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E00905: According to the Life of *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397, S00490), its hero discovered, thanks to a vision, the body of *Nazarius, not far from that of Celsus (later known as companion martyrs of Milan, S00281). Their transfer to a new basilica was accompanied by the confession of a demoniac who said he was tormented by Ambrose, all c. 395 in Milan (northern Italy). Account of Paulinus of Milan, writing in Latin probably in North Africa c. 421-422.

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posted on 2015-11-28, 00:00 authored by robert
Paulinus of Milan, Life of Ambrose 32-33

32. Revertens itaque de urbe Aquileiensi uno die praecessit imperatorem. Nec diu clementissimae memoriae Theodosius imperator, susceptis filiis in ecclesia et traditis sacerdoti, in hac luce fuit; post cuius obitum fere triennium supervixit. Quo in tempore sancti Nazarii martyris corpus, quod erat in horto positum extra civitatem, levatum ad basilicam apostolorum, quae est in Romana, transtulit. Vidimus enim in sepulcro, in quo iacebat corpus martyris - qui quando sit passus usque in hodiernum scire non possumus -, sanguinem martyris ita recentem, quasi eadem die fuisset effusus, caput etiam ipsius, quod ab inpiis fuerat abscissum, ita integrum atque incorruptum cum capillis capitis atque barba, ut nobis videretur eodem tempore quo levabatur lotum atque compositum in sepulcro.Et quid mirum, quandoquidem Dominus hoc in evangelio ante promisit, quod capillus de capite eorum non peribit? Etiam odore tanto repleti sumus, ut omnium aromatum vinceret suavitatem.

33. Quo levato corpore martyris et in lectica composito, statim ad sanctum Celsum martyrem, qui in eodem horto positus est, cum sancto sacerdote ad orationem perreximus. Numquam tamen illum antea orasse in eodem loco compertum habemus; sed hoc erat signum revelati martyris, si sanctus sacerdos ad locum, ad quem numquam antea fuerat, oratum isset. Cognovimus tamen a custodibus loci ipsius dictum, quod a parentibus suis illis traditum sit, non discedere de loco illo per omnem generationem et progeniem suorum, eo quod thesauri magni in eodem loco positi essent. Et vere magni thesauri, quos non aerugo neque tinea exterminat, neque fures effodiunt et furantur, quia custos eorum Christus est et locus eorum aula caelestis, quibus vivere Christus fuit et mori lucrum. Translato itaque corpore martyris ad basilicam apostolorum, ubi pridies sanctorum apostolorum reliquiae summa omnium devotione depositae fuerant, cum tractaret episcopus, quidam de populo repletus spiritu inmundo clamare coepit se torqueri ab Ambrosio.

'Therefore, he returned from the city of Aquileia, arriving one day before the emperor. And Theodosius, emperor of most gracious memory, did not live long after his sons were received into the Church and entrusted to the bishop. Ambrose survived the emperor almost three years. In this time he raised and transferred to the Basilica of the Apostles, which is at the Roman [Gate], the body of St Nazarius the martyr, which had been buried in a garden outside the city. Indeed, we saw in the grave in which the body of the martyr was lying (but when he suffered we cannot learn to the present day) the blood of the martyr as fresh as if it had been poured forth the same day. His head also had been severed by impious men, yet it was so complete and intact with its hairs and beard that it seemed to us that at the very time in which it was being raised it had been washed and placed there in the sepulchre. But, why is this to be marvelled at, when the Lord formerly promised - this in the Gospel: "Not a hair of their head shall perish?" Moreover, we were filled with so striking an odour as surpassed the sweetness of all perfumes.

When the body of the martyr was raised and placed on a litter, we straightaway went with the holy bishop to pray at the grave of the holy martyr Celsus, who was buried in the same garden. However, we discovered that he had never prayed in that place before. And this was the sign of a newly discovered martyr: if the holy bishop had gone to pray at a place to which he had not been before. We know, however, from the guardians of the place that it had been handed down from generation to generation of their people not to depart from there because great treasures had been buried in that very place – and truly great treasures, which neither rust nor moth consume nor do thieves dig through to and steal, because their guardian is Christ and their dwelling is the court of heaven, for whom to live was Christ and to die was gain. Thereupon, the body of the martyr was taken to the Basilica of the Apostles, where a short time before the relics of the holy Apostles had been deposited with very great devotion on the part of all. And on this occasion, when the bishop was preaching, one of the crowd, who was filled with an unclean spirit, began to cry out that he was being tortured by Ambrose.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 94-96. Translation: Lacy 1952, 52-53, slightly altered by Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nazarius and Celsus, companion martyrs of Milan : S00281 Ambrose, bishop of Milan (ob. 397) : S00490 Apostles, unnamed or name lost : S00084

Saint Name in Source

Nazarius 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 - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miraculous sound, smell, light Bodily incorruptibility Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - blood Bodily relic - head Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - nails, hair and bodily products Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Discovering, finding, invention and gathering 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.


In this story Celsus and Nazarius are vaguely associated by a cemetery in which they were buried. Only later hagiography turned them into companion martyrs. See especially their Martyrdom (E02034).


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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