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Lay for the Day
8th November

The feast of the Four Crowned Martyrs, patron saints of stonemasons. These martyrs of the early fourth century were Persian stonemasons who worked for the emperor Diocletian. Their names were Claudius, Nicostratus, Simpronian and Castorius. A fifth stonemason, Simplicius, who was martyred with them, converted to Christianity because he thought their skill in art was due to their religion. They refused to make an image of the god Aesculapius, or to sacrifice to the gods.When they were imprisoned, the officer who conducted the inquiry into their case, Lampadius, died suddenly, and the five companions were executed by drowning at the instigation of Lampadius’s relatives.


The saints lose face in the west,
firm-mouthed martyr and clear-eyed king
as though once more faint-fleshed,
in the sour rain’s sting
decline to rest.

Their obdurate bodies seemed
breathing, their moments’ gestures still,
in abeyance from time,
like the codicil
to God’s will,
an after-doom.

Crisp acanthus, coiling lock,
flared fold and fluting, which toil
of skill nursed from the block,
and blue fumes of oil
blur and soil,
turn back to rock.

John Gibbens
from Church of Thorns


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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