Saints of the Day – Four Crowned Martyrs

the statuary 'Quattro Santi Coronati' by Nanni di Banco, 1408-1413, marble, Orsanmichele, Florence, ItalyArticle

Died c.305. On the Caelian Hill in Rome stands the church of Santi Quattro Incoronati. In it is a chapel specially dedicated to the guild of marble-workers. A church has stood in this place since the 6th century and probably before that, too.

Much has been written about who the four crowned martyrs might be, but the stories break down into two irreconcilable groups with different names and different places. Oddly enough, the Church commemorates not four but five Christian martyrs in both versions. Since in both cases their names were at first unknown, they are generally referred to by the collective title.

The most convincing explanation is that they were five men who were martyred in either in Pannonia (modern Hungary) or at Albano, Italy, one of whom, Simplicius, was unaccountably omitted. Some time after the relics of Severus, Severianus, Carpophorus, and Victorinus had been brought to Rome and interred on the Via Labicana, a legend was fabricated in which four Roman soldiers were represented as having been martyred under Diocletian for refusing to sacrifice to an image of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine, in the Baths of Trajan. They were later named by Pope Miltiades.

The more popular Pannonian account relates that they came from Sirmium (Mitrovica) in Pannonia, were average Christians, and were brilliant stone-carvers, who worked together. Their names were Simpronian, Claudius, Nicostratus, Castorius, and Simplicius.

Their work exhibited a perfect understanding of stone and space. Emperor Diocletian himself had commissioned a number of works from them and he was pleased with their work. Other less talented sculptors were doubtless envious and persuaded Diocletian to order them to carve a statue of Aesculapius. The commission would have brought additional renown as well as pay. But the five stone- carvers were Christians and politely refused to cooperate in the worship of idols.

The masons were then ordered to make a sacrifice to the Sun god. This was even less acceptable than the notion of carving a statue of Aesculapius. The emperor accepted their beliefs, but when they refused to do their civic duty – sacrifice to the gods – they were imprisoned. When Diocletian’s officer Lampadius, who was trying to convince them to sacrifice to the gods, suddenly died, his relatives accused them of his death. To placate the relatives, Diocletian had them bound, fastened in leaden boxes and drowned in the river.

The late 4th century account of them is of special interest for what it tells about the imperial quarries and workshops in the mountains near Sirmium; and also because it gives a more human picture of Diocletian than that of the bloodthirsty tyrant commonly represented in the passions of martyrs.

Whatever the true story, the bodies were buried on the Lavican way about three miles from Rome. Pope Gregory the Great mentions an old church of the four crowned martyrs in Rome. Pope Leo IV, in 841, repaired the church and translated the relics from the cemetery on the Lavican Way. When this church was destroyed by fire, Paschal II rebuilt it. During the course of the reconstruction two rich urns – one of porphyry, the other of serpentine marble – were discovered under the altar. The urns were deposited in a stone vault under the new altar where they were again found by Paul V.

Working masons of the Middle Ages held the Four Crowned Martyrs in special honor, and this has been perpetuated in English Freemasonry; there is a Quatuor Coronati lodge in London that has published its annual report for 75 years under the title of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. There was already a chapel of the Four Crowned Martyrs in Canterbury in the year 619 (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).

In art the are, of course, represented by four men with sculptor’s tools. At times the picture will include a chisel, column and sculptor’s tools; or Claudius planing a plank, Simplician (Simpronian) with a pickaxe, and Castor as an old man.

They are the patrons of sculptors, stone-cutters, and marble-workers, as well as protectors of cattle. Invoked against fever (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 11 August 2020. Web. 27 November 2020. <>