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E00904: According to the Life of *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397, S00490), its hero discovered the bodies of *Gervasius and Protasius (martyrs of Milan, S00313) close to those of *Nabor and Felix (soldiers and martyrs, buried in Milan, S00609). Their transfer to a new basilica was accompanied by miracles, but the identity of the martyrs and the veracity of the miracles were contested by Arians; all in 386 in Milan (northern Italy). Account of Paulinus of Milan, writing in Latin in North Africa c. 422.

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posted on 2015-11-28, 00:00 authored by robert
Paulinus of Milan, Life of Ambrose 14-16

14. Per idem tempus sancti martyres Protasius et Gervasius se sacerdoti revelaverunt. Erant enim in basilica positi, in qua sunt hodie corpora Naboris et Felicis martyrum; sed sancti martyres Nabor et Felix celeberrime frequentabantur, Protasii vero et Gervasii martyrum ut nomina ita etiam et sepultura incognita erant, in tantum ut supra ipsorum sepulcra ambularent omnes qui vellent ad cancellos pervenire quibus sanctorum Naboris et Felicis martyrum ab iniuria sepulcra defendebantur. Sed ubi sanctorum martyrum corpora sunt levata et in lecticis posita, multorum ibi sanatae aegritudines perdocentur. Caecus etiam, Severus nomine, qui nunc usque in eadem basilica quae dicitur Ambrosiana, in quam martyrum corpora sunt translata, religiose servit, ubi vestem martyrum adtigit, statim lumen recepit. Obsessa etiam corpora a spiritibus immundis curata summa cum gratia domum repetebant. Sed his beneficiis martyrum in quantum crescebat fides ecclesiae catholicae, in tantum Arrianorum perfidia minuebatur.

15. Denique ex hoc tempore sedari coepit persecutio quae Iustinae furore adcendebatur, ut sacerdos de ecclesia pelleretur. Tamen intra palatium multitudo Arrianorum cum Iustina constituta deridebat tantam Dei gratiam, quam ecclesiae catholicae Dominus Iesus meritis martyrum suorum conferre dignatus est, venerabilem que virum Ambrosium narrabat pecunia comparasse homines, qui se vexari ab inmundis spiritibus mentirentur, atque ita ab illo sicut et a martyribus se torqueri dicerent. Sed hoc iudaico ore loquebantur Arriani, suppares scilicet eorum: illi enim de Domino dicebant, quoniam "in Beelzebub principe daemoniorum eicit daemonia"; isti de martyribus vel de Domini sacerdote loquebantur, quod non Dei gratia, quae per ipsos operabatur, inmundi spiritus pellerentur, sed adcepta pecunia se torqueri mentirentur. Clamabant enim daemones: "Scimus vos martyres"; et Arriani dicebant: "Nescimus esse martyres". Iam hoc et in evangelio legimus, ubi dixerunt daemones ad Dominum Iesum: "Scimus te, quia sis Dei filius"; et Iudaei dicebant: "Hic autem unde sit nescimus". Sed non hic testimonium adcipitur daemonum, sed confessio; unde miseriores Arriani vel Iudaei, ut quod confitentur daemones illi negent.

16. Deus tamen, qui gratiam ecclesiae suae augere consuevit, non passus est diu insultari a perfidis sanctis suis. Unus itaque ex ipsa multitudine subito adreptus spiritu inmundo clamare coepit ita torqueri eos, ut ipse torquebatur, qui negarent martyres vel qui non crederent in Trinitatis unitatem quam docet Ambrosius. At illi hac voce confusi, qui converti debuerant et dignam tali confessione agere paenitentiam, in piscinam demersum hominem necaverunt, perfidiae homicidium adiungentes; deduxit enim illos ad hunc finem summa necessitas.

