Saint Servatius

Saint Servatius

Infobox Saint
name= Saint Servatius
death_date=~384 AD
feast_day= May 13
venerated_in= Roman Catholic Church

imagesize= 250px
caption= Tomb of St. Servatius
birth_place= traditionally in Armenia
attributes=depicted as a bishop with three wooden shoes; at a reading desk with a shield by him with three wooden shoes; being met at the city gate by burghers as he holds the key and is attended by an angel; with a key in one hand, placing his crozier on a dragon; striking water; with an eagle fanning him as he sleeps in the sun dressed as a pilgrim.
patronage=Maastricht; invoked against foot troubles, lameness, rheumatism, rats, and mice

Saint Servatius ["Aravatius" given by Gregory of Tours.] (Dutch: Sint Servaas; French: Saint Servais) (traditionally died 384) was bishop of Tongeren—Roman "Atuatuca Tungrorum" the capital of the Tungri—one of the earliest dioceses in the Low Countries. Later in his life he fled to Maastricht, Roman "Mosae Trajectum", where he became the first bishop of this city. He spread Christianity to the Low Countries when he built a church over the Roman temple of Fortuna and Jupiter, the Church of Our Dear Lady. This church is still a very important spiritual and religious site in Maastricht.

A widely-travelled diplomat, Servatius is recorded as being present at several synods and church councils, and a determined prosecutor of Arianism. Servatius died in Maastricht in 384.

Servatius is patron saint of the city of Maastricht, Schijndel and Grimbergen, and is venerated on May 13.


In 343, "Sarbatios"—Greek texts rendering "v" as "b"—was present at the Council of Sardica (modern Sofia). In the debates, Servatius represented the Trinitarian Christological views of the Western Emperor. Because the eastern bishops shared the opinions of their ruler, the Synod of Sardica was a failure.

When Athanasius was in exile in Trier, he met with Servatius, and the two campaigned against the Arian bishops and priests of the area. In the Council of Cologne in 346, Servatius testified against the bishop of Cologne, saying that, "Our churches are adjacent" and the bishop of Cologne "denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. It has even happened in the presence of Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria." Thus Servatius appears to have been bishop of Tongeren at this time.

After the western emperor Constans had been assassinated (350), Servatius was sent to Edessa as envoy to Constantius II, the Eastern Emperor, by the court party of the usurper Magnentius, to represent the late Constans as an unworthy tyrant and oppressor, in the unsuccessful hope of obtaining Constantius' recognition of Magnentius as co-Augustus. The outcome was a civil war that resulted in the death of Magnentius (353). The commission is a sign of the high standing of Servatius.

In 359, at the Council of Rimini, Sulpicius Severus reports that Servatius again eloquently denounced Arianism.


Legends accumulated round the historical figure of the bishop. Two medieval "vitae"—recently translated into English— place Servatius' birth in Armenia and make him a distant relative of John the Baptist and Jesus, through his mother, now called Memelia. A late Gothic mid-fifteenth century wooden sculpture of a standing Memelia with the infant Servatius in her arms, identifiable by the bishop's mitre he is already wearing (Vendsyssel Historiske Museum, Denmark), was iconographically so similar to contemporary Madonna and Child sculptures, that it was long misattributed. [ [ Vendsyssel Historiske Museum] .]

It was further related that Servatius became a priest and guardian of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. There he had a vision in which he was ordered to go to Tongeren to succeed a bishop Valentine, who had died there seven years earlier. On his deathbed, Valentine had declared that no person was to succeed him as a bishop unless that person had received divine orders to do so.

According to his hagiography, the translation of the see from Tongeren to Maastricht was given authenticity in the following manner: when the Huns threatened Tongeren, Saint Servatius went on pilgrimage to Rome. Keeping vigil at Saint Peter's tomb, he had a vision in which Peter forecast the destruction of the unbelieving and sinful Tongeren and ordered him to move the episcopal see to Maastricht. By way of further authentication, Peter handed Servatius the key to the Gates of Heaven, which gave Servatius the power to forgive sins, and to open or lock the Gates. Servatius returned to Tongeren and immediately carried the precious relics of his predecessors to Maastricht as he had been ordered; there he died a few days later, on May 13, 384. For the historian, the legend suggests that a Hunnish destruction of Tongeren was widely remembered, though it may have postdated Servatius' lifetime.

