19 JuneFacade spire-G10
Symbol: Palm
Gervasius (… – Milan, 3rd century) and Protasius (… – Milan, 3rd century), also known as Gervase and Protase, were Milanese twins, martyrs of Christianity and therefore venerated as saints of the Catholic Church. Information regarding their lives has been lost through time and only a few documents have made it to present day. The historical period in which they lived is uncertain. Some sources like the Datiana Historia Ecclesiae Mediolanensis say that they professed their faith during Nero’s empire and were converted to Christianity, together with their parents, by the bishop of Milan, St. Caius. This was a time characterized by the first persecutions of Christians. Their lives can more likely be placed in the second half of the 3rd century, during the Christian persecutions wanted by Decius or Valerian or, a few years later, during the persecution of Diocletian. During the 5th century, an anonymous author wrote their Passion, from which information of their existence can be obtained, still however remaining within the limit between legend and reality. The Passion tells that their parents were also Christian martyrs. The father, Vitalis, was killed while in Ravenna and the mother, Valeria, was assassinated while she was returning to Milan. Having heard the news of their parents’ death, Gervasius and Protasius did not premeditate revenge. On the contrary, they decided to sell all the family possessions and distribute the proceeds among the poor of Milan. They then spent ten years of their lives praying, meditating and professing all the dictates of Christianity. When the general Anastasius passed through the city with his troops, he exposed them as Christians and held them as an example of people to be punished and redeem. The two brothers were arrested, tortured and humiliated. Protasius was decapitated with the stroke of a sword, while Gervasius died following the scourging received. Their bodies were found on June 17th, 386, in the ancient burial area, which today is located between the Garibaldi State Police Station and the Catholic University, thanks to a dig commissioned by the bishop Ambrose of Milan. No one knew the identity of the remains and their memory has almost been completely forgotten. Paulinus of Milan, Ambrose’s biographer and secretary, tells that the two bodies were recognized thanks to a revelation had by Ambrose. Actually, in the letters to his sister Marcellina, he stated that he had had a feeling and not an actual revelation: “And immediately I felt a thrill as if of foresight. To be brief: the Lord was gracious to me. Though even the clergy were nervous, I ordered the area in front of the rails of Saints Felix and Nabor to be dug up.” (Ambrose, Letter 77 to Marcellina, 1-2) From the moment the bodies of the two saints were found, the spreading of their worship began, initially in northern cities, like Brescia and Ravenna, and later reached down to Rome where, during the papacy of Innocence I, a church was erected in their name, now named for St. Vitalis. Their popularity spread throughout the Mediterranean. June 19th is the day they are remembered liturgically, the day chosen in memory of when the relics were transferred.