I have been following the Catholic Saints calendar this year. Why? Because I’m interested in the stories of the early Christians in the first few centuries. I usually ignore the later “saints” from 900 AD on. Today’s saints interested me.
Nereus and Achilleus were Roman soldiers. The story surrounding them is more legendary than historical. They are dated to the end of the 1st century/beginning of the 2nd. All that is known for certain about them is that they resigned their positions once converting to Christianity and were martyred. It is told that they were part of the emperor’s personal guard and were baptized by Peter. Once they resigned, they were exiled to island of Pontia and executed in city of Terracina. It is told that they died by decapitation.
Since their graves were found in the Lady Domitilla’s estate (the niece of the Emperor Domitian, who was a Christian herself); it is assumed they were her guards, which would have necessitated they be eunuchs. Some say they were brothers.
An epitaph written by Pope Damasus says the following: “Nereus and Achilleus the martyrs joined the army and carried out the cruel orders of the tyrant, obeying his will continually out of fear. Then came a miracle of faith. They suddenly gave up their savagery, they were converted, they fled the camp of their evil leader, throwing away their shields, armor, and bloody spears. Professing the faith of Christ, they are happy to witness to its triumph. From these words of Damasus understand what great deeds can be brought about by Christ’s glory.” (source)
The first mention of their names is on the list of martyrs from the 5th century. An ancient church, built in the 4th century over the tombs of these two “fallen” soldiers, was dedicated to their memory in 595 AD.
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:28