Saint of the Day – 15 August – St Simplician (Simpliciano) of Milan – Archbishop of Milan, Teacher, Catechist, Writer, Mystic successor to St Ambrose – (c 320 in Rome, Italy – c 401 in Milan, Liguria, Italy).
St Simplician was born about 320 probably in Rome, was raised in a Christian family and still young he became a Priest. He became expert in the Holy Scripture and very educated. In about 355 he took an active part in the conversion to Christianity of the philosopher Marius Victorinus. When in 374 Ambrose was elected bishop of Milan and baptised, Simplician became his teacher of doctrine. Ambrose used to call Simplician father, as a sign of spiritual relationship but they were also great friends. St Simplician remained an advisor to and correspondent with Saint Ambrose. Probably in this period Simplician moved to Milan where he remained.
Simplician took also an active part in the conversions of both Alypius of Thagaste and Augustine of Hippo. The meeting between Augustine and Simplican occurred in Milan in 386 and it is recorded in Augustine’s Confessions. After his conversion, Augustine also called Simplician father and in 397 he dedicated to Simplician two books on the issue of predestination, known as De Diversis Quaestionibus ad Simplicianum. St Augustine, remembered and referred to him with deep gratitude, calling him the “spiritual father of my soul” and would submit his own writings to him to review and comment.
He also corresponded extensively with Pope Anastasius I and bishops in Africa and Gaul but none of the writings have survived. St Simplician always wore a black leather belt; following a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Saint Monica, the belt became part of the habit of the Augustinians
On his deathbed, St Ambrose supported Simplician as his own successor, stating that Simplician was “old but good”. Thus in April 397, the aged Simplician was elected bishop of Milan, at that time capital of the Western Roman Empire. A very important act of his episcopate was the receipt in Milan of the relics of the three martyrs Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander, sent from Trento by the bishop Vigilius.
St Simplician was asked to judge some doctrinal statements by the Council of Carthage (397) and by the First Council of Toledo. He also consecrated Gaudentius of Novara a bishop and according to the 13th-century writer Goffredo of Bussero, he organised the texts of the Ambrosian liturgy.
His feast day was anciently set on 15 August, together with the feast of the translation to Milan of the relics of Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander; so his death was deemed to have been on 15 August 400.
St Simplician was initially buried in the church of Saint Nabor and Felix in Milan and later translated, perhaps on 15 August, to the Basilica Virginum (“Basilica of the Virgins”) which was renamed in his honour; now it is known as Basilica of St Simplician. The images below are the Basilica, with the Main Altar, Stained Glass windows and the Chapel of the Martyrs of Anaunia, in the Crypt of the Basilica.
St Ambrose began the construction of the Basilica Virginum (“Basilica of the Virgins”), which was finished by his successor Simplician, who is buried there. A brick with the mark of the Lombard King Agilulf shows that repairs were made between 590 and 615 AD.
In the ninth century the Cluniac Benedictines took possession of the church. In 1176 the church became famous when, according to the legend, the bodies of the martyrs housed here flew as doves to the field of Legnano, landing on the City’s Carroccio, (a ceremonial war waggon) as a sign of the imminent victory against Frederick Barbarossa’s army.
When the building was modified between the 12th and the 13th centuries, giving it the present Romanesque appearance, the original walls were preserved to a height of 22 meters. On the night of 6–7 April 1252 the body of Peter of Verona (later St. Peter Martyr) lay in state after his assassination. A great multitude came to watch vigil, and the origins of Peter’s cult began, as people started to report miraculous occurrences.