Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saintly Saturday: St. Nicon the Hieromartyr

Today is the feast of St. Nicon the Hieromartyr. He was born in late 2nd or early 3rd century Naples to a pagan father and a mother who was secretly a Christian. Despite being exposed to the faith, he grew up pagan and became a soldier. It was during a particularly sticky situation as a soldier that he began his path towards becoming a saint.

His company was surrounded and, out of desperation, he started to pray to his mother's God. When he and many of his fellow soldiers survived, he began a quest to become baptized. This was no easy task in a time of persecution. Eventually, he ended up in a cave church where the bishop of Cyzicus was hiding with a group of monks. It was there that he became a monk and eventually succeeded the bishop who baptized him.

St. Nicon ended up in Sicily when barbarian incursions drove out he and his fellow monks. Upon his return to the West, several of the soldiers he served with sought him out. They, too, decided to become Christian. Eventually, they settled in a wilderness area called Gigia by the River Assinum in Sicily. After many years living in peace, they were arrested during a persecution by the governor Quintilian. When they refused to worship idols, the 199 monks that were with Nikon were beheaded. St. Nicon was tortured and eventually was also beheaded about the year A.D. 251.

Taking a quick look at a map of Sicily, the most likely place where St. Nicon and disciples were are in the mountains outside of the modern city of Noto, which sits at the headwaters of the River Asinaro. This suggests a very nice little area for an interesting variation on a couple of classic D&D campaign tropes — the ruined monastery and Skull Mountain.

Firstly, we have several very nice names: The ancient name for Noto was Neetum, the wilderness around evidently was known as Gigia, which are part of the Heraean Mountains in a valley of the river Asinaro/Assinum.

Secondly, there is a monastery, founded by St. Nicon and his disciples (some of whom are former soldiers, including Nicon himself) who are all killed by beheading. This suggests that in the mountains surrounding Noto/Neetum is a ruin that colloquially is known as the Monastery of Skulls.

Since there are 200 of these skulls, this suggests several different potential variations on what one might do with a ruined monastery:

  • As with T1:The Village of Hommlet, the Church has recently come to power and are now interested in recovering the skulls as relics.
  • The monks were guarding the valley from something truly heinous, which now uses the monastery as a home base. The only way to stop it is to return the 200 skulls to the monastery.
  • There is a gate, behind which lies a powerful magic artifact that is needed in a conflict with some great evil. The keys to open this gate are the 200 skulls of the monks.

In addition to all of these, there are also the various armor and weapons of the soldiers numbered among the 200 monks...


  1. How about if the gate is one you DON'T want opened, and the skulls are the only thing keeping it closed...makes a nice little dilemma for PCs sent on a relic-fetching quest.
    ; )

  2. 251 A.D. would put St. Nicon's death during the Decian persecution, if I remember right. The babarian incursions were therefore probably the Gothic invasions, which eventually cost Decius his life -- the first Emperor to fall in battle against a foreign enemy. (Yeah, I'm a Roman History geek. :)

    Regarding the adventure possibilities, an image flashed through my mind of the adventurers entering the ruined monastery, only to encounter 200 headless ghosts (noteL not the evil undead D&D Ghost), still praying and performing whatever guardian duty it was they had in their mortal lives. To get what they need, the PCs need to convince the spirits to give up their guardianship, which could be quite difficiult, since, lacking heads, these spirits are difficult to communicate with.

    Nice. Another thought-provoking entry. :)