Friday, September 17, 2021

St Satyrus, the Brother of St Ambrose

On the calendar of the Ambrosian Rite, which has neither Ember days nor the feast of St Francis’ Stigmata, today is the feast of St Satyrus, the brother of St Ambrose. Our only sources for his life are two orations delivered by his brother, one on the day of his death, and the other a week later. We know that he was the second of their parents’ three children, born after a sister named Marcellina (who is also a Saint); this puts his birth somewhere around 335, before his brother’s in about 340, at either Trier, where their father sat as governor of a Roman province, or at Rome. Being of the senatorial aristocracy, both brothers followed in the path of their father’s career and served as governors of Roman provinces, but that assigned to Satyrus is unknown. In 374, when Ambrose was made bishop of Milan, his brother left public office in order to help him with the administration of the diocese, as well as to care for their sister and the family patrimony. St Ambrose praises him for his chastity in terms that clearly indicate that he was not married.
The altar of St Satyrus in the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan.
More than once, these duties required Satyrus to travel to Africa. Like many men of his class and period, whose public responsibilities were difficult to reconcile with the discipline of a Christian life, he long remained a catechumen. (St Ambrose himself was a catechumen at the time of his election as bishop by popular acclamation; the Ambrosian Rite adds a commemoration of his baptism to the Mass of St Andrew the Apostle on November 30, and keeps his principal feast only a week later, on the day of his episcopal ordination.) Ambrose, however, notes the following episode in proof of his strong faith.
On Satyrus’ return from the last of his African trips, his ship was wrecked on shoals just off the coast of either Sicily or Sardinia. Before jumping off the boat, one of his fellow passengers gave him, at his request, a small piece of the Blessed Sacrament, which he then wrapped up in a small cloth, and fastened around his neck. St Ambrose attributes his safe deliverance from the sea to this, noting that Satyrus’ faith in God was so strong that he did not even bother to grab onto one of the planks of the broken vessel. After safely reached land, he decided to be baptized; he had, however, evidently already contracted the unknown disease which would take his life shortly thereafter. Having returned to Milan, he died in either 378 or 379 in the arms of his siblings.
The Shipwreck of St Satyrus, by Giambattista Tiepolo, 1737; in the chapel entitled to him where his relics were formerly kept, also within the basilica of St Ambrose. 
Ambrose had his brother’s mortal remains placed by those of the martyr St Victor, in a chapel attached to the basilica now named for Ambrose himself, but then called “the Basilica of the Martyrs.” Both Satyrus and Victor were later removed from this chapel, known as “St Victor in the golden heaven”, into a reused pagan sarcophagus. (Victor was later moved again to the basilica named for him with the appellation ‘ad corpus’.) In 1941, an examination of the relics ordered by the Blessed Card. Schuster showed that they are those of a man about 40 years old, quite similar in body type to Ambrose. Since 1980, they have been kept in a crystal urn in the first chapel on the right side of the basilica.
The original location of Satyrus’ burial within the chapel of St Victor.
An inscription which notes the site as the place of his burial, alongside several early martyrs of the church of Milan.
A closer view of the relics as they are today.
Devotion to St Satyrus is first attested in the ninth century, when Anspert, archbishop of Milan, built a small church dedicated to him, his brother, and St Silvester. This was later absorbed into a church constructed by the architect Donatello Bramante in 1476-82, which is still to this known as “St Mary near St Satyrus.” His name first appears in liturgical books of the Ambrosian Rite in the 10th century. In view of his role as his brother’s assistant in the administration of the diocese, he is traditionally honored in Milan as the patron Saint of sacristans.
The story told above about the shipwreck forms a large part of the Ambrosian preface for the Mass of St Satyrus.
Vere quia dignum … aeterne Deus: Tuam incessanter gloriam collaudantes, tuamque in tuis Sanctis magnificentiam prædicantes. Qui talem beato Confessori tuo Satyro virtutum copiam tribuisti, ut germani sui gloriosi Pontificis Ambrosii, Doctoris et magistri Ecclesiarum praecipui, in multis exercitiis consors effectus, fidelissimus et probatissimus athleta Christi Filii tui ipsius industria censeretur. Nam in ipso tirocinio fidei ita clarus enituit, ut inter undas pelagi, cum dissoluta compage navis durum fuisset perpessus excidium, quamvis adhuc nondum Baptismate sancto perfusus, de tuo tamen non esset diffisus auxilio. Sacramentum denique Corporis Dominici sudario inditum collo circumdedit, et se tali remigio fultum spumante aequori committere non dubitavit. Sed tua potentissima dextera, quæ Apostolorum Principem Petrum in fluctibus ne mergeretur erexit, hunc quoque non dissimili potentia illæsum atque incolumem perduxit ad litus. Haec tua est, Domine, totius virtutis operatio. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli…
Truly it is worthy… eternal God: unceasingly praising Thy glory, and proclaiming Thy greatness in Thy Saints. Who didst grant Thy blessed confessor Satyrus such an abundance of virtues, that he, having become in many affairs the colleague of his brother, the glorious bishop Ambrose, the foremost doctor and teacher of the churches, was for his diligence deemed a most faithful and excellent champion of Christ, Thy Son. For while yet in the first service of the Faith, he so distinguished himself that amid the waves of the sea, when he would have perished miserably by the wreck of his ship, although he was not yet washed by holy Baptism, he still did not lack for trust in Thy help. Therefore, he placed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body, enclosed in a cloth, around his neck, and did not hesitate to entrust himself to the frothing sea, supported by such an oar. And Thy most mighty right hand, which in the waves lifted up Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, lest he drown, with like power also brought this man safe and unharmed to the shore. This, o Lord, is the working of the fullness of Thy might. Through the same Christ our Lord. Through whom the angels praise Thy majesty…

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