Tarcisius vs. Egeria

Welcome to the one and only Saturday vote of Lent Madness 2021. After today, your weekends will be free from difficult and heart-wrenching electoral/sanctoral decisions. Today, though, it's Tarcisius vs. Egeria

Yesterday, Constantine dominated Miguel Pro 62% to 38% in a controversial matchup that left some voters abstaining, but every voter thinking, contemplating, and learning. Which is precisely the point!

Enjoy the Lord's Day tomorrow and we'll see you bright and early on Monday morning as we begin the first full week of Lent Madness 2021, with the Battle of the Greats as Leo the Great takes on Albert the Great. Thanks for joining us on this journey. We are truly grateful you've made Lent Madness part of your Lenten devotions this year.

Very little is known about the young boy martyr, Tarcisius. Our earliest reference to him comes from Pope Damasus in the late fourth century ce. In a poem honoring martyrs, Pope Damasus writes of Tarcisius, “When an insane gang pressed saintly Tarcisius, who was carrying the sacraments of Christ, to display them to the profane, he preferred to be killed and give up his life rather than betray to rabid dogs the heavenly body.” Tarcisius then, like Stephen, is a Christian witness who fell victim to mob violence.

Later stories fill in what might have transpired. According to those stories, during the reign of Valerian (253-259 ce), Tarcisius was a young altar server. Many Christians had been rounded up and put into jail for their belief. After the host had been consecrated in clandestine worship services, it was delivered to those who were imprisoned. Priests were easily recognized and targeted for harassment and arrest, so they would send others to deliver the consecrated host. One Sunday, young Tarcisius volunteered to deliver the eucharist to those in prison.

On his way to deliver the host, he passed a group of young friends who invited him to play a game. They were perplexed when he declined and began to jostle and tease him in good fun. They noticed he was clutching something to his chest, and they began to try to pry it from him. He knew the value of this treasure and the importance of his mission, and he held the host ever closer to his chest. The scrum, playful at first, grew more violent. In the tussle, one of the attackers saw a fish etched into the box holding the host. The playful abuse turned to violent assault as the boys began to pummel him for being a Christian.

A Roman soldier saw the disturbance and rushed over to rescue Tarcisius from the cruel gang. The Roman soldier revealed himself to be a Christian before little Tarcisius died in his arms. In some accounts, as he died, Tarcisius begged the soldier to finish his errand for him, and the soldier obliged. In other accounts, as he lay dying in the soldier’s arms, the host simply disappeared.

Tarcisius is the patron saint of altar servers and first communicants. His feast day is August 15.

Collect for Tarcisius
Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Tarcisius triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 —David Creech


Egeria was a fourth-century woman who traveled to the Holy Land and wrote about her experiences, leaving the world an invaluable record of the development of language, liturgy, and Christianity.

We don’t know all that much about Egeria, the person. From her writing, it would appear that she had some status—the ability to travel from Europe to Palestine in the late 300s was not common. We also know she was a woman of deep faith, in that she undertook such a journey.

Her extant writing consists of a lengthy letter, now in two fragments, that she sent back to her community in Europe. Scholars are divided as to whether this community was based in Spain or perhaps France. She addresses them as “her sisters,” which could signify a monastic community, but this was early enough that all Christians tended to address fellow believers with sibling nomenclature.

One fragment of her letter describes her approach from Mount Sinai to Constantinople, and the other fragment describes, in great detail, the liturgical practices of the church in Jerusalem and Galilee over a year. Egeria, it would seem, spent at least three years in Palestine, making notes and observations. This provides us with invaluable information about the liturgical life of the early church and how various reforms and ideas moved throughout the Christian world. Her letter, for example, gives us the first record of such familiar rituals as the Palm Sunday procession, the Easter Vigil, and the Good Friday remembrance.

Her letter also offers an important insight into the development of Romance languages. Because it’s written in a casual form of post-classical Latin, it forms a bridge between what was classical Latin and what would become the Romance languages. (In fact, Egeria’s letters feature some of the first known uses of the definite article.)

Egeria’s bravery and creativity enabled the entire Western world to access the liturgical life we now enjoy, as well as the language we use every day.

Collect for Egeria
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints and who raised up your servant Egeria to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

—Megan Castellan


Tarcisius vs. Egeria

  • Egeria (61%, 4,596 Votes)
  • Tarcisius (39%, 2,917 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,513

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Tarcisius: Böhringer Friedrich / CC BY-SA 3.0 AT (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/at/deed.en)
Egeria: Unknown


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198 comments on “Tarcisius vs. Egeria”

  1. The match-ups in this bracket have been very thought provoking! I am so sad for each saint who doesn't move on. Thank you for highlighting so many who are new to me!

