Donatian and Rogatian, “Children of Nantes”

To compensate for the departure of the bishop, which the Romans followed, two young brothers, both laity, took charge of the Church of Nantes. They were martyred in a terrible way at the end of the 3rd century, and since then they are called “sons of Nantes”. The church celebrates them on May 24.

This is a peculiarity of the Celtic world, be it Great Britain or Little Britain or Ireland: Christianity was founded there without encountering enough opposition to make martyrs there and those who are venerated by the people there, such as Saint Alban or the Martyrs of Wales who died in Diocletian’s persecution, at the dawn of the fourth century, victims of the authorities Romanian, not the locals. There is no mystery in it: even if the imperial power, since the Roman conquest, has innovated in Brittany as in Gaul to eliminate the priest, it remains, secretly when the Celtic states belong to Rome, openly in Ireland. Now, as far as we know, the education of the Druids is rich in elements and beliefs compatible with the Christian faith, beginning with adherence to a Trinitarian vision of theology, which will greatly facilitate the mission of missionaries.

Armorica, our Brittany, represents a very special case because in the years 280-290, it was one of the last regions of the empire where Christianity did not penetrate, if not perhaps in some large cities such as Condate (Rennes) or Gisocribet (Brest). It is still very uncertain. The reason is simple. Au milieu du IIIe siècle, exaspérés du poids ahurissant de la fiscalité impériale, et de la totalale incapacité des autorités romaines à protéger la Gaule contre les raids germaniques qui la dévastent tous les étéils mes les sérés ser les sons étrés the Romans. For a few years, the independent Gaul government, emperors and Empress Victoria ruled the country independently. Despite the pagans, these kings took the Christian communities of Gaul under their protection, simply because the “occupier” was oppressing them, gaining them a few years of peace. Only a few years because the experience was short-lived and Rome was back in force, but due to a lack of sufficient forces, it succeeded in completely restoring order.

Until the fall of the Western Empire in 476, the north of the Loire remained in a state of semi-permanent latent rebellion, and Armorica was not pacified, despite the garrisons installed on its soil. This is what will prevent the missionaries, after the Peace of the Church in 313, from bringing the Bible there because they speak Latin and pass collaborators from a hated imperial power. When, at that time, the words Catholic and Roman had become almost synonymous, the Armored, out of patriotism, rejected Christ, who had become an enemy god … The arrival of missionaries from Brittany and Ireland, a century later, took the Celts, like them, to finally convert them.

Bishop’s departure

But we are not there! This is also why Donatien and Rogatien, the patron saints of Nantes and, as such, Breton saints, are an exception. Nantes, the city of Nantes, already at the beginning of the 4th century was a trading city of a certain importance that controlled the mouth of the Loire River, and therefore is part of the maritime traffic with the Atlantic. It was also, for a time, the seat of an episcopate founded by an evangelist named Clare. This episcopal seat may not go back to apostolic times, tradition tells us, but it is ancient. Its third owner, a contemporary of juveniles, is named Similien.

Because of the lack of clergy, it is the average person who will take matters into his own hands and not just anyone because Donatian, a very young man barely past his teens, is the son of a city dignitary named Aurélien, and a pagan after all.

Should we put the case at 287 or at 304? Historians are divided. The first date is undoubtedly the correct one, for it corresponds to the resumption of the Gaul rebellion by Emperor Maximian, a colleague of Diocletian, a somewhat clumsy soldier and a great enemy of Christianity, who during his stay in Gaul would make a number of martyrs while in the year 304, Caesar Constantius Chlorus ruled him , the father of Constantine, Gaul, like Brittany, the Rhineland and Spain, escaped the terrible wave of persecution that engulfed the Church almost everywhere. So we are in the year 287, and although Maximian has not set foot in Nantes, the local imperial authorities, eager to be well seen, are excited and begin to search for Christians. True to the evangelical advice to “go to another city” when persecution was raging somewhere, Bishop Similien left Nantes for shelter in a rural area poorly controlled by the Romans. This is the position of the majority of bishops. In the more Christianized provinces, the departure of the episcopate does not pose insurmountable problems because he has a more or less important priest who can take his place. This does not seem to be the case in Nantes where the Similien, at the head of a small community, either had no priest to help him or they imitated him and also began to take shelter by abandoning the herd.

