Giacomo Baldrati was born in Lugo, Italy, on September 26, 1595. His parents (Cesare Baldrati and Lucia de Bianchi) supported his boyhood piety, and he joined the local Dominicans on January 15, 1612, taking the name “Alessandro”, or Alexander.
The Order sent him to study in Faenza and Naples. The friar was then ordained a priest and sent to the University of Bologna as a teacher, where people said he devoted half his time to God and half to his neighbor, leaving no time for himself. He collapsed into sickness from overwork and was sent to Venice to recover.
The interesting bit is that he may have ended up with some kind of mental illness too, which is very unusual in a saint. Some saints are very eccentric, but they tend to be saner than most. Alessandro had been known to be a particularly cheerful person all his life, but now he became depressed and prone to wild anger. He also began to fear his fellow friars (some of whom apparently teased him at this point) as persecutors. His biographer from the 1700’s from Chios, Leone Allacci, says that he went to Venice without permission from his superiors, and that he definitely was on the run when he took ship from Venice to Constantinople, and from there to Pera. He reported in at the Dominican friary at Pera. They decided to send him to Smyrna, because the archbishop of Edessa and co-adjutor of Smyrna was a particularly wise and holy Dominican, Venerable Giacinto Subiani di Arezzo. Friar Alexander was filled with fear again, but the monks of Constantinople assured him that Smyrna was “not a place where they beat up foreigners.”
Things must have gone well in Smyrna, because Archbishop Giacinto decided to send him to the small monastery of St. Sebastian on the Greek island of Chios — which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, and ruled by Muslims. With no other duties, Friar Alexander decided to spend all day preaching in the little Christian towns. Archbishop Giacinto later testified that he harvested “abundant fruit of souls” among his fellow Christians.
Then his Italian brothers sent a letter inviting him to come back. Friar Alessandro had a relapse into his fears, and was sure the letters were a trap. At times he seemed to go catatonic. At other times, he ran around town, crying out his sadness and fear. Strangely, he kept saying that people were going to burn him at the stake.
Politics and human drama ensued. Since a couple of prominent churchmen (including Archbishop Giacinto) arrived at Chios at about the same time to change ships, some local Muslims spread rumors that the Christians were planning to take back the island. Taking advantage of the hostile atmosphere, a guy named Aga Cuzaim, a Chios Muslim who had once been Christian and who disliked Friar Alexander (nobody knows why) decided to report him to the local Ottoman authorities as an apostate Muslim.
And of course we all know that the sharia law penalty for forsaking Islam is death.
Under the Ottoman Empire, sharia law ruled in most matters. Alexander was hauled into court by the Muslim governor. Here’s the strange thing. Now that he was really being persecuted and was really in danger of his life, Friar Alexander became himself again, fearless and articulate as a Dominican preacher should be. He protested again and again that he was Christian, had never been anything but Christian, and never intended to be anything but Christian. (One source seems to think that he may have apostatized during his screaming fits, some of which happened near Cuzaim’s house; but Allatios doesn’t seem to believe it.)
The Dominicans and the visiting churchmen were threatened for having concealed an apostate Muslim. They fired back that Friar Alexander was a Christian and never had been anything else. Eventually they were let go, and sent messages to Alexander to stand firm. Archbishop Giacinto ordered all his churches to keep a 24-hour prayer vigil for their fragile brother.
When Alexander was brought to court again, the judge told him that he would be executed for apostasy unless he embraced Islam again. He told them once again that he was a Christian who had never been anything else. He also told them for good measure, “Your Prophet is a prophet of lies; your law comes from the Father of Lies.” He was almost lynched then and there. But he was not afraid; he was calm and happy to die for Jesus’ Name, and professorial in his defense of Christian doctrine.
After all his fears, and possibly because they were known, he was indeed condemned to be burned at the stake for his “blasphemy.” He wasn’t even shaken, now that it was real. So they threw in some torture over the next few days. Prisoners and guards agreed that Friar Alexander fasted the whole time, prayed prostrate in his cell as was one of the Dominican customs, never complained, and was constantly penitent over his sins but in control of himself. When they came to execute him, he was serene and calm. He was led through the streets as a frightening example; but the streets were lined with Christians eager to honor their martyr, Catholics and Orthodox alike.
After he had been led out and bound to the stake with chains, the governor tempted him one last time. “Lift one finger to show that you believe in the God of Mohammed, the one true God, and your life will be spared.”
Alexander lifted three fingers. “The One God is the Holy Trinity!” Then he blessed the crowd with those fingers, “In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!”
They lighted the fire — but the flames refused to touch him. They added wood, and the wood rolled away from him.
The Muslim crowd shot him, hacked him to pieces, then blew up his body with gunpowder. It was February 10, 1645.
Relics were saved from the mess and were sent around the world by the Dominicans, including to his hometown of Lugo.
February 10 is his memorial. His symbol is a martyr’s palm and a chain.
Blessed Alexander of Lugo, pray for us!
Here’s his biography:
Vita e morte del p.f. Alessandro Baldrati da Lugo, fatto morire nella citta di Scio da’ Turchi per la fede cattolica li 10. di febraro 1645. by Leone Allacci, Rome: Francisco Moneta, 1657. And here it is on Google Books.
The author is also known as Leo Allatius or Leo Allatios (1586-1669), and he was indeed a Greek born on Chios. He was also one of the Vatican Library’s head librarians, from 1661-1669, and was responsible for a lot of its Greek and Syriac acquisitions. On the side, he was a trained physician. He fought hard to heal the schism between Catholics and Orthodox, and wrote several important works about it. He translated St. Methodius of Olympus’ Banquet of the Ten Virgins into Latin, and refuted the urban legend of Pope Joan by consulting Greek records. He is a major source for opera history, since he listed all the operas put on in a city in his book Drammaturgia. He also wrote about Greek folklore in his De Graecorum hodie quorundam opinationibus. Most of his 150 volumes of manuscripts have never been published… but he published and edited hundreds of books during his lifetime. So yeah, Leo was an interesting guy.