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E00895: The Life of *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397, S00490) by Paulinus of Milan tells how a blind man saw in a vision Ambrose in the company of many martyrs, and was healed when he touched the coffin containing the relics of the three *Anaunian Martyrs (S00605) as they were being transferred to Milan (northern Italy). 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 52

Sisinnii etiam, Martyrii et Alexandri martyrum, qui nostris temporibus, hoc est, post obitum sancti Ambrosii, in Anauniae partibus persequentibus gentilibus viris martyrii coronam adepti sunt, cum reliquias Mediolanii summa cum devotione susciperemus, adveniente quodam caeco et referente didicimus - qui eodem die tacto loculo, in quo sanctorum reliquiae portabantur, lumen recepit -, eo quod per visum noctis vidisset navem adpropinquantem litori, in qua erat multitudo albatorum virorum; quibus descendentibus ad terram, cum unum de turba deprecaretur, ut sciret qui essent viri, audierit Ambrosium eius que consortes; quo audito nomine, cum deprecaretur ut lumen reciperet, audierit ab eo: "Perge Mediolanium et occurre fratribus meis, qui illo venturi sunt", designans diem, "et recipies lumen". Erat enim vir, ut ipse adserebat, de litore Dalmatino, nec se venisse ante in civitatem adserebat, priusquam recto itinere reliquiis sanctorum occurrisset nondum videns; sed tacto loculo videre coepisse. 

'Also at Milan we received with deepest devotion the remains of the martyrs, Sisinius and Alexander, who in our time, that is, after the death of Ambrose, gained the crown of martyrdom in the pagan persecution in the regions of Anaunia. At this time, there came a certain blind man, who, by touching the coffin (loculus) in which the remains of the saints were being carried, that same day received sight. From his report we learned that in a vision he had seen a ship approaching the shore, in which were a great number of men clothed in white, when, as they were disembarking he asked one of the crowd to learn who the men were, he found that they were Ambrose and his companions. And upon hearing the name Ambrose, when he was praying that he might receive his sight, he heard from Ambrose: "Proceed to Milan and contact my brothers who are about to go there" (indicating the day), "and you will receive sight." The man was, as he himself said, from the Dalmatian coast. And he further declared that he had not came to the city before he met with the remains of the saints on the highway, at which time he still lacked sight, but upon touching the coffin he began to see.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 118. Translation: Lacy 1952, 64, altered by Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anaunian Martyrs (Sisinnius, Martyrius, Alexander), ob. c. 397 : S00605 Ambrose, bishop of Milan (ob. 397) : S00490 Anonymous martyrs : S00060

Saint Name in Source

Sisinnius, Alexander, Martyrius Ambrosius

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Procession

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Ceremonies at burial of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Touching and kissing relics Reliquary – institutionally owned


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.


This passage aims to demonstrate that Ambrose, though technically not a martyr, was equal to the martyrs and enjoyed their company after his death.


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