Although we have no official date of birth and death for St. Bibiana, according to tradition, she lived in Rome. She was the daughter of Flavian, a Roman knight, and Dafrosa, his wife, who were both zealous Christians. In the year 363, Julian the Apostate made Apronianus Governor of Rome. This pagan governor soon had Bibiana’s parents arrested. Flavian was stripped of his post as a knight, burned on the face with a hot iron and banished from Rome. He died of his wounds a few days later. His wife Dafrosa was confined to her house for some time and later carried outside the gates of Rome and beheaded.
The virgin Bibiana and her sister, Demetria, now without parents, were also stripped of all their belongings and left to suffer in poverty for five months. Bibiana spent most of this time in prayer and fasting. When Apronianus realized that their suffering was not going to persuade them to renounce their faith, he summoned them to appear before him. Demetria, weak from hunger and illness, fell down and died in the presence of the tribunal judge after proclaiming her faith. Bibiana was then turned over to a wicked woman by the name of Rufina who was determined to “break” her. When other means of torture were unsuccessful, Rufina finally had Bibiana tied to a pillar and whipped with scourges loaded with leaden plummets until she died.
Afterwards, Bibiana’s body was left out in the open for wild beasts to devour, however, after two days, a holy priest named John came at night and buried her body near the palace of Licinius. Later a chapel was erected over her tomb. In 465, Pope Simplicius built a church there called Olympina, named after a pius lady who helped pay for the building of the church. In 1628, Pope Urban VIII had the church rebuilt since it was in very poor condition. He then had the relics of Bibiana, her sister and her parents brought and placed in the church. These relics had been discovered in the place that was sometimes called St. Bibiana’s cemetery.
Saint Bibiana and her family are holy reminders to us of what we are living for. We are not here on earth to gather up material goods and pamper ourselves. We are here to serve each other, for through service to one another, we serve our Lord. Heaven is our ultimate home, so riches, glory, or power that we obtain on earth are gifts from above. We must always strive not to be tied to the things on earth, but rather to keep our eyes fixed on our eternal goal of heaven.
Dear Saint Bibiana, through your fasting and prayer you were given the grace to endure suffering and torment at the hands of your persecutors. Intercede for us, dear saint, that we also remember that our Lord is always there to strengthen us and give us the grace to persevere. Amen.
image: St. Bibiana by Bernini via WikiPaintings