St. Apollinaris was an illustrious second century bishop and a great apologist for his time. Born in Antioch, Turkey, he became the first bishop of Ravenna, in Italy, where he shepherded his flock for twenty-six years.
He addressed a defense, of the Christian religion to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who, shortly before, had obtained a signal victory over the Quadi, a people inhabiting the country now called Moravia. One of his legions, the twelfth, was composed chiefly of Christians. When the army was perishing for want of water, the soldiers of this legion fell upon their knees and invoked the assistance of God. The result was sudden, for a copious rain fell, and, aided by the storm, they conquered the Germans. The emperor gave this legion the name “Thundering Legion” and mitigated his persecution.
It was to protect his flock against persecution that St. Apollinaris, who was bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, addressed his apology to the Emperor to implore his protection and to remind him of the favor he had received from God through the prayers of the Christians. A prolific writer, Apollinaris continued defending the faith against the heresies of his time. Unfortunately, most of his work has been lost over the centuries.
Apollinaris was known for his great preaching, conversion of pagans (for which he was severely beaten and exiled numerous times), and his miracles. On one occasion, he was cut with knives, had scalding water poured over his wounds, was beaten in the mouth with stones and then put on board a ship and sent to Greece. In Greece the same course of preachings, and miracles, and beatings continued. In fact, after a cruel beating by Greek pagans, he was sent back to Italy.
When Emperor Vespasian issued a decree of banishment against the Christians, Apollinaris was kept concealed for some time, but as he was leaving, passing through the gates of the city, he was attacked and savagely beaten. He lived for seven days, foretelling that the persecutions would increase, but that the Church would ultimately triumph.
His shrine, located in the Benedictine Abbey of Classe in Ravenna, once a popular pilgrimage destination, was credited with many miracles.