medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Catervus (late 1st or early 2d cent., supposedly) is one of the two patron saints of Tolentino (MC) in the Marche (the other is St. Nicholas of Tolentino). A church dedicated to him there is first recorded from the year 1054. In 1206 a local monastery of the same dedication is attested. By 1254 Catervus was being called a martyr. Though Boniface VIII in an indulgence of 1299 referred to him as a confessor, locally Catervus still appears as a martyr in 1474 when he is first recorded as a patron of the city.
A perhaps thirteenth-century Vita (BHL 1656 b and c) makes Catervus the son of noble parents who heard Peter and Paul preach at Rome. According to this account, Catervus exercised the office of praetorian prefect and was married early to a highly placed Roman named Septimia Severina, with whom he lived in chaste wedlock. He preached, performed miracles, and converted many in Rome, in the Holy Land, and finally at Tolentino in the March of Ancona, where he was martyred for his faith. The also saintly Septimia Severina saw angels carrying Catervus' soul off to heaven; his mortal remains she placed in a sculpted marble tomb that the Vita describes in some detail.
That description, though inaccurate in places, is hardly fanciful. For the sarcophagus exists (it has a place of honor in Tolentino's cattedrale di San Catervo) and its inscriptions, misread and/or misinterpreted in the Middle Ages, together with its Christian iconography clearly formed the basis for Catervus' cult. This was the resting place of the late fourth-century former praetorian prefect Flavius Iulius Catervius, of his wife Septimia Severina, and of their son Bassus. Septimia Severina had it made for her husband and, ultimately, for herself; the two are shown on it together in marital union:
A different view of the sarcophagus, with Catervius portrayed at upper left and Septimia Severina at upper right:
One end of the sarcophagus bears a relief of the Adoration of the Magi:
The corresponding relief on the opposite end shows the Magi with Herod:
Above it is a wreathed Christogram flanked by doves:
The lions on which the sarcophagus rests are survivors from a monastic church dedicated the BVM that was replaced in the later thirteenth century by the present cathedral's immediate predecessor on the site, also dedicated to Catervus. Closer views of these medieval felids:
A distance view of the sarcophagus in the cathedral's cappella di San Catervo:
There is not the slightest evidence, by modern standards, that any of the occupants was particularly saintly.
According to an inscription on the sarcophagus, Catervius died on 17. October of some year; hence Catervus' feast day. The same inscription records Septimia Severina's setting up on 28. November of the sarcophagus in what seems to have been an edicule with three shallow apses -- the text calls it a _panteum cum tricoro_ -- destined for her as well as for her husband; hence the observance of her former feast at Tolentino on 27. November. An inspection of the sarcophagus in 1567 yielded remains of Bassus as well; he came to be celebrated on 25 October. None of these worthies has ever graced the pages of the Roman Martyrology. Catervus continues to be celebrated liturgically at Tolentino on 17. October.
The sarcophagus is shown and discussed in Josef Wilpert, _I sarcofagi cristiani antichi_ (Roma: Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1929-36), vol. 1, pp. 7, 90-91 and plates 72, 73, and 94, and -- in a full-length monograph -- by Aldo Nestori, _ Il mausoleo e il sarcofago di Flavius Iulius Catervius a Tolentino_ (Cittą del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1996; = Monumenti di antichitą cristiana. II serie 13). Its inscriptions are published separately at _CIL_, IX. 5566 and in the preface to Hippolyte Delehaye's posthumously published edition of the Vita: "Saints de Tolentino: La _Vita Sancti Catervi_," _Analecta Bollandiana_ 61 (1943), 5-48. Delehaye's acidulous comments on this text make lively reading.
In addition to Tolentino's cathedral (rebuilt in the 1830s but still retaining bits of its thirteenth-century predecessor) another medieval monument now bearing Catervus' name is Tolentino's torrione San Catervo, a restored thirteenth-century macchiolated tower that was once part of the city's walls. It served as the Austrian command post at the battle of Tolentino in 1815, where Murat's defeat ensured Hapsburg dominance in the north of Italy and Bourbon restoration in the south. Here's a view:
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