Four Crowned Martyrs

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Bede (c. 673—735) monk, historian, and theologian


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(early 4th century).

Two groups of early martyrs venerated at Rome on 8 November are called the Crowned Martyrs: one of five Persian stonemasons, the other of four Roman soldiers. H. Delehaye opts firmly for the sole authenticity of the Persians whose relics were translated to Rome, where a fine basilica on the Celian Hill is dedicated to them. Their names, according to their Legend, were Claudius, Nicostratus, Simpronian, and Castorius, while the fifth who suffered with them seems for some reason to have been dropped out of popular accounts, Simplicius, became a Christian because he thought that the others' skill in carving was due to their religion. Their Acts describe the imperial quarries and workshops at Sirmium, and Diocletian as an unstable character who had a passion for building. Claudius and his companions are said to have made a number of carvings for the emperor, but refused to make a statue of Aesculapius. Eventually they were imprisoned for refusing to sacrifice to the gods: Lampadius, the officer of Diocletian who conducted the enquiry, died suddenly and the stonemasons were held responsible by his relatives. Partly owing to their intervention, Claudius and his companions were killed by drowning.

The alternative, and inferior, version of their Legend makes them four Roman soldiers who under Diocletian refused to sacrifice to the god Aesculapius, for whom the emperor built a temple in the Baths of Trajan. They were beaten to death with leaden scourges and although their bodies were thrown into the drains, they were later reburied by Pope Miltiades on the Via Lavicana.

*Bede records that Canterbury in the early 7th century had a church dedicated to the Four Crowned Martyrs, which probably contained relics of them. Most of the early Canterbury dedications were to Roman saints; the site of the Roman basilica of these martyrs is very close to the monastery in Rome from which Augustine came to England. The dedication could be due to him; their relics could be among those sent from Rome to England in 601.

These saints kept their popularity in medieval England, being recorded in fifteen English Benedictine calendars. They were also the patrons of guilds of stonemasons, whose articles direct the reader to find out more about them in the Golden Legend. The English Freemasons' journal is called Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Their iconography is extensive, consisting mainly of examples from the 16th and 17th centuries. Feast: 8 November.

AA.SS. Nov. III (1910), 748–84; C.M.H., pp. 590–1; H. Delehaye, Étude sur le Légendier romain (1936), pp. 64–73 and ‘Le culte des Quatre Couronnés à Rome’, Anal. Boll., xxxii (1913), 63–71;L. Duchesne in Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire, xxxi (1911), 231–46; Bede, H.E., ii. 8; Bibl. SS., x. 1276–1304.

Subjects: Christianity.

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