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May 12

The month of Mary: A Marian Month

Saint of the day:

Saint Nereus and Saint Achilleus, martyrs

Saint Flavia Domitilla

Saints Nereus and Achilleus’ Story

Devotion to these two saints goes back to the fourth century, though almost nothing is known of their lives. They were praetorian soldiers of the Roman army, became Christians, and were removed to the island of Terracina, where they were martyred. Their bodies were buried in a family vault, later known as the cemetery of Domitilla. Excavations by De Rossi in 1896 resulted in the discovery of their empty tomb in the underground church built by Pope Siricius in 390.

Two hundred years after their deaths, Pope Gregory the Great delivered his 28th homily on the occasion of their feast. “These saints, before whom we are assembled, despised the world and trampled it under their feet when peace, riches and health gave it charms.”

Nereus and Achilleus were Roman soldiers in the household of Flavia Domitilla. They were instructed and converted by St. Peter. These two soldiers in turn inspired St. Domitilla to consecrate her virginity to God. Thereupon, Aurelianus, the fiancee of Domitilla, reported all three to the Roman authorities as being Christians. They were martyred out of hatred for Christianity. Pancras, a noble Phrygian youth, came to Rome at the age of fourteen, and was martyred in 275 because he refused to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods.

According to the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, today is also the feast of St. Domitilla. Historically today is the feast of Bl. Imelda Lambertini, daughter of Count Egano Lambertini of Bologna and Castora Galuzzi. She was a student at Dominican Convent of Valdi-Pietra in Bologna and had a great devotion to Saint Agnes of Rome, of whom she may have had visions. On 12 May 1333 she miraculously received her First Communion, and immediately after died in an ecstasy of love and joy.

Saints Nereus and Achilleus (died 304) were Roman soldiers who served under Emperor Trajan. When Diocletian ascended to the thrown, persecution of Christians began in earnest, which Nereus and Achilleus readily participated in. However, through this participation, they came to meet holy men and women who moved their hearts, leading to their eventual conversion to Christianity. While holy legend suggests that they were baptized in the faith by Saint Peter himself, the timing of their lives suggests this not to be true (although no less remarkable!).


Upon their conversion and baptism, the soldiers threw down their weapons and armor, free from the tyranny of sin, and rejoicing in their newfound freedom. Of course, having been involved in the persecution of Christians, both Nereus and Achilleus knew what was in store for them, and were not disappointed. They were arrested, tortured, and exiled to the island of Terracina. There, they were beheaded for failure to renounce their faith and sacrifice to the Roman gods, true followers of Jesus Christ.


Pope Damasus wrote an epitaph for Nereus and Achilleus in the fourth century. He wrote: “The martyrs Nereus and Achilleus had enrolled themselves in the army and exercised the cruel office of carrying out the orders of the tyrant, being ever ready, through the constraint of fear, to obey his will. O miracle of faith! Suddenly they cease from their fury, they become converted, they fly from the camp of their wicked leader; they throw away their shields, their armor and their blood-stained javelins. Confessing the faith of Christ, they rejoice to bear testimony to its triumph. Learn now from the words of Damasus what great things the glory of Christ can accomplish.”


Pope Gregory the Great dwelt on the vanity of the earth's goods. In his homilies, he encouraged his congregation to despise the earth’s physical treasures by the example of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, whose relics lay under the very altar around which they were that day assembled. "These Saints," he said, "before whose tomb we are now standing, trampled with contempt of soul on the world and its flowers. Life was then long, health was uninterrupted, riches were abundant, parents were blessed with many children; and yet, though the world was so flourishing in itself, it had long been a withered thing in their hearts."


Saints Achilleus and Nereus,

pray for those in the military and armed forces throughout the world

that they may always see God as their authority and obey God's orders first.



Chiesa Nuova (The New Church)

Via del Governo Vecchio 134

Rome, Italy

*This church is located along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

*In 1597 this church received the skulls of Saints Nereus and Achilleus.

They rest within reliquaries in the sacristy and are sometimes brought out for public veneration on May 12th.

*The additional remains of Saints Nereus and Achilleus are said to rest within a porphyry urn under the main altar of this church.

In 1870 they were stolen from the church of Santi Nereo e Achilleo; however, they were later recovered and are now said to rest here.

*The body of St Philip Neri is enshrined in the left transept of this church. His private rooms can be visited on certain days of the week.

They are located in the right wall of the left transept.

Domitilla Catacombe 

Tel.: 06.5110342 - Fax: 06.5110512
Via delle Sette Chiese, 282 - 00147 ROME

Rome's oldest underground burial networks, the Domitilla Catacombs. 

Many of the crypts have frescoes that seem blotted out. In fact, they were stripped

by 'ripping' when catacombs were looted and frescoes removed as trophies in the Middle Ages

Things to eat today:

Cod Fish Fillet Fried in Roman Style - filetto di baccalà

Fava Beans & Pecorino

Artichokes in Roman Style ~ Carciofi alla Romana

Bruschetta in Roman Style ~ bruschetta alla Romana




Lamb Cake

Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake
in honor of 
St. Flavia Domitilla and her devotion to St. Agnes

For the Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup
    and leveled-off with a knife, plus more for the pan

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

  • 2-1/4 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1 cup buttermilk (low fat is fine)

  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest, packed
    (note: you'll need 4-5 large lemons for the entire recipe)

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the Syrup

  • 1/3 cup water

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the Glaze

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, packed

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray a 10-inch bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray and dust with flour.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

  4. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon zest and lemon juice.

  5. With the mixer on low speed, beat in one-quarter of the flour mixture, then one-third of the buttermilk mixture. Beat in another quarter of the flour, then another third of the milk mixture. Repeat with another quarter of the flour and the remaining milk mixture. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and give a quick mix to make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated.

  6. Spoon the thick batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

  7. Cool the cake in the pan for ten minutes on a rack.

  8. Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

  9. Invert the warm cake onto a rack. Slip a large piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil under the rack to catch all the drips from the syrup and glaze. Gradually brush the hot syrup over the cake, letting it soak in (a little syrup will drip off, but try not to rush so that most of it is absorbed). Allow the cake to cool completely, about one hour.

  10. When the cake is cool, slip two large metal spatulas under the cake and carefully transfer to a serving platter. To make the glaze: combine the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and melted butter in a medium bowl, mixing with a fork until smooth. Add more confectioners' sugar or lemon juice as necessary to make a thick but pourable glaze (it should be the consistency of thick honey). Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.

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