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E00894: The Life of *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397, S00490) by Paulinus of Milan recounts how after his death people in Milan (northern Italy) had visions demonstrating his sanctity; his body, being transferred to the place of his burial in the Basilica Ambrosiana, tormented demons, and his funeral was attended by crowds of people, including Jews and pagans, who threw articles of clothing towards it in the hope they would touch his body. Written in Latin, probably in North Africa, c. 422.

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posted on 2015-11-25, 00:00 authored by robert
Paulinus of Milan, Life of Ambrose 48

1. Atque inde ad ecclesiam maiorem antelucanum, hora qua defunctus est, corpus ipsius portatum est ibi queadem fuit nocte, qua vigilavimus in pascha. Quem plurimi infantes baptizati, cum a fonte venirent, viderunt, ita ut aliqui sedentem in cathedra in tribunali dicerent, alii vero ascendentem suis parentibus digito ostenderent. Sed illi videntes videre non poterant, quia tam mundos oculos non habebant. Plurimi autem stellam supra corpus eius se videre narrabant. 2. Sed lucescente die dominico, cum corpus ipsius, peractis sacramentis divinis, de ecclesia levaretur portandum ad basilicam Ambrosianam, in qua positus est, ita ibi daemonum turbae clamabant se ab illo torqueri, ut eiulatus illorum ferri non possent; quae gratia sacerdotis non solum in illo loco, verum etiam in plurimis provinciis usque in hodiernum manet. 3. Iactabant etiam turbae virorum ac mulierum oraria vel semicinctia sua, ut corpus sanctum aliquatenus ab ipsis contingeretur. Erant enim exsequiarum turbae innumerabiles totius dignitatis totius que sexus omnium que paene aetatum, non solum christianorum sed etiam Iudaeorum et paganorum; maiore tamen gratia ordo praecedebat eorum qui fuerant baptizati.

'Thereafter, his body was carried to the greater church just before daybreak, the hour in which he died, and was there the same night on which we kept the vigil of Easter. And a great many baptized infants saw him when they were coming from the font, so that some said they saw him sitting on the episcopal throne, while others indicated with their fingers to their parents that they saw him walking, but they, although they looked, were not able to see him, because they did not have pure eyes. There also were very many who related that they had seen a star over his body. But, as it began to dawn on the Lord's Day, after the divine mysteries had been performed, when his body was being lifted up to be carried from the church to the Ambrosian Basilica in which it was placed, a crowd of demons there cried out that they were being tortured by him, and so loudly that their wailings could not be endured. And this grace of the bishop remains not only in that place but even in a great many provinces even to this day. Crowds of men and women also threw their handkerchiefs and sashes so that the body of the holy man might be touched by them in some way (Iactabant etiam turbae virorum ac mulierum oraria vel semicinctia sua, ut corpus sanctum aliquatenus ab ipsis contingeretur). For those taking part in the obsequies formed an innumerable crowd; men, women, and children of every rank and of all ages, not only Christians, but also Jews and pagans. However, the group of those who had been baptized led the procession, because of their greater grace.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 114. Translation: Lacy 1952, 62, altered by Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Ambrose, bishop of Milan (ob. 397) : S00490

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Burial ad sanctos

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Jews Pagans Crowds Children

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - cloth


Paulinus was a deacon of the Church of Milan. As a young cleric he met Ambrose, but at some point he moved to Africa where he was responsible of the estates of his church. In Africa he belonged to the circle of Augustine of Hippo at whose request he wrote the Life of Ambrose, c. 422 (Lamirande, 1981). Paulinus places the Life of Ambrose in the tradition of monastic hagiography, but his work is the life a bishop, and it mentions the earlier life of its hero only in order to show that he was destined to episcopal dignity from birth. It also omits everything which is not directly connected with this office. One aspect of Ambrose’s activity which is strongly emphasised is his attitude toward emperors, whom he frequently rebuked for their misdeeds. This pattern, which can be found also in the Life of Martin by Sulpicius Severus, assimilates the bishop to the Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha. Another feature of Ambrose’s episcopal activity presented in the Life is his struggle against the Arian heresy. Miracles demonstrate the veracity of the Nicene faith and punish its enemies. Punishing miracles can appear in many lives of saints, but one can hardly find another vita in which God would kill every one who expressed his lack of sympathy towards the hero (§§ 11, 18, 54). Another type of miracle well represented in this text are the visions thanks to which Ambrose discovered relics of several martyrs. These episodes mirror the growing need for relics in the West, but they also serve to link Ambrose with the martyrs – the bishop was eager to become one of them, but since he had no occasion for martyrdom he provided the Church in Italy with its own, long forgotten martyrs.


Ambrose was buried in the same basilica in which he had deposited the bodies of the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius.


Editions: Pellegrino, M., Vita di S. Ambrogio (Verba Seniorum 1; Rome, 1961). Bastiaensen, A.A.R., Vita di Ambrogio (Vite dei santi 3; Milan, 1975), with Italian translation by L. Canali. English translations: Lacy, J.A, in: J.R. Deferrari (ed.), Early Christian Biographies (Fathers of the Church 15; Washington DC, 1952), 25-66. Ramsey, B., Ambrose (London 1997), 195-218. Further reading: Lamirande, E., "La datation de la Vita Ambrosii de Paulin de Milan," Revue des Études Augustiniennes 27 (1981), 44-55. Lamirande, E., Paulin de Milan et la Vita Ambrosii. Aspects de la religion sous le Bas-Empire (Paris - Montreal, 1983).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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