Saint Zenobio (force of Zeus) (fourth century)
In Christian legend, bishop of Florence; invoked against headache.
Feast, 25 May.
The legendary life of the saint is found in several short biographies, all written after the 11th century and included in the Acta Sanctorum, a collection of saints’ lives.
According to the accounts, Zenobio was born of a noble family.
His father, Lucian, and his mother, Sophia, were both pagans.
The boy, however, was converted to Christianity and eventually succeeded in converting his parents to the new faith.
He lived in Rome as a deacon and was also secretary to Pope Damascus I.
He was sent to Florence when two factions, the Catholics and the Arians (a rival Christian group), were fighting to have one of their sect chosen bishop of the city.
When Zenobio arrived, both sides agreed that he should be the bishop and elected him to the office. He led a life of poverty and self-denial, keeping the two religious factions at peace.
Many legends center around the saint. Once he made a journey to a city in the Apennines to consecrate a church. On the occasion his friend, Saint Ambrose, sent messengers to him with gifts of precious relics.
But it happened that the chief of the messengers, in passing through the gorge in the mountains, fell with his mule down a steep precipice and was crushed to death.
His companions brought his mutilated body and laid it at the feet of Saint Zenobio. The bishop prayed over the corpse, and the man was restored to life.
Another legend says a Frenchwoman, while on a pilgrimage to Rome, stopped off at Florence and left her son in the care of the saint. The boy died the day the woman returned, but when the child was laid at the feet of Saint Zenobio, the prayers of the saint restored the child to life. The saint placed him in the arms of his mother.
Still another medieval legend tells how a little child, straying from his mother in the streets of Florence, was run over and trampled by two oxen. Again, the good bishop prayed over the body of the dead child, and the child was restored to life.
Miracles were performed by Zenobio not only while he lived but even after his death.
When the remains of Saint Zenobio were carried through the city to be deposited under the high altar of the cathedral, the people crowded around to kiss him and touch his garments.
In passing through the Piazza del Duomo the body of the saint was thrown against the trunk of a withered elm standing near the spot.
Suddenly the tree, which had been dead for years, burst into fresh leaves.
Saint Zenobio’s life has been a favorite subject for Christian artists. Lorenzo Ghiberti designed a bronze sarcophagus to house the relics of the saint.
The bas-reliefs portray the miracle of the restoration of the son of the Frenchwoman, the restoration of the messenger, and the story of the trampled child.
Botticelli painted The Three Miracles of Saint Zenobio. Masaccio also painted the raising of the dead child. The legendary connection of invoking Saint Zenobio against headaches, however, is lost.
Last updated: November 19, 2012 at 22:41 pm
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