The History of Orontius: Martyr, Saint, and Patron of Lecce

The story of the Christian saint who introduced Christianity to Lecce

By ArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

Saint Orontius - Duomo of Lecce by Giuseppe ZimbaloArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

Born in Rudiae in AD 22 and died in Lecce in AD 68, Saint Orontius is traditionally known as the first bishop of Lecce, who was ordained by Saint Paul.

Saint Justus converting Saint Orontius - Duomo of Lecce (1600) by Giovanni Andrea Coppola, Antonio VerrioArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

According to the tradition, Titius Justus of Corinth was travelling to deliver a letter of Saint Paul to the Romans, but his vessel was shipwrecked off the coast of San Cataldo, near Lecce.

Chapel dedicated to Saint Orontius - Duomo of Lecce (1671 - 1674) by Giuseppe Zimbalo and Giovanni Andrea LarducciArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

He was rescued by Publius and his nephew Fortunatus, who were on a hunting trip.
Justus spoke to them about God: they decided to convert to Christianity and Publius changed his name into Orontius.

Saint Orontius is mandated to protect Lecce - Museum of Sacred Art (MuDAS) (1766) by Serafino ElmoArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

Titius Justus invited both of them to Corinth, to introduce them to Paul the Apostle, who decided to appoint Orontius first bishop of Lecce and Apulia.

Preaching of Saint Orontius - Duomo of Lecce by Giuseppe da BrindisiArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

Once back in Salento, Orontius began an intense work of evangelization. Nevertheless, due to the increase in the persecutions of Christians under Nero, Orontius and Fortunatus were exiled.

Saint Orontius - Museum of Sacred Art (1700) by Oronzo TisoArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

They travelled around Apulia, stopping in Turi and Ostuni, preaching in the natural caves where they found refuge from persecutions. Then, they went to Siponto, near Manfredonia, and Taranto.

Martyrdom of Saint Orontius - Duomo of Lecce by Giuseppe da BrindisiArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

Returned to Turi, they were arrested, tried for high treason against the emperor, and sentenced to death by beheading.

Head of Saint Orontius - Museum of Sacred Art (1800) by UnknownArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

Saint Orontius’ remains would have been collected by a matron from Lecce, Saint Petronilla, and His holy relics would rest in the Duomo, under the last column on the right-hand side of the nave.

Sanctuary of "Sant’Oronzo Fuori le Mura" (Saint Orontius Outside the Walls) by Francesco Antonio ZimbaloArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

The sanctuary of Sant’Oronzo Fuori le Mura (Saint Orontius Outside the Walls) - also known as “La Capu te Santu Ronzu” (Saint Orontius’ Head) - stands where the corpses were brought after the beheading.

Saint Orontius - Church of San Matteo (1736) by Serafino ElmoArtWork Cooperativa Sociale

Saint Orontius has not always been the patron of Lecce: Saint Irene had been the Patron Saint of the city until 1656, when the inhabitants persuaded themselves that Orontius had saved them from the plague.

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