Sts. Gervasius and Protasius
Martyrs of Milan, probably in the second century, patrons of the city of Milan and of haymakers; invoked for the discovery of thieves. Feast, in the Latin Church, 19 June, the day of the translation of the relics; in the Greek Church, 14 Oct., the supposed day of their death. Emblems: scourge, club, sword.
The Acts (Acta SS., June, IV, 680 and 29) were perhaps compiled from a letter (Ep. liii) to the bishops of Italy, falsely ascribed to St. Ambrose. They are written in a very simple style, but it has been found impossible to establish their age. According to these, Gervasius and Protasius were twins, children of martyrs. Their father Vitalis, a man of consular dignity, suffered martyrdom at Ravenna under Nero (?). The mother Valeria died for her faith at Milan. The sons are said to have been scourged and then beheaded, during the reign of Nero, under the presidency of Anubinus or Astasius, and while Cajus was Bishop of Milan. Some authors place the martyrdom under Diocletian, while others object to this time, because they fail to understand how, in that case, the place of burial, and even the names, could be forgotten by the time of St. Ambrose, as is stated. De Rossi places their death before Diocletian. It probably occurred during the reign of Antoninus (161-168).
St. Ambrose, in 386, had built a magnificent basilica at Milan. Asked by the
people to consecrate it in the same solemn manner as was done in Rome, he
promised to do so if he could obtain the necessary relics. In a dream he was
shown the place in which such could be found. He ordered excavations to be made
in the cemetery church of Sts. Nabor and Felix, outside the city, and there
found the relics of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius. He had them removed to the
church of St. Fausta, and on the next day into the basilica, which later
received the name San Ambrogio Maggiore. Many miracles are related to have
occurred, and all greatly rejoiced at the signal favour from heaven, given at
the time of the great struggle between St. Ambrose and the Arian Empress Justina.
Of the vision, the subsequent discovery of the relics and the accompanying
miracles, St. Ambrose wrote to his sister Marcellina. St. Augustine, not yet
baptized, witnessed the facts, and relates them in his
Confessions, IX, vii;
De civ. Dei, XXII, viii; and in
Serm. 286 in natal. Ss. Mm. Gerv. et
Prot., they are also attested by St. Paulinus of Nola, in his life of St.
Ambrose. The latter died 397 and, as he had wished, his body was, on Easter
Sunday, deposited in his basilica by the side of these martyrs. In 835,
Angilbert II, a successor in the See of Milan, placed the relics of the three
saints in a porphyry sarcophagus, and here they were again found, January, 1864
(Civiltà Cattolica, 1864, IX, 608, and XII, 345).
A tradition claims that after the destruction of Milan by Frederick
Barbarossa, his chancellor Rainald von Dassel had taken the relics from Milan,
and deposited them at Altbreisach in Germany, whence some came to Soissons; the
claim is rejected by Milan (Biraghi,
I tre sepoleri, etc. Milan, 1864).
Immediately after the finding of the relics by St. Ambrose, the cult of Sts.
Gervasius and Protasius was spread in Italy, and churches were built in their
honour at Pavia, Nola, etc. In Gaul we find churches dedicated to them, about
400, at Mans, Rouen, and Soissons. At the Louvre there is now a famous picture
of the saints by Lesueur (d. 1655), which was formerly in their church at Paris.
According to the
Liber Pontificalis, Innocent I (402-417) dedicated a church
to them at Rome. Later, the name of St. Vitalis, their father, was added to the
title. Very early their names were inserted in the Litany of the Saints. The
whole history of these saints has received a great deal of adverse criticism.
Some deny their existence, and make them a Christianized version of the Dioscuri
of the Romans. Thus Harris,
The Dioscuri in Christian Legend, but see
Analecta Boll. (1904), XXIII, 427.
STOKES in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v.; KRIEG in Kirchenlex., s.v.; BUTLER, Lives of the Saints (19 June).
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