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History of the Four Crowned Saints



Four Crowned Saints, 
Orsanmichele,Firenze,
1408-1413
 

The large flow, with a strong corporatist vocation, of stone masons, sculptors, plasterers, masons and architects who worked for several centuries throughout Europe, leaving tangible traces of their work, was certainly characterized by a deep sense of religion which is expressed in a simple and sincere devotion that reflected in the worship of their patrons the manifestation of a genuine faith, closely linked to their spiritual and material needs. The long periods spent away from their lands of origin, contributed to the creation of real associations with the aim of taking care, in times of need, of those ones who were in particularly difficult conditions.

The material and spiritual assistance of the disgraced companions made ​​easier their status as migrants by replacing, in the most painful moments, the role of their family. The creation of reserved places for them, such as the numerous chapels in the churches in the cities reached by the artistic migration is a proof of this desire to create a kind of free zone, a small piece of their land in places reached to work. Many of these chapels were dedicated to the Four Crowned Saints whose cult, by tradition, has always been associated with stonemasons, sculptors, construction workers who elected them as their patrons celebrating them on the 8th November.

This election was the main cause of the spread of their religion throughout Europe. During periods in which the corporations of art and craft had an important role in the city life,  a prolific iconographic production on the Four Crowned Saints flourished; when the role of these corporations decreased, these depictions disappeared too.

But who were the Four Crowned Saints?

Among the damnati ad metalla condemned to work in the marble quarries, many Christians were persecuted for their faith, the Catholic Church remembers the Four Crowned Saints, probably martyred under Diocletian for refusing to sculpt a porphyry statue of Aesculapius ; their relics are kept in Rome , in the Church called the SS . Four Crowned , in tanks made of the same stone that caused their death. The identification of this group of martyrs is a matter of investigation for scholars for many years. It is difficult to resolve an issue which has many enigmatic aspects. Through the analysis of some available sources, they reached a conclusion: the name of the Four Crowned Saints would have to refer to five Pannonian martyrs condemned to death under Diocletian in 306 A.D. in Sirmium (today Sremska Mitrovica). Their worship, under the name of the Four Crowned Saints , goes back to the fourth century and can be localized either in via Labicana or in the Roman basilica dedicated to them in the Roman area “Celio”.

 

It is remarkable to accept the first evident inconsistency: the Four Crowned Martyrs were five.

But this is just one of the problems that have been addressed by scholars in an attempt to develop a plausible conclusion. There are Roman and non-Roman sources that report news on the Four Crowned Martyrs without clarifying their identity.

In the Leonine Sacramentary, in the Gregorian one, in Liber Pontificalis of Onofrio l (625-638), in those ones of Adrian I (772-795) and Leo IV (847-855) there is anything that would clarify the issue. The non-Roman source documents (7th century) list the names of the Four Crowned Martyrs that are almost the same as those reported by a Passio (a hagiographic document of the 6th century), which tells of five Pannonian martyrs, so we can conclude that all those documents, in some way, derive from the same Passio.

All the later Martyrologies (collections of the lives of the martyrs) added further confusion that influenced even the Roman Martyrology, which gives the Four Crowned Martyrs the names of the martyrs of Albano calling them: Severus (instead of Secundius), Severianus, Victorinus and Carpophorus.

The Roman sources report the celebration of the Four Crowned Martyrs and ignore the names of the martyrs , the extra -Roman  sources report the names (four or five ) taken from the Passio . Is the Passion reliable? For many scholars , it dates back to the 4th century and must be considered a very important document, for others it is a kind of fantasy story , with no historical credibility , of little value, filled with clichés and to be placed between the hagiographic writings of the 4th century. What tells the Passio? Diocletian , on his way to Pannonia (the south west area of Danube between Austria and Hungary) to extract the marble for his buildings , he met among its workers , four artists of the stone : Claudius, Castorius, Simpronian and Nicostratus , they were not declared Christians.

He asked them to sculpt a statue of the Sun and enthusiastic about their skill, he commissioned them other works to be sculpted. Simplicius, another sculptor belonging to the Pannonian site , was impressed by the skills and availability of the four workers and followed them in the Christian faith . He was baptized by Bishop Cyril of Antioch in Sirmium. The envy and suspicion of other workers , who accused the five sculptors of practicing magic , caused a series of disagreements creating two opposing factions and many were converted to Christianity. The emperor was satisfied with the work carried out by the five and commissioned them a large statue of Aesculapius . This caused the envy of the other comrades who took the advantage of the fact that the five sculptors were slow to execute the statue of Aesculapius and accused them of being Christians and disobedient. They were forced to confess their faith and refused to sculpt a statue dedicated to a pagan god . For this reason, they were delivered to the tribune Lampadio, who flogged them judging them unholy and profane. Lampadio died soon after making the order. Diocletian closed in the five alive Christians in lead-lined boxes and thrown them into the river on the 8th of November.

The coincidence of their celebration with the dies natalis of the four martyrs of the Via Labicana suggests that the relics used for that dedication belonged to the martyrs buried in the place called "in Comitatum", and they were generally called the Four Crowned Martyrs, since there are no other data on their behalf.

In the confusion that reigns in the search for a "historical truth" on the Four Crowned Martyrs, it is opposed a very deep and heart-felt cult that lasted for many centuries and  it is demonstrated from iconographic inventory encountered by the Pannonian martyrs, or by the Roman soldiers, which marks, like a red thread, the history of the guild of masons and construction workers who, thanks to their work, reached, even from the lands of the canton of Ticino, mostly European cities.


Taken from the article:
I Magistri ticinesi e I loro protettori, by Michele Sottile
Source: Giornale del Popolo, 4th November 1999