Saint Faith


Also Known as Fides, Foi, Foy


Saint Faith or "Saint Faith of Conques" (Latin Sancta Fides, French Sainte-Foy, Spanish Santa Fe) is a saint who is said to have been a girl or young woman of Agen in Aquitaine. Her legend recounts how she was arrested during persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire and refused to make pagan sacrifices even under torture. Saint Faith was tortured to death with a red-hot brazier. Her death is sometimes said to have occurred in the year 287 or 290, sometimes in the large-scale persecution under Diocletian beginning in 303. She is listed as Sainte Foy, "Virgin and Martyr", in the martyrologies.

Little is in fact known of St. Faith. It is believed that Faith lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries at the time of the Roman Emperor Maximilian (286-305 AD) and died in Agen in the Garonne Valley in French Aquitaine. According to Jean-Claude Foy’s ‘Visiting Conques’, ‘a young Christian girl named Foy’ (from the Latin ‘Fides’) refused to make a sacrifice to pagan gods and was put to death by the occupying Roman authorities on the orders of the Governor Dacian, who had her roasted on a brazen bed and then beheaded. Other versions of the story record a miraculous shower of rain extinguishing the fire and necessitating the subsequent beheading. Faith was just twelve years old at the time. ‘Other Christians from Agen,’ Fau relates, ‘among whom were Bishop Caprais, moved by her example, submitted in their turn to an agonising fate.’ 

Her body, secretly buried, was transferred two centuries later to the basilica constructed on the actual place of her martyrdom. ‘It is quite certain’, Fau says, ‘that the various accounts of her Passion related well after her death, evoke more the feeling of ‘The Golden Legend of the Lives of the Saints’ than any historical reality.’ 

Five centuries later, it appears that romantic legend became closer to reality when ‘the names of Sainte Foy and Conques became associated for ever.’ Towards the end of the 8th century, a hermit called Dadon settled to a life of contemplation in that remote valley, and a community of monks joined him, following the Benedictine rules. Following a grant of land from the Emperor Louis the Pious (son of Charlemagne), the community began to flourish. At a time when the worship and valuing of holy relics was growing – and the possession of relics were coming to be seen as conferring great prestige - the Conques community set about obtaining some. ‘After several fruitless attempts’, Fau recounts, ‘ they set their heart on obtaining the precious remains of Sainte Foy at Agen. The theft, obliquely referred to as the ‘discreet transfer’(!) took place in the year 866 AD.’ 

Other accounts tell the entertaining story of the Conques monk who apparently attached himself to the Agen community, won their confidence and was entrusted with the task of guarding the relics. Once alone, he took to the hills with Saint Faith, evaded his righteous pursuers and found sanctuary in Conques, on January 14th, 866, where our saint’s remains (if that is what they actually are) remain to this day.

The abbey was rededicated to Sainte Foy and, discreetly glossing over its highly questionable acquisition, grew and prospered. Crusaders and pilgrims going to the shrine of St James at Compostella invoked her intercession and heaped treasures and gold on the community. The celebrated reliquary jewel-encrusted statue of the saint dates from this time and has long revered as a memento of her life and death. 

There were two other, more historically authenticated, dramatic episodes in Saint Faith’s journey down the centuries. In 1568, at the height of the Reformation, the Huguenot Protestants set fire to the abbey, burning the roof down and doing much damage. At the time of the French Revolution, in 1792, the monastery was suppressed and scattered, and its mediaeval treasures, including the ‘Majesty of Sainte Foy’, were taken out of the decaying abbey and hidden in villagers’ homes, walls and outbuildings to avoid being requisitioned and melted down. The monastic buildings did not survive, but the abbey was restored and its treasures recovered and reinstalled.



The Trial of St. Faith:

Making the sign of the cross on different parts of her body, St. Faith uttered this prayer, "Lord Jesus, who art always ready to assist your servants, fortify me at this hour, and enable me to answer in a manner worthy of you."

The tyrant Dacian, assuming an air of mildness, asked her, "What is your name?"

She answered, "My name is Faith, and I endeavor to support in reality what that flame signifies."

Dacian – "What is your religion?"

FAITH – "I have from my infancy served Christ, and to him I have consecrated my whole soul."

Dacian – "Come, child, have some regard for your youth and beauty; renounce the religion you profess, and sacrifice to Diana, who is a divinity of your own sex, and who will bestow on you the most precious gifts."

FAITH – "The divinities of the Gentiles are devils: how then can you advise me to sacrifice to them?"

Dacian, in a rage, said: "What! do you presume to call our gods devils! you must resolve instantly to offer sacrifice, or expire under torments."

St. Faith, calling to mind the courage of the martyrs and the glorious crown promised to those who persevere to the end, far from being terrified at the menaces of the tyrant, feels herself inflamed with a new desire to die for her Lord; "No," cried she, "I not only am prepared to suffer every torment for Christ, but I burn with impatience to die for him."

Dacian, more enraged than ever, ordered a brazen bed to be produced, and the saint to be bound on it with iron chains. A treat fire was kindled under it, the heat of which was rendered still more intolerable by the addition of oil, and other inflammable matter.

The spectators, struck with pity and horror, exclaimed: "How can the tyrant thus torment an innocent young virgin only for worshipping God!"

Hereupon Dacian apprehended numbers of them, and as these refused to sacrifice, they were beheaded with Saint Faith.

Why she is venerated by the Holy Roman Catholic Church:

Zealot of Faith to Our Lord Jesus Christ

Martyr by being cooked and then beheaded

Author and Poet George F. Tull, inspired by the painting of St. Faith in the chapel, wrote a poem that seems an appropriate way to end this series.

Who Shall Find a Valiant Woman?


Swing open (wide enough for humble entry pilgrimwise)

This Sturdy door; be conscious here

Of safety and of peace, of more

Than just another chapel from an age

Of faith. Regard the strength that nerves this tall

Untroubled Saint, exhibiting her gridiron small,

Symbolic of her death; while she not overcome

By glory wears the simplest crown-

No still embroidered cloak, nor aureole;

We see her set, so comely and serene,

In mediaeval red and green

Where noises scarcely penetrate.

Pray with the artist monk in Benedictine black,

Whose silent words are here, perpetual record from

The heart of penitence, and depths of care;

Whose hands athwart long centuries, are joined in prayer

To be unburdened from his grievous sin

And make his peace with Christ.

His picture expiates enough,

St. Faith to whom he prays will not reject

The clear devotion of his offering,

Nor will the valiant woman be unmoved.



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