    1. These first three match-ups have really been difficult. I want to vote for all of them. Guess that is why I so look forward to Lent Madness each year. Tim and Scott have really pushed the envelope this year!

    2. Agree the match-ups have been difficult to choose from. Todays is no different but I voted for Tarcisius. In his limited lifetime his faith was so deep rooted. We can only speculate to what extent his contributions could have attained.

  2. In second, many years ago we did a skit about Tarcisius. In skit, I was one of the bullies. As a sign of my contrition. I cast my vote for the patron saint of acolytes.

    1. I was the acolyte mom in our church for over 20 years. Started out with 8 acolytes a service, finally settled on 4. I miss those days and those kids!

    2. Until this came up I forgot that I had played Tarcisius in a skit in grade school many years ago. How nice to be reminded of that time with a pleasant memory. I voted for him. I was going to vote for Egeria as I like hearing stories of female saints. Too often we focus on the Apostles and miss the women at the foot of the cross.

  3. I voted for Egeria because she has historical substance - Tarcisius probably was a real martyr, he was obviously known as such, but there is no concrete evidence for him.
    This is one of the contests where I would probably abstain, as I wait to be convinced of the reasons for either to deserve the Golden Halo!

    1. As a (temporarily) unemployed Eucharistic Visitor, I should vote for Tarcisius. As a retired teacher of Latin and French, I’d like to honor Egeria. What to do???

        1. It's a good default, but not all women work to dismantle systems that silence the voices of women. I'd say all voices deserve scrutiny, really intent listening, and engagement.

        2. I would prefer to cast a vote based on what the person did, not their gender or other characteristic outside their control. Our current society is the result of many centuries of choosing leaders based on gender, color, creed, et al, and we have a long way to go to achieve true equality among all people.

          Still considering the actions and what we know of the lives of these two.

    2. Yes Egeria was my choices for the same reason ... there is historical evidence of her life )that and the definite article!)

  4. In non COVID times I take communion to those who are unable to attend church.
    Tarcisius gets my vote! (Fortunately I have never had adventures like this on lay Eucharistic visits!)

    1. My husband is a deacon in the Orthodox church and works extensively with the acolytes. So he is my obvious choice. Also, I have a tendency to choose against the privileged whenever I have the chance.

  5. Hard to beat a child martyr! Although Egeria showed bravery, faithfulness, intellectual curiosity, and created an important legacy of language and liturgy, in the end my heart chose the child.

    1. Thank you for expressing my thoughts on this. My granddaughter, age 8, has faced some ridicule for being Christian.

  6. I was leaning Tarcisius because I actually knew an altar boy killed by a gang of teens (not because he was an altar boy though, it was kids from a rival school). But I voted for Egeria because of her concrete contribution to our understanding of our faith and because I like women explorers.

  7. I voted for Egeria out of respect for the debt we owe to her letter’s contribution to our understanding of liturgy, both then and now.

  8. Voting for the altar servers on this one, having been an acolyte and having been the mother of two encouraging many more to serve.

  9. Tarcisius, killed by an "insane gang" (poem by Damasus) immediately brought to mind the capital attack on January 6th. Egeria's letters are incredibility important with a new translation and commentary provided in a book by the Alcuin Club (Amazon $23.49). Both saints are new to me and again I am so grateful to learn of both. Egeria easily won my heart and vote.

    1. marx attacked capital; the insane gang attacked the capitol. i am writing this all in lower case so as not to get confused.

    2. I immediately thought of the young African American student carrying the paper bag who was arrested beaten given Ketamine and died of a heart attack. An innocent senselessly murdered for walking home while black.

  10. I'm a historian by education and inclination, so when someone like Egeria leaves us such documents I have to vote for her. But boy, those who serve on the altar do tremendous work and today our Lay Eucharist Ministers are a vital part of our church. So, Tarcisius deserves considerable respect. So far, Lent Madness is not making the choices easy.

  11. Always remember hearing about Tarcisius when I was in elementary school. I've had no problems bringing communion to the local nursing home, but I feel a weird connection with him.

  12. As a child in school I had heard of Tarcisius, as a model of reverence of the sacred; a steadfast courier of Christ. As a MUCH older adult I come to realize that we are ALL ‘couriers’ who bear a responsibility to protect the sacred in our lives , from the Body of Christ to the sacred gift of life itself in all its forms!

