseilles, d. in the second half of the first century

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Lazarus of Bethany, Saint, reputed first Bishop of Marseilles, d. in the second half of the first century. According to a tradition, or rather a series of traditions combined at different epochs, the members of the family at Bethany, the friends of Christ, together with some holy women and others of His disciples, were put out to sea by the Jews hostile to Christianity in a vessel without sails, oars, or helm, and after a miraculous voyage landed in Provence at a place called today the Saintes-Maries. It is related that they separated there to go and preach the Gospel in different parts of the southeast of Gaul. Lazarus of whom alone we have to treat here, went to Marseilles, and, having converted a number of its inhabitants to Christianity, became their first pastor. During the first persecution under Nero he hid himself in a crypt, over which the celebrated Abbey of St-Victor was constructed in the fifth century. In this same crypt he was interred, when he shed his blood for the Faith. During the new persecution of Domitian he was cast into prison and beheaded in a spot which is believed to be identical with a cave beneath the prison Saint-Lazare. His body was later translated to Autun, and buried in the cathedral of that town. But the inhabitants of Marseilles claim to be in possession of his head which they still venerate. Like the other legends concerning the saints of the Palestinian group, this tradition, which was believed for several centuries and which still finds some advocates, has no solid foundation. It is in a writing, contained in an eleventh century manuscript (Paris, 1767, Fonds Notre-Dame, 101), with some other documents relating to St. Magdalen of Vezelay, that we first read of Lazarus in connection with the voyage that brought Magdalen to Gaul. Before the middle of the eleventh century there does not seem to be the slightest trace of the tradition according to which the Palestinian saints came to Provence. At the beginning of the twelfth century, perhaps through a confusion of names, it was believed at Autun that the tomb of St. Lazarus was to be found in the cathedral dedicated to St. Nazarius. A search was made and remains were discovered, which were solemnly translated and were considered to be those of him whom Christ raised from the dead, but it was not thought necessary to inquire why they should be found in France.

The question, however, deserved to be examined with care, seeing that, according to a tradition of the Greek Church, the body of St. Lazarus had been brought to Constantinople, just as all the other saints of the Palestinian group were said to have died in the Orient, and to have been buried, translated, and honored there. It is only in the thirteenth century that the belief that Lazarus had come to Gaul with his two sisters and had been Bishop of Marseilles spread in Provence. It is true that a letter is cited (its origin is uncertain), written in 1040 by Pope Benedict IX on the occasion of the consecration of the new church of St-Victor in which Lazarus is mentioned. But in this text the pope speaks only of relics of St. Lazarus, merely calling him the saint who was raised again to life. He does not speak of him as having lived in Provence, or as having been Bishop of Marseilles. The most ancient Provencal text alluding to the episcopacy of St. Lazarus is a passage in the "Otia imperialia" of Gervase of Tilbury (1212). Thus the belief in his Provencal apostolate is of very late date, and its supporters must produce more ancient and reliable documentary evidence. In the crypt of St-Victor at Marseilles an epitaph of the fifth century has been discovered, which informs us that a bishop named Lazarus was buried there. In the opinion of the most competent archaeologists, however, this personage is Lazarus, Bishop of Aix, who was consecrated at Marseilles about 407, and who, having had to abandon his see in 411, passed some time in Palestine, whence he returned to end his days in Marseilles. It is more than likely that it is the name of this bishop and his return from Palestine, that gave rise to the legend of the coming of the Biblical Lazarus to Provence, and his apostolate in the city of Marseilles.

LEON CLUGNET


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