Inscription regarding Saint Tarcisius in courtyard of San Silvestro in Capite
‘Whoever you are who reads this’, that as the prize of martyrdom was granted to the deacon Saint Stephen, who died by stoning, so might it be accorded to Tarsicius, who, though wounded, chose death rather than betray into the hands of ‘rabid dogs’ the Precious Body he was carrying. In small letters at the end of this inscription are the words: ex antiquis manuscriptis, meaning ‘taken from an old manuscript’.
Among the relics of the martyrs whose remains San Silvestro in Capite was built to house was the body of St. Tarcisius or Tarsicius. He was a young acolyte, or server, who was martyred in the Roman Forum while bringing the Eucharist to prisoners and the sick during the persecution of the Emporer Valerian in the third century. His name is included on an eighth-century inscription to the right of the entrance to the church which lists the the saints whose relics are preserved in San Silvestro in Capite. There is also a inscription regarding St. Tarsicius to the right of the church entrance which has been paraphrased as follows: Whoever you are who read this, know that equal merit must go to two men, to whom, after they have won their reward, Pope Damasus is giving their titles. Stephen, the faithful Levite, stoned by the Jewish people, was the first to snatch the trophy of martyrdom from his enemy. Tarsicius, when carrying the Blessed Sacrament, though injured, preferred to give up his life rather than yield the Sacred Species to rabid dogs. There are two paintings of St. Tarsicius in San Silvestro - one in the left transept of the church (The Martyrdom of the young acolyte, Saint Tarsicius by Virginio Monti) and another in the sacristy. The location of St. Tarsicius' body in the church remains unknown - the present day crypt was excavated in a fruitless search to locate his tomb.
Pope Benedict XIV, General Audience, August 4th, 2010:
Who was St Tarcisius? We do not have much information about him. We are dealing with the early centuries of the Church's history or, to be more precise, with the third century. It is said that he was a boy who came regularly to the Catacombs of St Calixtus here in Rome and took his special Christian duties very seriously. He had great love for the Eucharist and various hints lead us to conclude that he was presumably an acolyte, that is, an altar server. Those were years in which the Emperor Valerian was harshly persecuting Christians who were forced to meet secretly in private houses or, at times, also in the Catacombs, to hear the word of God, to pray and to celebrate Holy Mass. Even the custom of taking the Eucharist to prisoners and the sick became increasingly dangerous. One day, when, as was his habit, the priest asked who was prepared to take the Eucharist to the other brothers and sisters who were waiting for it, young Tarcisius stood up and said: "send me!". This boy seemed too young for such a demanding service! "My youth", Tarcisius said, "will be the best shield for the Eucharist". Convinced, the priest entrusted to him the precious Bread, saying: "Tarcisius, remember that a heavenly treasure has been entrusted to your weak hands. Avoid crowded streets and do not forget that holy things must never be thrown to dogs nor pearls to pigs. Will you guard the Sacred Mysteries faithfully and safely?". "I would die", Tarcisio answered with determination, "rather than let go of them". As he went on his way he met some friends who approached him and asked him to join them. As pagans they became suspicious and insistent at his refusal and realized he was clasping something to his breast that he appeared to be protecting. They tried to prize it away from him, but in vain; the struggle became ever fiercer, especially when they realized that Tarcisius was a Christian; They kicked him, they threw stones at him, but he did not surrender. While Tarcisius was dying a Pretoria guard called Quadratus, who had also, secretly, become a Christian, carried him to the priest. Tarcisius was already dead when they arrived but was still clutching to his breast a small linen bag containing the Eucharist. He was buried straight away in the Catacombs of St Calixtus. Pope Damasus had an inscription carved on St Tarcisius' grave; it says that the boy died in 257. The Roman Martyrology fixed the date as 15 August and in the same Martyrology a beautiful oral tradition is also recorded. It claims that the Most Blessed Sacrament was not found on St Tarcisius' body, either in his hands or his clothing. It explains that the consecrated Host which the little Martyr had defended with his life, had become flesh of his flesh thereby forming, together with his body, a single immaculate Host offered to God.