June 19, 2021: SS. GERVASE & PROTASE
June 19, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF SS. GERVASE & PROTASE, MARTYRS
For to them belongs the kingdom of heaven, who despising the life of this world, have obtained the rewards of the kingdom, and washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb.
O God, who by the yearly solemnity of thy holy Martyrs, Gervase and Protase, comfortest us thy people; mercifully grant, that, as we rejoice at their merits, we may likewise be encouraged by their example. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
Lesson – Wisdom, iii. 1-8
But the souls of the just are, in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace. And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them. The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and rule over people, and their Lord shall reign for ever.
The brief legend of these two Martyrs runs as follows:
Gervase and Protase were the sons of Vitalis and Valeria, who both testified even unto death, for the Lord Christ's sake, by martyrdom,—the father at Ravenna, and the mother at Milan. After the victory of their parents, Gervase and Protase gave all their inheritance to the poor, and set free their slaves. This act of theirs stirred up against them savage hatred, on the part of the heathen priests, and when the Count Astasius was about setting forth to war, they believed they had got a good occasion for the destruction of the two holy brethren. They persuaded Astasius that their gods had revealed to them that he had no chance of conquering in the war, unless he had first made Gervase and Protase to deny Christ, and to offer sacrifice to the gods. Being commanded so to do, they refused with horror, and Astasius then ordered Gervase to be beaten with rods until he died under the stripes, and Protase to be beaten with clubs and his head to be struck off. A servant of Christ named Philip took away their dead bodies by stealth and buried them in his own house; and in after times, St. Ambrose being warned of God, found them, and bestowed them in a hallowed and honourable place. They suffered at Milan, on the thirteenth of the kalends of July.
Another account of Ss. Gervase and Protase, and the Discovery of their Relics.
St. Ambrose calls these saints the protomartyrs of Milan. They seem to have suffered in the first persecution under Nero, or at latest under Domitian, and are said to have been the sons of Ss. Vitalis and Valeria, both martyrs, the first at Ravenna, the second at Milan. This latter city was the place which Ss. Gervasius and Protasius rendered illustrious by their glorious martyrdom and miracles. St. Ambrose assures us, that the divine grace prepared them a long time for their crown by the good example which they gave, and by the constancy with which they withstood the corruption of the world. He adds they were beheaded for the faith. They are said to have been twin brothers.
The faithful at Milan, in the fourth age, had lost the remembrance of these saints. Yet the martyrs had not ceased to assist that church in its necessities; and the discovery of their relics rescued it from the utmost danger. The Empress Justina, widow of Valentinian I and mother of Valentinian the Younger, who then reigned, and resided at Milan, was a violent abettor of Arianism, and used her utmost endeavours to expel St. Ambrose. The Arians did not hesitate to have recourse to the most horrible villanies and forgeries to compass that point. In so critical a conjuncture, our martyrs declared themselves the visible protectors of that distressed church. St. Austin, both in his twenty-second book Of the City of God, and in his Confessions, says, that God revealed to St Ambrose by a vision in a dream, the place where their relics lay. Paulinus, in his life of St. Ambrose, says, this was done by an apparition of the martyrs themselves. The bishop was going to dedicate a new church, the same which was afterwards called the Ambrosian basilic, and now St Ambrose the Great. The people desired him to do it with the same solemnity as he had already consecrated another church in the quarter near the gate that led to Rome, in honour of the holy apostles, in which he had laid a portion of their relics. He was at a loss to find relics for this second church. The bodies of Saints Gervasius and Protasius lay then unknown before the rails which enclosed the tomb of Ss. Nabor and Felix. St Ambrose caused this place to be dug up, and there found the bodies of two very big men, with their bones entire, and in their natural position, but the heads separated from their bodies, with a large quantity of blood, and all the marks which could be desired to ascertain the relics. [When St. Austin says the bodies were found entire, he means only that the bones were not broken, mouldered, or separated out of their places, as is clear from St. Ambrose; not that the flesh was incorrupt, as some have mistaken his meaning.]
