Today is the feast day of Saints John and Paul. Orate pro nobis.
These two Saints, not to be confused with the Apostles, were brothers and were officers of the Roman army in the days of Constantine the Great. They served in the house of Constance, daughter of Constantine, who was consecrated to God. Their virtues and services to her father rendered them very dear to her.
With the aid of Constance, they practiced many works of charity and mercy, until the deaths of both Constantine and Constance. Then, at the accession of Julian the Apostate to the imperial throne, they resigned their position in the palace. Julian had returned to the cult of idols and was attempting to re-establish it in the empire. The brothers saw many wicked men prosper in their impiety. They considered that worldly prosperity accompanied by impunity in sin is the most dreadful of all judgments, indicating reprobation. And history reveals how false and short-lived was the glittering prosperity of Julian.
While still in power the apostate attempted to win back John and Paul into active service. When he was refused, he gave them ten days to reconsider. The officer Terentianus, who at the end of that time brought to their house a little idol of Jupiter for their adoration, found them in prayer. In the middle of that night on June 26 they were decapitated secretly in their own garden. The emperor feared their execution might cause a sedition in Rome. He instigated a rumor that they had been exiled.
The martyrs, by their renouncement of favors and their heroic resistance, purchased never-fading glory. Their house on the Caelian Hill became a magnificent Christian basilica by the end of the fourth/fifth century.
House and Christian basilica on the Caelian Hill
In the second half of the fourth century, Byzantius, the Roman senator, and Saint Pammachius, his son, fashioned the house on the Caelian Hill into a Christian basilica and the tomb of John and Paul was venerated there from as early as the fifth century. The church was damaged during the sack of Rome by Alaric I (410) and because of an earthquake (442). It was restored by Pope Paschal I (824), sacked again by the Normans (1084), and again restored, with the further building of a monastery and a bell tower.
Names in the Roman Canon and Sacramentarium Veronense
John and Paul’s early veneration is also indicated by the fact that the names of the two saints were inserted into the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) of the Mass. Also the Sacramentarium Veronense, which dates back to Pope Leo the Great (440-461, indicates in the preface to the feast of the saints that they rested within the city walls.
Home to the Passionists and link with New York
Since 1773 the Basilica of St John and Paul has been home to the Passionist order and is the burial place of its founder St. Paul of the Cross. Among previous cardinal priests of this church are two who became pope: Pope Honorius III (Cencio Savelli, elevated to cardinal in 1198) and Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli, elevated to cardinal in 1929).
Image by: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (4)