|St Alexius – The Man of God|
Being one of the very early saints many legends have grown up around the life of St Alexis and were much embelished in the Middle Ages. Legends, however, are not just fairy tales; they can be an extremely useful art-form or media for conveying some special truth or quality about a person in a symbolic way which illustrates a message about the person which ordinary language or narration would fail to convey.
The relationship between St Alexis and the Cellites appears to hark back to the community's origin in the 'vita apostolica' (the apostolic life derived from the original apostles). The story of St Alexis, the beggar, the man of God, had strong appeal to those voluntary poor brothers who begged for bread in God's name for the poor. Until recently the most commonly accepted narrative of the saint's life placed his birth in Rome during the fifth century in the reign of the Emperors Honorius and Arcadius. His parents, Euphemian, a Roman Senator, and Algas, were very wealthy. When he reached the age to marry his parents chose a princess for him to marry. Immediately after the wedding celebrations, when normally the bride and groom would retire to the nuptual chamber, Alexis took flight from Rome and sailed for Syria. He then journeyed to Edessa in Syria, where he assumed the life of a beggar at the door of a church dedicated to Mary. He is also said to have served the sick in the hospital during his time in Edessa. Apparently, years went by before he became known, an image of Our Lady spoke and revealed his identity to the people, calling him the "Man of God".
Humbly, Alexis shunned the notoriety; he set off for Tarsus in Celicia but providence intervened in the way of a storm at sea and he ended up in Ostia, the nearest port to Rome. From there Alexis made his way to the Aventine Hill, where his parents lived. He met his father, Euphemian, who did not recognise him, an ill-clothed sickly beggar, but gave him employment, allotting a corner under the stairs as his quarters. For seventeen years he thus lived unknown in his fathers house, bearing the ill-treatment of the other servants in patience and in silence. After years of hard work and inconspicious humility Alexis died. Immediately the bells of Rome tolled for his death and a voice from heaven uttered, "Seek the man of God, that he may pray for Rome." From St Peter's Basilica these words resounded throughout the city and guided the Romans to the room below Euphemian's palace stairs where Alexis lay dead holding a scroll on which he had written an account of his mendicant life. Hearing the news the parents of Alexis burst into tears. He was granted a saint's burial; his body placed in St Peter's Basilica and many centuries later brought to the church of St Boniface on the Aventine Hill.
In the Church of Saints Boniface and Alexis there is still the altar to St Alexis with a large glass case above it allegedly containing the original staircase under which St Alexis lived.
The self-styled mendicant existence of the anchient "Man of God", his anonymity, and his utter detachment from the luxurious life of Rome have blended to form the model for the Cellites. St Alexis was revered over the ages as the Patron Saint of Beggars and Pilgrims.