Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Saints of the Ambrosian Canon (Part 1)

As a follow-up to Shawn’s recent and not-so-recent posts on the Saints of the Roman Canon, I will here offer some considerations of the Saints named in the Canon of the Ambrosian Rite, starting with those in the Communicantes. A second post will enumerate those in the Nobis quoque, and a third will discuss some of the other differences between the Roman and Milanese versions of the Canon.

The traditional Ambrosian liturgy is of course very different from the Roman, but also shares with it a large number of texts and rites. Foremost among them is the Canon of the Mass itself, which is mostly the same as the Roman Canon; this fact mislead the liturgical scholars of earlier periods to think that the Ambrosian Rite was simply an archaic version of the Roman, a theory now happily abandoned. There are several minor differences in wording (e.g. “ante conspectum tremendae majestatis tuae” in the Supplices), and a few noteworthy interpolations, but the place where the Canon varies most extensively is in the two lists of Saints. We may also note in passing that Milan was not the only place where these lists differ from the very ancient Roman tradition; in France, for example, many places added the names of Ss. Martin of Tour and Hilary of Poitier to the Communicantes. However, variants of this sort among the uses of the Roman Rite are very rare, and had almost completely disappeared at the time of the Tridentine reform.

The Ambrosian Communicantes begins as the Roman does, with the Virgin Mary and the twelve Apostles, in the same order as in the Roman Canon and Litany of the Saints. After the Apostles, however, the Ambrosian Rite does not observe the strictly hierarchical (and mostly chronological) order of the Roman Rite. Ss. Linus and Cletus are omitted, and St. Clement is moved; the Apostles are followed directly by Pope Sixtus II, who was martyred in the persecution of Valerian in 257, and was in antiquity the most venerated of the martyred Popes after St. Peter himself. Right after him are named two saints with whom he is associated, his deacon, the martyr St. Lawrence, and St. Hippolytus, a soldier who was killed after burying the body of Lawrence.
St. Lawrence receives the treasures of the Church from St. Sixtus to distribute to the poor; Beato Angelico, Niccoline Chapel, Vatican City, 1447-51.

The name of St. Vincent of Saragossa, a martyr of the persecution of Diocletian, greatly venerated already in the fourth century, comes next. He was a deacon who courageously suffered a horrific martyrdom, like Ss. Stephen and Lawrence, with whom he was often associated in art and liturgy. Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian of Carthage are then named together as in the Roman Canon; they were martyred on the same day, September 14th, but in different years, Cornelius in 253, Cyprian five years later. They are celebrated together in the liturgy, not only because they died on the same day, but also because they collaborated in resisting the rigorist schism of Novatian. The church of Milan has traditionally devoted their Roman feast day, September 16th, to St. Euphemia of Chalcedon, who is named in the Ambrosian Nobis quoque; the two martyred bishops, therefore, have been kept at Milan in different periods on the 12th or 19th, or as a commemoration on the Exaltation of the Cross. (pictured right: St. Vincent, attributed to Nuño Gonçalves, 1460-70)

Pope St. Clement I, the third successor of St. Peter, is placed after Cyprian, followed by five other martyrs, in the same order as in the Roman Canon: Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian. All six are honored at Rome by prominent churches; the basilica of Ss. Cosmas and Damian was built in 527, but the churches of the other four date back to the fourth century, and would have been known to St. Ambrose.

Although the names and order of the Saints thus far are not identical, both versions of the Canon share one important characteristic; the twelve Apostles are followed by twelve especially famous martyrs, a total of twenty-four, representing the twenty-four elders seen by St. John before the throne of God in the fourth chapter of the Apocalypse. At this point, the Ambrosian Rite adds the names of ten other martyrs, nine of whom are particularly associated with Milan. The first, however, St. Apollinaris, was the founder of the church of Ravenna, which succeeded Milan as the capital of the Roman Empire in 402, five years after St. Ambrose’s death. He is included among the local martyrs most probably because Ravenna, like all of northern Italy, was part of the ecclesiastical province of Milan in late antiquity, and placed first as the earliest, and the only cleric among them. Apollinaris was traditionally said to have been a disciple of St. Peter, and to have preached throughout the north of Italy before his martyrdom at Ravenna in the later part of the first century.

One of the most famous mosaics of the early Byzantine period, in the apse of the Basilica of St. Apollinaris in Classe, the former port of Ravenna, dedicated in 549 A.D.

He is followed by St. Vitalis, the father of two other martyrs named shortly thereafter, Ss. Protasius and Gervasius. His feast is kept on April 28th in both rites, but Milan adds his wife St. Valeria to his Mass and Office. The account of their martyrdom is considered unreliable by modern scholars, as is that of their sons; according to the story, Vitalis was a soldier from Milan, who was identified as a Christian when he encouraged the martyr Ursicinus as the latter was being tortured. After burying Ursicinus, he was condemned, thrown into a pit, and overwhelmed with stones and earth. This took place at Ravenna, where the famous basilica named for him stands on the putative site of his martyrdom; this connection with Ravenna may have also brought devotion to St. Apollinaris to Milan. Valeria returned to Milan, where she was beaten by pagans after refusing to sacrifice to the idols, and died shortly thereafter of her wounds.