    1. This is such a smart observation; it makes young Tarcisius not only a saint, but a parable. Lovely.

    2. Lent Madness has, through the years, become more than just a way of broadening my knowledge about the saints and has become a tool to promote meditation. Your insight about all of us being a carrier of the word of God is a beautiful gateway to my deeper understanding of living into the fruits of the Spirit. And *that's* a perfect example of what Lent Madness has come to mean for me. Because of those rich a-ha moments of clarity, my vote goes to Tarcisius.

  13. This was so hard today! The child martyr with the host clutched to his chest or the educated woman who's letters help us understand languages like Italian. I'm a very proud Italian, I was also an acolyte as a child. But in the end, the strong, educated woman won out for me.

  14. I agree, this was hard. I was new to both. Tarcisius showed such devotion. Egeria has given us a true view of the early Christians. Took a long time, but I chose Egeria, and I am glad to know of Tarcisius.

  15. As an archivist I have to admire Egeria’s travels for research and the letters she left documenting the practices of the early church and the development of language. It’s not an easy choice though; I admire the faithfulness and courage of the young martyr. Egeria got my vote.

  16. I am voting for Tarcisius today.As a Mom of 3 acolytes and a dil who is an Eucharistic minister,
    I know the love and dedication they have in serving the Lord .What an amazing young man Tarcisius was.

  17. Tarcisius said Here I am, and he meant it. He probably won't get the halo, but today he gets my vote. His story is the story of many who live their yes when it would be so much easier to give in to the brutality and betray what they hold sacred.

  18. A story of bravery in stepping forward to serve in times of known danger would be enough...but to the prisoners! Standing up to bullies! And not abandoning the mission even when dying...definitely Tarcisius!!

  19. How to choose? all my children were acolytes and I serve on the Altar Guild. My daughter is a high school history teacher and would adore Egeria's primary sources

  20. I had never known Tarcisius, and his story, legendary as it may be, is so heart-rending! But Egeria is an old friend, a wonder in her time. I had to vote for her.

  21. I'm torn between the two, both deserving in their own way. If I were still the active layperson I was and carrying the sacrament to others after church, Tarcisuis would get my vote. But having studied Egeria's writings in seminary and now serving as priest in the Episcopal Church (planning & presiding at liturgies preserved in her journaling), I cast my vote for Egeria.

  22. I always confuse Egeria with Helena, mother of emperor Constantine. Helena brought back something else from the Holy Land -- remnants of the true cross. Voted for Egeria as most helpful for historians.

    1. Well said, Pailet. We all need to be brave these days, and he is an example we can look to for strength.

    2. I so totally agree. Egeria was awesome in what she did, and deserves accolades, but she didn't suffer for the cause. Tarcisius stood up for the precious Body of Christ. That is a true definition of a saint.

    3. Good for you, Pailet! It makes sense to me too, to have the courage to be brave, even to the end. Easier said than done, I am sure. Tarcisius it is,!

  23. This was tough. But as an acolyte for more years than I can remember, I had to with Tarcisius. But it was definitely a tough match-up today!

  24. The story of Tarcisius reminds me of Albus Dumbledore's praising Neville Longbottom, saying something like "it's hard to stand up to one's enemies, but even harder to stand up to one's friends."
    This match-up was hard for me, too; my sons have been acolytes, and I am an educator.

    1. The Gray Household

      Katherine - we agree! A3 (age 12) painted the Tarcisius peg doll, so the house was leaning that direction already, but you sealed the deal with that well place quote! Excellent reasoning.

  25. Easter Vigil is the queen of liturgies! Thanks be to God for Egeria who took notes all those years ago and preserved for us this rich Easter celebration. She has my vote!

  26. Egeria is historically important for Christians, especially liturgical Christians. We can thank her for spreading the word about how the Church in Jerusalem practiced Holy Week, including liturgical customs we may now find routine -- spread to the rest of the Church by a very observant, thoughtful, devout woman of the 4th Century who could travel and write well, and knew that neither ability was given her just for herself.

    1. Beat me to it, Frank! Sad that we will be able to celebrate these liturgies only in some attenuated form this year. Looking forward, Deo Volente, to the full observance in 2022

  27. I am a Sunday School teacher and a daycare administrator. I had never heard of Tarcisus, so this was my immediate reaction... What on earth were those church fathers THINKING? They said he was too young to go? Obviously, this was correct! Holy communion is NOT more important than the life of a child, and this just makes me mad at all the adults who allowed him to get into harm's way. Stupid, pointless loss of life. What a shame. And such a fine, brave little boy. Egeria, on the other hand, appears to have been a productive adult who produced something lasting and worthwhile from her ministry. This is a great story about a scholar who teaches us something new and valuable. I want to read her book now. I vote for Egeria.