Ignatius, born in Syria, converted to Christianity at a young age, and was thought to be a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. He is one of the five Apostolic Church Fathers, who were instructed personally by Christ’s apostles.
An early tradition has it that he was the child that Our Lord took up in his arms, as recorded by St Mark: “And taking a child, he set him in the midst of them. Whom when he had embraced, he saith to them: Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in my name, receiveth me (9:35-36).
Consecrated bishop by the Apostles, he succeeded St. Peter and Evodius as the third Bishop of Antioch about the year 69.
An ideal pastor and true soldier of Christ, Ignatius comforted and strengthened his flock when the persecution of Domitian broke out. He was arrested during the persecution of Trajan, and shipped aboard a vessel bound for Rome. Along the route his ship made several stops, which afforded the saint opportunity of confirming the faith of various churches.
He wrote several letters to these communities which have been preserved, and deal with early Catholic theology. St. Ignatius was the first to use the Greek word “katholikos”, “universal” in reference to the Church founded by Christ.
At Smyrna, he had the joy of meeting his former disciple and dear friend, St. Polycarp. His route to martyrdom was a sort of triumphant march, with Christian communities flocking to meet him everywhere, hailing and encouraging him on his way.
He was martyred in Rome on the last day of the public games, December 20 in the year 107. Condemned to be devoured by lions in the public arena, his prayer before his death was: “I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ. Indeed the lions devoured all of his body leaving only the large bones.
Today, these relics of St. Ignatius rest in the Church of San Clemente in Rome.