The apse of the Basilica of St. Vitalis in Ravenna, also filled with important early Byzantine mosaics, dedicated in 548 A.D.

Ss. Nazarius and Celsus, the next in the list, are kept in both rites on July 28th, but the Roman Rite adds two Popes to their feast, Ss. Victor I and Innocent I. Their unreliable passion states that Nazarius was an itinerant preacher in the first century, who journeyed through various parts of northern Italy and Gaul, and to whom Celsus’ mother entrusted her son to be baptized and raised as a Christian; thereafter, he shared Nazarius’ travels and missionary activities, as well as his martyrdom at Milan. Their bodies were discovered by St. Ambrose in 395 A.D. in a garden outside the city walls, the blood of St. Nazarius being still fresh and red; the relics were then translated to the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles. The feast of this translation is kept in the traditional Ambrosian Rite on May 10th.

Nine years earlier, St. Ambrose had uncovered the relics of another pair of Milanese martyrs, Ss. Protasius and Gervasius, having been shown the place of their long-forgotten burial in a dream. Nothing is known for certain of these saints, not even the era of their martyrdom, but devotion to them was once very widespread; they are even named in the Roman version of the Litany of the Saints, last among the company of the martyrs. Their relics were taken to a newly built basilica, then called simply “the Basilica of the Martyrs”, and laid in a place Ambrose had originally intended for his own burial; the translation and the miraculous healings which accompanied it are recorded by Ambrose, by his secretary, Paulinus, who would later write his Life, and by St. Augustine. The great bishop and doctor himself was laid to rest next to them when he died in 397, and the basilica is now officially named after him. In the mid-ninth century, the abbot of the attached monastery placed the relics of all three saints in a large porphyry sarcophagus, which was later sunk into the floor and covered over; it was rediscovered in 1864 during a major restoration project, and the three bodies are now seen in the Confession of the church under the altar. The feast day of the two martyrs is on June 19th, and the traditional Ambrosian Calendar also has the feast of the “Raising up of the Bodies of Ss. Ambrose, Protasius and Gervasius” on May 14th.

The body of St. Ambrose, dressed in the white of Confessors, rests between those of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, dressed in red. The two martyrs also hold palm branches in their hands, while the sainted bishop holds a crook. A few years ago, I visited this church and was told by a senior cleric that St. Ambrose's skeleton was found "all of a piece" in 1867, but that those of Protasius and Gervasius had been "mixed up, so at the Final Judgement, some of the pieces will be flying back and forth." This was followed by a smile and the classic Italian "no problem" shrug.

The next three martyrs, Ss. Victor, Nabor and Felix, were Christian soldiers from the Roman province of Africa, who were killed in the first year of the persecution of Diocletian, 303 A.D., while serving at Milan under the emperor Maximian. Nabor and Felix were beheaded in the nearby city of Laus Pompeia, (now called Lodi Vecchio,) and their feast is on July 12th; St. Victor, who was much older than the other two, was martyred later, at Milan itself, and his feast is kept on May 8th in the Ambrosian Calendar. The two feasts share a beautiful hymn, in which Milan expresses its pride in these “guests upon this soil, of the Moorish nation, strangers in our lands, … (whom she) stole from the camps of the wicked and consecrated to Christ.”

The martyrdom of Ss. Nabor and Felix, from the screen above the choir stalls of Cologne Cathedral. After Milan was taken by the emperor Frederic Barbarossa, a portion of the Saints' relics, along with relics venerated as those of the Three Kings, was taken to Cologne, and a placed in a side chapel of the cathedral. Another Italian martyr, St. Gregory of Spoleto, whose relics were brought to Cologne in the 10th century, is shown on the far right.

The last of the martyrs is an early bishop of Milan, St. Calimerius. The chronology of the bishops of Milan before the Constantinian peace is quite uncertain, and the episcopacy of Calimerius, traditionally said to run from 138 to 192 A.D., may in fact have been in the later part of the following century. The Ambrosian Breviary tells the story that on the death of his predecessor, St. Castrician, he strenuously resisted acceptance of the episcopal office, and had to be dragged in chains to his consecration. A basilica in Milan is named for him, and his feast day is kept on July 31st.

Prior to the reform of the Ambrosian liturgy under St. Charles Borromeo, ten sainted Confessors were also named in the Canon of Mass. The first five were bishops of Milan: Ss. Maternus, (316-328), Eustorgius I, (344-350), Dionysius, (350-355), Ambrose (374-397) and Simplician (397-401). There then followed Ss. Martin of Tour, Eusebius of Vercelli, Hilary of Poitier, Pope Julius I and Benedict, bishop of Milan from 681-725. These names were removed from the Canon by St. Charles, who decreed, apparently on the analogy of the Roman Canon, that the Saints named therein should all be martyrs.

The relevant page of the Ambrosian Missal, from the 1712 edition published by the authority of Giuseppe Card. Archinto, archbishop of Milan from 1699-1712.

Finally, we may note that the list of Saints in both the Communicates and the Nobis quoque is printed in two parallel columns, rather than in a continuous line like the rest of the text: this custom is a remembrance of the ancient custom of reading the names from hinged plaques called diptychs.

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