Two brothers taking matters into their own hands

Did their absence and the sudden cruelty of the authorities cause the beginnings of panic in Christianity in Nantes and apostasy? It is possible, but due to the lack of clergy, it is the average person who will take matters into their own hands and not just anyone from then on, according to Passion for “Children of Nantes”, Donatian, a very young man who has not yet reached his teenage years, is the son of a dignitary from the city named Aurelin, a pagan, just like his eldest, slightly older son, Rogatian. In the surrounding panic, Donatian exposes himself, in the folly of his time, for raising the courage of his brothers. The first to notice this was the eldest Rogatian, who, moved by the zeal of his younger brother, converted to the forbidden faith. Unfortunately, Similien’s departure prevented him from joining the two appointments and receiving Christian directives, which must, by necessity, be confined to the lessons of Donatian. As for baptism, it is not necessary to think about it because only the bishop is then empowered to dispense the sacraments.

This evidence does not diminish the missionary fervor of Rogatian, and the two boys, who exposed themselves too much, are soon denounced before the judges. Aurélien’s two sons, who are both arrested, doubt they will set an example. Sending two young men of the aristocracy to the executioners, rich and born, Christians, if they refused to deny, was a sure way to appease Maximian who had tormented a young Christian officer, Victor, while on his visit to Marseilles. But the son of a senator for his stubbornness in the recognition of Christ. The boys are accused of “disdaining the immortal gods who are worshiped by the sacred emperors and who want to be seen adored by the entire universe”.

thrown into the dungeon

The two brothers’ interrogation, as it appears in their passion, must be more or less true and copied from the documents in the original report, even if it dates back to the sixth century. Donatian, who is first questioned, because he is guilty of “seducing” his eldest son and leading him into his “false beliefs,” is aware of the facts and, even worse, is bragging about them, making his appearance an opportunity to preach Christianity in public. He responded calmly to threats of torture and death made to him: “If there is something terrible in death, it is not mine but yours. This fault engulfs you in darkness and prevents you from discerning the Sun of Justice.” According to the law, the insolent is tormented like the accused under common law, and the legislation no longer protects the Christian nobles from the torment that was previously reserved for the vulgar. He is then thrown into the dungeon, in the idea that the suffering he endures will bring him back to sanity.

The case of Rogatian, who has not yet been baptized, is less serious in the eyes of the law, but the elder does not appear to be more cooperative than the younger, and when the judge speaks to him of “the mercies of the holy emperors and the goodness of the gods”, the impudent reply: “I am not surprised to see you put the mercy of emperors on the goodness of your gods” It could be evidence of your intellect being disturbed if there is no reason for it: living beings are always better than inanimate bronze statues… The Newbies. All that remains is to subject the young man to the same torment and send him to join his younger brother in the dungeon. And there, Rogatian collapses. : not because he fears death but despairs, if he should die the next day, of being deprived of baptism and appearing before God without wearing a wedding dress…

baptism of blood

In other circumstances, we have seen Christians still struggle free to confer the Eucharist to the Appointed before they “fight”, even if it means perishing with them, but in Nantes no one can return this service to the young man. Therefore, following the faith of the Church, which, in addition to classical baptism, already recognizes the baptism of desire and the baptism of blood, Donatian fervently invokes God in favor of Rogatian: “The worthy Lord Jesus Christ so that desires may work in absolute impotence prevents the effects of the commandment consecrated to you completely, grant to your servant Rogatian that His pure faith takes the place of baptism and anointing blood If tomorrow, because of the intransigence of the judges, we shall finish us both. He lives by the sword! The next day, in fact, in the face of the stubbornness of the accused, the judge declared that he had to show that he was too ruthless and could no longer show kindness in the face of Such irretrievable charges.Rogatian and Donatian are condemned to be decapitated by limb on the stand before their beheading. It will be done, not without a few exacerbations of the jovial pains imagined by the executioners who, before beheading the martyrs, will throw a spear into their throats. .

It is May 24, 287 or 288. According to the Nantes tradition, the place of their torture corresponds to the current number 63 Rue Dufour. Soon it became a place of pilgrimage, and their tomb will be covered by the Cathedral of Saints Donatian and Rogatian, which has been rebuilt several times and which preserves some of the relics of the martyrs, although their shrines have disappeared, which have been moved to Saint-Pierre Cathedral, along with their contents. during terrorism. The popularity of the Children of Nantes declined for a time, regaining its luster when their intercession in January 1871 protected Nantes from a German invasion.

Discover also in pictures these saints of the brothers and sisters:


Saint Martin and his friend Prose were convicted of being accomplices in the escape of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, when they were their jailers.  Their faces are bruised, subjected to rack, whip, beating, fire, and scorpions before they are beheaded.  © Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) French artist, considered one of the most skilled painters after Caravaggio.  He received prestigious orders, from some popes but also from Louis XIV or Mazarin.  / Pinacoteca Vaticana
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