St. Luke the Evangelist
St. Luke is known as the apostle of the Gentiles, his inspired writings are the most authentic commendation of his sanctity, however, few facts are known about Luke's life from Scripture and from early Church historians. Scholars disagree about his birth, his profession and his death.
Luke was a native of Antioch, the metropolis of Syria, a city famous for the agreeableness of its situation, the riches of its traffic, its extent, the number of its inhabitants, the politeness of their manners and their learning and wisdom. Its schools were the most renowned in all Asia, and produced the ablest masters in all arts and sciences. It is said that St. Luke acquired a stock of learning in his younger years, which was improved by his travels in Greece and Egypt. However, it is assumed that Luke was born to a very poor family; in fact, it is thought that he was a slave to a wealthy family. In those days, it was not uncommon for families to educate slaves in medicine so that they would have a resident family physician.
St. Paul calls him his most dear physician. Legend has it that was also a skillful painter who may have done portraits of Jesus and Mary but none have ever been correctly attributed to him. He is known as the painter of a portrait of Mary, some say his painting is the true portrait of the Virgin that emerges from the Evangelist's pages.
Though, the author of the Gospel of Luke, he did not personally know Jesus. It is believed that he may have known Mary personally, or someone very close to her, as certain details of the birth and childhood of Jesus could have been recounted only by her. Luke's inspiration and information come from his close association with Paul and his companions.
When he set out to write his Gospel, Mark and Matthew had already written theirs. Luke wanted "to go over the whole story from the beginning" of the life of Christ, thus to write an "ordered account" of what already existed, but with new information from "eyewitnesses," and to connect the Gospel story chronologically with contemporary secular history. In Luke's Gospel, about half his narrative is found only in his book and not in the other synoptic Gospels. These additions include Jesus' seven miracles, about twenty parables, and above all the story of the birth and childhood of the Savior. The Evangelist's originality--he is the most attentive to reporting the merciful kindness of Jesus toward the poor, the sick, sinners, and the afflicted--emerges especially in the central section of his Gospel, where he tells of Christ's journey to Jerusalem; the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Rich Man, the Pharisee, and the Publican. Several times Luke repeats that the Good News is for the little ones, while he dwells on a description of Jesus' gestures of forgiveness and welcoming. Luke is the only one, for example, to tell the story of the prostitute who burst into the house of the Pharisee who had invited the Nazarene to a meal, "weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment" (Lk 7:38). It is only due to Luke that we know the story of the Good Thief who is forgiven and welcomed by the dying Jesus, and thus manages in an instant to "steal" Paradise. Luke also has a special connection with the women in Jesus' life, especially Mary. It is only in Luke's gospel that we hear the Annunciation, Mary's visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the presentation, and the story of Jesus disappearance in Jerusalem. It is Luke that we have to thank for the Scriptural parts of the Hail Mary: "Hail Mary full of grace" spoken at the Annunciation and "Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus" spoken by her cousin Elizabeth.
The only account and trail of Luke's Christian ministry may be as he wrote it in the Acts of the Apostles. Nothing is known of his conversion except as seen in his writings when he joins Saint Paul around the age of 51. The Acts are written in the third person, as an historian recording facts, up until the sixteenth chapter. In Acts 16:8-9 we hear of Paul's company "So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.'" Then suddenly in 16:10 "they" becomes "we". "When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them." Luke accompanied Paul into Macedonia and apparently was not thrown into prison with Paul. He stayed behind for seven years to encourage the church. When Paul returns they travel together and go to Jerusalem. Luke is the loyal comrade who stays with Paul when he is imprisoned in Rome "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers" (Philemon 24). And after everyone deserts Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, it is Luke who remains with Paul to the end: "Only Luke is with me " (2 Timothy 4:11).
Some say he was crucified on an olive tree and some say he suffered much for his faith and died of old age. Sources indicate that he probably died at the age of 84 in about 150 AD in the Greek city of Thebes. The coffin with his remains was taken to Constantinople and due to the reign of the pagan Emperor Julian, or during the iconoclast period of the eighth century, when many religious objects were destroyed, the coffin was moved to Padua, Italy for safety. It is believed that his head was removed by Emperor Charles IV in 1354 and taken from Padua to Prague, where it rests in the Cathedral of St. Vitus, in Prague Castle. The coffin remained in Padua and had been last opened in 1562.
In 1992 the Bishop of Padua, Antonio Mattiazzo, received a letter from the Orthodox metropolitan of Thebes, asking that part of the relics to be donated to the site of Luke's tomb in Thebes. Bishop Mattiazzo, decided to investigate the relics in Padua with a group of University of Padua pathologists.
In 1998 the 400-year old seals were removed from the lead coffin, and the study began. The dimensions of the coffin, makes it clear that it was made to hold the Evangelist's body and not his relics. It exactly fit the tomb in Thebes considered to be Luke's. In the coffin was a headless skeleton completely and perfectly preserved. Also a tooth was found on the floor of the coffin along with a few shells, a terra cotta bowl, small jars and 34 coins the oldest of which dates to A.D. 299. There was also a slab and a plaque witnessing to reconnaissance of the relics made in 1463 and 1562.
Completed in 2000, carbon dating, DNA testing and detailed profile done of the body revealed and supports ancient claims in Padua, Italy, that a venerated body in their cathedral is that of St. Luke. Intriguingly, the headless body also fits anatomically with the skull in Prague that is said to be his.
In 2000, Bishop Mattiazzo took a rib from St. Luke's skeleton, the one closest to the heart and flew to Thebes to deliver a significant relic to venerate in the empty tomb.