Saint Marcellinus was Pope of Rome during the height of the persecution against Christians under Diocletian and Maximian (284-305), when 17,000 men were martyred a single month. During this time Saint Marcellinus was also arrested. Afraid of the fierce tortures, he burned incense and offered sacrifice to idols. The emperor called him his friend and clothed him in splendid robes. Although he had encouraged others to undergo torture for Christ, he gave in to cowardice. He wept bitterly, filled with remorse.
During this time, a Synod of 180 bishops and presbyters met at the city of Sinuessa (in Campania). Saint Marcellinus appeared at the assembly in penitential sackcloth, his head sprinkled with ashes. He confessed his sin before the delegates and asked them to judge him. The Fathers of the Council said, “Judge yourself! From your lips this sin came forth, from your lips let judgment be pronounced. We know that even Saint Peter denied Christ out of fear, but he wept bitterly for his sin, and received forgiveness from the Lord.”
Then Marcellinus pronounced sentence upon himself, “I strip myself of the priestly dignity, of which I am unworthy. After death, do not bury my body, but instead throw it to the dogs. Cursed be the one who dares to bury it.”
Upon his return to Rome Marcellinus went to the emperor, threw down the fine clothing given him, and said that he regretted his renunciation of Christ. The enraged emperor had him tortured, and sentenced him to death.
Saint Marcellinus prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who mercifully receives sinners who repent, then willingly placed his head beneath the sword. The holy martyrs Claudius, Cyrinus and Antoninus were beheaded with him.
The body of Saint Marcellinus lay for thirty-six days along the wayside. Appearing in a vision to the new bishop Marcellus, the holy Apostle Peter said, “Why have you not buried the body of Marcellinus?”
“I fear his curse,” replied Saint Marcellus.
“Perhaps you do not remember,” said the Apostle Peter, “that it is written: ‘He that humbles himself shall be exalted.’ Therefore, go bury his body with reverence.”
Fulfilling the command of the Apostle Peter, Saint Marcellus buried the body of Saint Marcellinus in a crypt, built for the burial of the bodies of martyrs by the illustrious Priscilla, along the Via Salaria.