Saints of the Day – 12 May – Sts Nereus and Achilleus
Little is known about Saints Nereus and Achilleus but we know is engraved in stone. Damasus, one of the first popes and later a saint himself, wrote the epitaph for the tombstone of Saints Nereus and Achilleus. In this epitaph he proclaimed that it was love for Christ and a desire to witness to their new faith that inspired Nereus and Achilleus to “throw away their shields, their armour and their bloody spears.”
It seems that both men were Roman soldiers who obeyed orders in the persecution of Christians until they themselves were converted to Christianity. Because Christians were not allowed to bear arms, they resigned from the emperor’s army and escaped from Rome. Eventually Nereus and Achilleus were captured and were removed to the island of Terracina, where they were martyred. Their bodies were buried in a family vault, later known as the cemetery of Domitilla. They were among the first martyrs to be venerated as saints. Excavations by De Rossi in 1896 resulted in the discovery of their empty tomb in the underground church built by Pope Siricius in 390.
Two hundred years after their deaths, St Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) Doctor of the Church, delivered his 28th homily on the occasion of their feast. “These saints, before whom we are assembled, despised the world and trampled it under their feet when peace, riches and health gave it charms.”
“O miracle of faith!” wrote Damasus. “Suddenly they cease from their fury, they become converted, they flee from the camp of their wicked leader. Professing the faith of Christ, they are happy to witness to its triumph. Learn from the words of Damasus what great things the glory of Christ can accomplish.”