More likely Servatius preferred the safe castellum of "Mosae Trajectum", Maastricht, over the relative open city of "Atuatuca Tongrorum", Tongeren and consequently transferred his see in order to stay out of the hands of ever invading Germanic tribes who were knocking at the gates of the crumbling Roman Empire near the end of the 4th century A.D.

Basilicas and churches of St Servatius

Some historic basilicas in the Netherlands and Belgium and in western Germany are connected to Servatius: The "Basilica of Our Lady" erected on ancient foundations in Tongeren, the "Basilica of Saint Servatius" ("St.Servaaskerk") in Maastricht, "Saint Servatius" in Grimbergen, and the collegiate church of "Saint Servatius" in Quedlinburg [] . They are among the most beautiful Romanesque, medieval and baroque monuments in the Low Countries.

There is no reason to doubt that the saint's remains are to be found in the Basilica of Saint Servatius on the Vrijthof in Maastricht, which was founded ca. 560. The present Romanesque church was rebuilt from 1039. His tomb in the crypt is a favored place of pilgr
Pope John Paul II visited it in 1984. The 12th-century gilded reliquary containing the saint's relics is normally kept in the basilica's treasury; it became known as the "Noodkist" ("Distress Chest") because in times of calamity it was carried around the town. During the medieval period these processions caused such rioting that they were forbidden. A procession of the reliquary is still carried out every seven years. Other treasures that have become associated with the saint are a crozier, a staff, a pectoral cross, a chalice, and the very key to Heaven awarded to him in his vision in Rome.

Servatius is remembered in his diocese as the builder of two churches: the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren, and The Basilica of Our Dear Lady Stella Maris in Maastricht. At Tongeren the tradition has been confirmed by excavations in 1981 and 1985-89: under the medieval basilica, the remains of a pretty large 4th-century church have been identified.Excavation of the basilica of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Maastricht has not been possible, but it is sure that this church was founded by Servatius as well. It was built on the site of a Roman sanctuary for Fortuna, Juno and Jupiter and must originally have been a small chapel.In the adjacent Hotel Derlon part of the excavated Roman remains of several temples and a road dating back to the 1st century b.C. can be admired, and it can be observed that these remains do stretch further, underneath the present day church.

The most important early sources for the life of Saint Servatius is Gregory of Tours ("History of the Franks" II.5), who stated that he died during Attila's invasion of Gaul, the eleventh-century priest Jocundus, and Henric van Veldeke. In the later 6th century, Gregory wrote about Servatius' journey to Rome, the transfer of the Episcopal see to Maastricht, and Servatius' death shortly thereafter.

In the years "ca" 1070-76, Jocundus wrote a "vita" of Saint Servatius commissioned by the clergy of the church of Saint Servatius to add to the "Miracula" he had previously composed, both composed, according to their modern editor P.C. Boeren, [P. C. Boeren, "Jocundus, biographe de saint Servais" (The Hague: Nijhoff) 1972, reconstructs Jocundus' "Vita sancti Servatii" from surviving abridgements; his dates are followed.] to quell doubts about the genealogy of Servatius — said by Jocundus to have been a cousin and contemporary of Jesus, blessed with a miraculously long life — that were raised at the council of Mainz in 1049, until the arrival of envoys from the Eastern Emperor, confirmed accounts by a certain Alagrecus and asserting the birthplace of Servatius as "Fenuste" southeast of Damascus. Jocundus conflates Servatius with the exploits of others, linking his to the success of the Franks at Poitiers (in 732) by misconnecting his with Saint Servandus, according to Boeren.

At the end of the twelfth century, Henric van Veldeke wrote his legend about the life of the Saint, which he based on the story of Gregory of Tours to which he added many further miracles emphasizing Saint Servatius' saintliness.

See also

* Calendar of saints


External links

* [ Saint Servatius]
* [ Official site of the Basilica of Saint Servatius]
* [ Churches of Maastricht]
* [ Dutch Wiki about the four "Icesaints"]
* [ Amsterdam's Archeologisch Centrum:] "Sint Servatius en zijn basiliek" (in Dutch)
* [ Vendsyssel Historiske Museum:The Blessed Memelia with the infant Servatius]
* [ Servatus of Tongeren]

Further reading

*(Servatius) 2005. "The Life of Saint Servatius: A Dual-language Edition of the Middle Dutch 'legend of Saint Servatius' by Heinrich Von Veldeke and the Anonymous Upper German 'life of Saint Servatius"' edited by L. Jongen Heinrich, and Kim Vivian, Richard H. Lawson and Ludo Jongen (translators) (Mellen Press) ISBN 0-7734-6063-2

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