The Spirit’s breathing sign

Daily Reading for January 20 • Fabian, Bishop and Martyr of Rome, 250

On the death of Anterus, Bishop of Rome, A.D. 236, the brethren assembled in the church to choose a successor; but while they were debating who was the fittest person to fill the See, a dove suddenly alighted on the head of a stranger there present, and he was unanimously elected Bishop. This stranger was S. Fabian. Little is known of his life; but he suffered martyrdom in the persecution that raged under Decius.

They gathered in the minster’s gloom

With sorrowing spirits all,

For sadly stood their Bishop’s tomb

Beside that ancient wall,

And void, alas, his ancient throne,

For good Saint Anterus was gone.

When lo! a Dove, all silvery white

As blossom on the bough,

Came quivering in the vaulted height,

And touched Saint Fabian’s brow!

“A messenger from Heaven,” they cried;

“Our God hath shown His children’s guide.”

Whence came that holy bird? and where

Her tarriance and her bowers?

Do Winter’s footsteps wander there

To dream of Summer flowers?

Or is there not beneath her wing

The glory of eternal Spring?

Was it the Patriarch’s Dove, which flew,

(So bygone legends tell,)

To Eden’s groves of radiant hue,

Where Angel-warders dwell,

And shared with them that hidden shore,

A deathless bird for evermore?

Or was it thou, with mystic flight,

Bethabara’s bird divine,

Filled yet again with God’s Own light,

The Spirit’s breathing sign?

Thy silver wings of heavenly mould!

Thy feathers swift of living gold!

We know not;—but whene’er I greet

A lone swift-darting Dove,

Saint Fabian’s vision me will meet,

And Eden’s bowery grove;

And I shall dream, with ready will,

The Bird of Heaven is with us still.

Poem in honor of S. Fabian, Bishop and Martyr, by J. Adams, in Lyra Sanctorum by William John Deane (London: Joseph Masters, 1850).

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