'14. About the same time, the holy martyrs Protasius and Gervasius revealed themselves to the bishop. For they had been placed in the basilica in which there are today the bodies of the martyrs Nabor and Felix. The holy martyrs Nabor and Felix were visited very often, while the names as well as the sepulchres of Gervasius and Protasius were unknown, and to such an extent that all walked over their sepulchres who wished to approach the grates by which the sepulchres of the holy martyrs Nabor and Felix were protected from harm (ad cancellos pervenire quibus sanctorum Naboris et Felicis martyrum ab iniuria sepulcra defendebantur). But, when the bodies of the holy martyrs were raised and placed on biers, the diseases of many were shown to have been healed. Even a blind man, Severus by name, who even now piously serves in the same basilica which is called the Ambrosian, into which the bodies of the martyrs were taken, when he touched their garments, received his sight immediately. Likewise, those whose bodies were possessed by unclean spirits returned to their homes with the greatest gratitude after they had been healed. And as by these beneficent works of the martyrs the faith of the Catholic Church increased, so did the heresy or the Arians decrease.

15. Finally, after this event, the persecution which was incited by the fury of [the emperor's mother] Justina, to the end that the bishop be driven from his church, began to abate. Yet, within the palace a great number of Arians who sided with Justina ridiculed such grace of God as the Lord Jesus deigned to confer upon His Catholic Church by the merits of its martyrs. And they claimed that the venerable man Ambrose had by means of money prepared men to state falsely that they were troubled by unclean spirits and to say that they were tortured by him just as by the martyrs. But the Arians said this with a Jewish expression – being, indeed, like them – for the Jews used to say of the Lord that: "By Beelzebub, the prince of devils, He casts out demons." But the Arians were speaking of the martyrs and of the bishop of the Lord to the effect that not by the grace of God which was manifested in them were the unclean spirits driven out, but that they received money to declare falsely that they were tortured. For the demons used to say: "We know that you are martyrs,"  but the Arians: "We do not know that you are martyrs." For we read this also in the Gospel, where the demons said to the Lord: "We know you, since you are the Son of God," and the Jews said: "But as for this man, we do not know where He is from." This is not to be taken as the testimony of the demons, but as their confession; and so it is that the Arians and the Jews are more wretched in that they deny what the demons confess.

16. But God, who usually increases grace for His Church, did not long suffer His saints to be insulted. Thus, one of the number [of the insulters], suddenly possessed by an unclean spirit, began to cry out that those who denied the martyrs or who did not believe in the unity of the Trinity as Ambrose was teaching would be tortured as he himself was tortured. But they, confused by this statement, although they ought to have been converted and to have done penance worthy of such confession, killed the man by immersing him in a pond, thus adding murder to heresy; for a fitting urgency led them to this end.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 70-74. Translation: Lacy 1952, 41-43, altered by Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs of Milan (Italy), ob. 1st/4th c. : S00313 Nabor and Felix, martyrs in Lodi, ob. c. 303-305 : S00609

Saint Name in Source

Gervasius, Protasius Nabor, Felix

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint



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

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

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

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes Raising of relics Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


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.


The discovery of the bodies of Gervasius and Protasius is safely dated to the spring of 386. It took place during or shortly after the conflict between Ambrose and the imperial court which tried secure on of Milanese basilicas for the needs of the Homoian cult. The discovery of these relics and their triumphal transfer and deposition in a newly-built basilica strengthened the position of Ambrose, although was a somehow risky step, as the imperial law issued earlier this year strictly forbade any dislocation of bodies, including bodies of martyrs. The discovery of Gervasius and Protasius was described first by Ambrose, Letter 77 (E05211) and Hymn 11 (E05215), and then by Augustine in the Confessions (E01019). Only the version of Paulinus mentions the apparition of the saints who revealed to the bishops the place of their burial. The final place of the deposition of the relics, referred to in this text as the Basilica Ambrosiana, is today's Sant'Ambrogio. For the political and religious background of these event see McLynn 1994, 177-182.


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). McLynn, N.B., Ambrose of Milan (Berkeley, 1994).

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