St. Hermagoras with SS. Fortunatus and Syrus

Circa 1180
Crypt, Apuleia Basilica, Apuleia, Italy

In the center Hermagoras stands in orant pose wearing a chasuble, flanked by a deacon on the left and a subdeacon on the right. The deacon wears a dalmatic and holds a gospel book, which it is a deacon's duty to read from during the liturgy. The fresco has no inscription for him, but he is almost certainly St. Fortunatus, who in the legend was beheaded with Hermagoras and is co-patron with him of the city of Aquileia.

The person on the right does have an identifying inscription: S. SYRUS. This is St. Syrus of Pavia, who according to his 8th-century vita was one of Hermagoras's "students and ministers" and was ordained by him as a bishop and sent to evangelize in Pavia.1 He is now the patron saint of that city. To express his status as a "minister" to Hermagoras the fresco portrays him as a subdeacon, with a white maniple on his left arm and wearing a tunicle (like the deacon's dalmatic but with narrower sleeves). He shares his feast day of September 12 with St. Syrus of Pamphilia, a martyr.

According to Tavano (197), opinions range widely as to when in the 12th century the crypt frescos should be dated, but most agree on a date around 1180.

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Photograph taken by Richard Stracke in the crypt of Aquileia Basilica, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 The vita is in translation in Everett, 214-25. The Acta Sanctorum refers to it only briefly in the article on Syrus's companion and successor St. Juventius. The article also surveys the numerous martyrologies and other references that claim Juventius and Syrus were sent to Pavia by Hermagoras. (February vol. 2, 152-53; see also July vol. 3, 249.) Modern scholars, like the editors of the Acta Sanctorum, reject the assignment of these figures to the apostolic era.