Born in Rome, the only son of a Roman senator, Alexius had his wedding arranged by his parents practically from his youth. Because they were kind and considerate, Alexius could not bring himself to tell his parents that he had no interest in taking on an earthly bride. He believed that God had called him to dedicate his life in service and to remain celibate.
On the evening before the actual wedding, Alexius pulled his bride to be to the side and explained his heart to her. Though his news came as a total shock, she handled it well, partially because she believed he would later come to his senses and return to her. She gently held his hands, looked lovingly into his eyes and released him from his vows. Without further words, he fled to Edessa, now Urfa in modern Turkey.
Once in Edessa, he took on the humblest profession, that of a beggar. For 17 years, he lived only on donations as he sought further enlightenment. Though Alexius would have been content to spend the remainder of his life in this manner, a strange event brought this chapter of his life to a close. One day, as he was begging, an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared a few feet away, pointed her finger at him and proclaimed to those surrounding him that he was a holy man. Naturally, such a miracle brought mass attention to him.
Not trusting himself to remain humble after such praise and attention, Alexius opted to begin again somewhere else. Now one would think a new start would include a place he had never been in order to minimise the possibility of being recognised, yet he chose to flee back to the very city he came from in Rome. Once he returned, he continued his life as a beggar. For awhile he did well enough, then offerings became less generous. In desperation he knocked on his parents’ door to ask for a hand out.
His rigid lifestyle had so transformed Alexius that his parents did not recognise him. They did, however, offer him a mat to sleep on in a corner under their stairs. He gladly accepted their offer, and for 17 years he slept there each night, after spending the days teaching children about God. In all that time, not a single soul recognised who he was, not even his bride to be from long ago, who had moved in with his parents clinging to the hope that Alexius would someday return for her.
One day, his rigorous lifestyle took its toll and Alexius passed away as he lay sleeping on the mat under his parents’ stairs. When it was time to remove his body, a note was found on him that told who he was and how he had lived a life devoted to God.
Because Saint Alexius was able to live among his closest friends and neighbours without being recognised, it became tradition to venerate him in order to keep enemies and obstacles away.