The Other Sts. John and Paul, Martyrs

"The Martyrdom of Saints John and Paul (recto)" by Guercino
“The Martyrdom of Saints John and Paul (recto)” by Guercino

The two saints for today are Sts. John and Paul – not the apostles, but two men of the same names who were martyred in Christ’s service. John and Paul were “soldier martyrs”, a particular category of martyrs who were honored in the early Church. Other famous examples of these soldier martyrs are guys like St. George, St. Theodore, and St. Julius the Veteran. This group of martyrs inspired devotion because of their ability to put their faith in Christ above their orders, their emperor, and even their lives.

The lives of Sts. John and Paul are based in legends, but what is certain is that they were martyred. The two of them were soldiers under the Emperor Constantine, who was so impressed by their service to the Empire and their devotion to God that he made them special bodyguards to his daughter, Constantia. After their service, and through the emperor’s generosity, they retired to a house on the Caelian Hill in Rome.

After a while, Emperor Julian (aka Julian the Apostate) came along around 362, and recalled them to serve as his aides. They refused his request because Julian had rejected his faith – which he had willingly been baptized into – in favor of the Roman gods (hence his nickname, “the Apostate”). Julian was a little upset, as you might imagine, and gave them 10 days to reconsider, or he would charge them with impiety and execute them. John and Paul spent those 10 days distributing their possessions to the poor, until Julian sent one of his captains to their home and beheaded them there.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo al Celio, built on the home of the martyrs
Santi Giovanni e Paolo al Celio, built on the home of the martyrs

Speaking of that house on the Caelian Hill, the Christian community continued to offer Masses there every year on the anniversary of their martyrdom, until in 398, 36 years after their death, a senator named Pammachius built a church on the site. The church has been restored again and again after being damaged (Visigoths, earthquakes, and Normans, oh my!), but it is the same church and one of the 25 original tituli, which as you might remember from last week was one of the original parishes in Rome. Original frescoes depicting the martyrdom of John and Paul can still be seen in the church, and the tombs of the two martyrs are there as well.

We’ll get a glimpse into the lives of two other martyrs next week – this time, brothers!