Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November 7 - Herculanus of Perugia, Martyr, Bishop, Trickster

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of living in besieged city is the slow and unrelenting nature of your downfall. Each passing of the sun overhead exacts a cost from everybody who is besieged: another day means less food, less water, less supplies, and less hope.A siege slowly bleeds a city until it can no longer stand up before the besieging army or until the city surrenders everything for the hope of eating again. As fear and panic rip through you and your friends and family, you can see your enemies outside the wall eating well and waiting. Like vultures they wait and watch and see how long it is that you can last. You covet their supplies. You wonder who will be the next among your loved ones to die. You fear that you'll survive long enough to be put to the blade by the enemies at your gate. The siege is often effective and exacts a type of slow unrelenting terror that weakens even the strongest will.

As the bishop of Perugia, Italy, when Totila and the Ostrogoths camped outside their gates, Herculanus could feel the terror and panic in his flock. As a leader in the city, he was privy to more information than the average citizen and knew well that their food was nearly gone. The siege had started out as a terrifying oddity and had become a life-draining reality in a short time. Prayers seemed to focus entirely upon daily bread and fear of the soon coming conflict. Herculanus found it extremely difficult to comfort those who were clearly marked for suffering. Yet, this is what he did. While he comforted his flock, however, he was devising a plan. There are only two ways for the besieged city to overcome a siege: military victory and persuasion. Besieging armies could often be persuaded to leave with large sums of money. This wasn't an option for the Perugians since they didn't have nearly enough money to dissuade Totila. Other cities had escaped sieges by remaining supplied secretively as Jersualem did in the book of the prophet Isaiah.Regrettably, there was no way for Perugia to do this. Their only hope was either to attack and repel the army or convince Totila that continuing the siege would be too costly. This meant convincing him that Perugia could play the waiting game longer than his army. Herculanus wasn't comfortable going to war and shedding the blood of his enemies so he devised a ruse.

He carried the last bag of grain that they had. He led the small remaining flock of sheep out into the grass near the walls of the city. Though they would have enjoyed killing the flock and thereby further depleting the supply of food for the city, they didn't want to risk ambush or arrow-fire from the Perugians. The army would not attack him immediately--not unless he tried to run or tried to arrange for some food or other supplies. Instead, Totila and his army waited to see what Herculanus would do. With a prayer, he openedthe bag of grain and began spreading it around carelessly for the little lambs to eat. He hoped that the Ostrogoths would look on and see the littlest lambs being fed and deduce that Perugia has so much extra food that they could afford to lavishly feed even the weakest and tiniest creatures in their midst. If they deduced this, then surely they would give up the siege. After waiting and trying to look unconcerned, Herculanus returned to the relative safety of the city walls. The city waited expectantly to see if Totila would lead his army elsewhere. With each passing hour, their dread deepened as they saw no signs that Totila would lift the siege. Totila hadn't fallen for the trick.

A few days later, Perugia surrendered and the Ostrogoths claimed it as their own. The people were sickly and diseased but some would recover when food was given to them again. Of course, Totila made sure that his soldiers ate first and ate well from the supplies. Totila remembered the bishop's trick and ordered Herculanus flayed for trying to dissuade him. Herculanus had resisted the temptation to fight or resist. He had not fought evil with evil. His reward was an order to have the skin stripped from his body. Somewhat mercifully, his executioner decided rather to decapitate him. In this, the resourceful and loving Herculanus died at the hands of a man who cared little for mercy. He had fought for his people in the only way he felt he was allowed--the way of peace and the way of the shepherd.

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