Gervasius and Protasius, SAINTS, martyrs of Milan, probably in the second century, patrons of the city of Milan and of haymakers; invoked for the discovery of thieves. Feast, in the Latin Church, June 19, the day of the translation of the relics; in the Greek Church, October 14, the supposed day of their death. Emblems: scourge, club, sword.—The Acts (Acta SS., June, IV, 680 and 29) were perhaps compiled from a letter (Ep. liii) to the bishops of Italy, falsely ascribed to St. Ambrose. They are written in a very simple style, but it has been found impossible to establish their age. According to these, Gervasius and Protasius were twins, children of martyrs. Their father Vitalis, a man of consular dignity, suffered martyrdom at Ravenna under Nero. The mother Valeria died for her faith at Milan. The sons are said to have been scourged and then beheaded, during the reign of Nero, under the presidency of Anubinus or Astasius, and while Cajus was Bishop of Milan. Some authors place the martyrdom under Diocletian, while others object to this time, because they fail to understand how, in that case, the place of burial, and even the names, could be forgotten by the time of St. Ambrose, as is stated. De Rossi places their death before Diocletian. It probably occurred during the reign of Antoninus (161-168).
St. Ambrose, in 386, had built a magnificent basilica at Milan. Asked by the people to consecrate it in the same solemn manner as was done in Rome, he promised to do so if he could obtain the necessary relics. In a dream he was shown the place in which such could be found. He ordered excavations to be made in the cemetery church of Sts. Nabor and Felix, outside the city, and there found the relics of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius. He had them removed to the church of St. Fausta, and on the next day into the basilica, which later received the name San Ambrogio Maggiore. Many miracles are related to have occurred, and all greatly rejoiced at the signal favor from heaven, given at the time of the great struggle between St. Ambrose and the Arian Empress Justina. Of the vision, the subsequent discovery of the relics and the accompanying miracles, St. Ambrose wrote to his sister Marcellina. St. Augustine, not yet baptized, witnessed the facts, and relates them in his “Confessions”, IX, vii; in “De civ. Dei”, XXII, viii; and in “Serm. 286 in natal, Ss. Mm. Gerv. et Prot.”, they are also attested by St. Paulinus of Nola, in his life of St. Ambrose. The latter died 397 and, as he had wished, his body was, on Easter Sunday, deposited in his basilica by the side of these martyrs. In 835, Angilbert II, a successor in the See of Milan, placed the relics of the three saints in a porphyry sarcophagus, and here they were again found, January, 1864 (Civilta Cattolica, 1864, IX, 608, and XII, 345).
A tradition claims that after the destruction of Milan by Frederick Barbarossa, his chancellor Rainald von Dassel had taken the relics from Milan, and deposited them at Altbreisach in Germany, whence some came to Soissons; the claim is rejected by Milan (Biraghi, “I tre sepolcri”, etc., Milan, 1864). Immediately after the finding of the relics by St. Ambrose, the cult of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius was spread in Italy, and churches were built in their honor at Pavia. Nola, etc. In Gaul we find churches dedicated to them, about 400, at Mans, Rouen, and Soissons. At the Louvre there is now a famous picture of the saints by Lesueur (d. 1655), which was formerly in their church at Paris. According to the “Liber Pontificalis“, Innocent I (402-417) dedicated a church to them at Rome. Later, the name of St. Vitalis, their father, was added to the title. Very early their names were inserted in the Litany of the Saints. The whole history of these saints has received a great deal of adverse criticism. Some deny their existence, and make them a Christianized version of the Dioscuri of the Romans. Thus Harris, “The Dioscuri in Christian Legend”, but see “Analecta Boll.” (1904), XXIII, 427.