A possessed person who was brought to receive the imposition of hands, before he began to be exorcised, was seized, and, in horrible convulsions thrown down by the evil spirit upon the tomb. The sacred relics were taken up whole, and laid on litters in their natural situation, covered with ornaments, and conveyed to the basilic of Faustus, now called Ss. Vitalis and Agricola, near that of St. Nabor, which at present bears the name of St Francis. They were exposed here two days, and an incredible concourse of people watched the two nights in prayer. On the third day, which was the 18th of June, they were translated into the Ambrosian basilic with the honour due to martyrs, and with the public rejoicings of the whole city. In the way happened the famous cure of a blind man named Severus, a citizen of Milan, well known to the whole town. He had been a butcher, but was obliged, by the loss of his sight, to lay aside his profession. Hearing of the discovery of the relics, he desired to be conducted to the place where they were passing by, and upon touching the fringe of the ornaments with which they were covered, he that instant perfectly recovered his sight in the presence of an infinite multitude. This miracle is related by St. Ambrose, St. Austin, and Paulinus, who were all three then at Milan. Severus made a vow to be a servant in the church of the saints; that is, the Ambrosian basilic, where their relics lay. St. Austin, when he went from Milan, in 387, left him in that service, and he continued in it when Paulinus wrote the life of St. Ambrose, in 411. Many other lame and sick persons were cured of divers distempers by touching the shrouds which covered the relics, or linen cloths which had been thrown upon them. Devils also, in possessed persons, confessed the glory of the martyrs, and declared they were not able to bear the torments which they suffered in the presence of the bodies of the saints. All this is attested by St. Ambrose in his letter to his sister, in which he has inserted the sermon which he preached in the Ambrosian basilic when the relics arrived there. Two days after, he deposited them in the vault under the altar on the right hand. St Ambrose adds, that the blood found in their tomb was likewise an instrument of many miracles. We find the relics of these saints afterwards dispersed in several churches, chiefly this blood, which was gathered and mixed with a paste, as St. Gaudentius says. Also linen cloths dipped in this blood were distributed in many places, as St. Gregory of Tours relates. St. Austin mentions a church in their honour in his diocess of Hippo, where many miracles were wrought, and relates one that was very remarkable. He preached his two hundred and eighty-sixth sermon on their festival in Africa, where we find it marked in the old African Calendar on the 19th of June, on which day it was observed over all the West; and with great solemnity at Milan, and in many diocesses and parish churches, of which these martyrs are the titular saints. St. Ambrose observes, that the Arians at Milan, by denying the miracles of these martyrs, showed they had a different faith from that of the martyrs; otherwise they would not have been jealous of their miracles: but this faith, as he says, is confirmed by the tradition of our ancestors, which the devils are forced to confess, but which the heretics deny.
A prayer to Ss. Gervase and Protase
Though short is the account of your combat, O holy Martyrs, because few are the details handed down to us concerning you, still may we cry out with Saint Ambrose when he first presented you to the populace: “That eloquence is best that springs from blood; for blood is a voice of thunder, re-echoing from earth to Heaven.” Oh! make us to understand its potent accents! Ever must the veins of a Christian be ready to pour forth testimony unto God, our Redeemer! Say, is there no blood left in our impoverished veins? Oh! cure our generation of such a hopeless state of lingering decline; what physicians may not, Jesus Christ can always do!
Up then, glorious Brethren; teach us the royal road of devotedness and suffering! Surely not in vain, have our feeble eyes been granted to contemplate you, in these our days, even as Ambrose erstwhile did; if God after the lapse of so many ages, has once more revealed the sight of you,—he must therein have intentions not unlike those He had in by-gone times! Therefore, dear Saints, may He perchance vouchsafe to raise up, through your intercession, mankind and our present society from the degradation of a fatal servility, to banish error, to save the Church who cannot indeed perish, but whom He loves to deliver by means of her Saints. Doth it not behove you, generous Martyrs, to recognise by signal favours, the protection lavished by the successor of Peter on your relics, despite his own captivity? Be Milan worthy of you and of her Ambrose! Deign lovingly to visit the various lands both near and afar, formerly enriched with the blood found near your tomb. France was specially devout to you, placing no fewer than five of her cathedrals under your glorious invocation; may she not look for particular help at your hands? Oh! rouse up once more her piety of by-gone days; free her from false sects, from traitors! Let the day soon come when she may step forth once again, the Soldier of God!
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Time
After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Ss. Gervase and Protase, pray for us.