The First Christians in Milan Martyred Under Nero's Rule, just decades after the crucifixion of Jesus - Milan's prominent place in the History of Early Christianity (part 3 of 3)

While the reputed first bishop of Milan and founder of Christianity in this city, St Barnabas (a leading disciple from Jerusalem), was martyred by enraged Jews in Barnabas's native Cyprus, in the era of Emperor Nero - the same reign that saw the martrydom of both St Peter and St Paul in Rome - there were other Christian believers too, whose reputations have lived on until today, who met martyrdom in the Mediolanum of those same early days of Christianity under the reign of Nero.

twin brothers Saint Gervasius and Saint Protasius are tortured in Medioalnum Milan before they are martyred
Torture before martyrdom in Mediolanum (Milan) of the early Christian twin brothers, St Gervasius and St Protasius. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The First Family of Milanese Martyrs - Vitalis, Valeria, Gervasius and Protasius

According to certain written legends, during the reign of Emperor Nero, there was a well-off citizen of Milan named Vitalis who was a judicial assistant to one Paulinus; and Vitalis had a wife, Valeria, and twin sons Gervasius and Protasius:

Saint Vitalis of Milan, story of his life and martyrdom in Ravenna, and wife Valeria, and twin sons, Gervasius & Protasius. Source

Family of Milan Christian martyrs, Vitalis, Valeria and twin sons, Gervasius and Protasius - depicted in a family portrait
Milan's family of martyrs, father Vitalis, mother Valeria and twin sons, Gervasius and Protasius. Image Credit: SantosSanctorum

And their dear friends also martyred in Milan just before - St Nazarius and his adopted son, St Celsius

In the same era of Emperor Nero, was St Nazarius and the young St Celsius, whose paths crossed, fatefully in Milan, with the other martyrs, Saint Gervasius and Protasius:

Story of the life of Saint Nazarius, and his boy, Saint Celsus, and their martyrdom in Milan, met Gervasius & Protasius - source

Saint Nazarius cares for the boy Saint Celsus
St Nazarius and the boy he adopted, St Celsus - both martyred in Milan. Image Credit: Heidelberger

Saint Nazarius and Saint Celsus beheaded in Milan together with Gervasius & Protasius
The boy, St Celsus, and his father-figure, St Nazarius, to be beheaded by the Romans in Mediolanum (Milan) together with St Gervasius and St Protasius, whose heads are already shown rolling on the ground. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Relics of these four saints, martyred in Nero's times, are venerated in Milan to this day:

- Saint Nazarius, in the Basilica of San Nazaro in Brolo or San Nazaro Maggiore, southeast of the centre, just inside the Cerchia dei Navigli, on Corso di Porta Romana, near the University of Milan. (See on Google Maps)

- Saint Celsius, in the Chiesa di San Celso (by the side of the newer and larger 15th century Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli presso San Celso) south of the centre, between the Cerchia dei Navigli and Porta Lodovica on the Inner Ring Road. (See on Google Maps)

- Saint Gervasius and Saint Protasius (in the same place as the relics for Milan's favourite St Ambrose), in the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, southwest of the centre, just inside the Cerchia dei Navigli, near the Sant'Ambrogio Metro Station on the green M2 line. (map further below)

in MIlan, skeletal relics of twin brothers Saiint Gervasius & Saint Protasius flank that of St Ambrose in the crypt of the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
Bishop Ambrose of Milan was responsible for finding the remains of Gervasius and Protasius, 200 years after they were martyred in Milan, when their location was revealed to him in a dream. Now interred in the crypt of the basilica whose name was changed to that of his, the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, his own skeleton now lies between the two skeletons of the martyred twin brothers that he found in the ground, who were Milan's first celebrated martyrs (the bodies of Nazarius and Celsus were found, again by Ambrose, a few years later). You can tell which skeleton belongs to the bishop: not only does Ambrose occupy the central position between Gervasius and Protasius - he also has the best teeth. Image Credit: New Liturgical Movement

location pin of Milan's Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio on the Milanfinally interactive map
Position of the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio on the interactive Milanfinally Google Map of Milan - home to the skulls and skeletal relics of Saint Gervasius and Saint Celsus - for over 1,000 years, it was the largest and most important church in Milan. It is still very important as it is the church of Milan's favourite bishop and patron saint, St Ambrose, and many festivals and traditions of Milan are still centred on this particular church rather than the larger central cathedral.

Read more - Article series on Milan's prominent place in the History of Early Christianity:

Part 1 of 3 - The Edict of Milan changed the history of Christianity and Europe forever, written in the capital of the Western Roman Empire 313 AD, by the eventual first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great

Part 2 of 3St Barnabas, Apostle from Jerusalem, brought Christianity to Milan as the first Bishop of Milan, just a few decades after the death of Jesus - and left his mark on an ancient pagan Celtic stone: Milan's Tredesin de Mars

Part 3 of 3 (article in this post) - The First Christians in Milan Martyred Under Nero's Rule, just decades after the crucifixion of Jesus: a whole family of four, and one old man with a boy

(Click for ALL articles on Milan history)


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