These two Saints were brothers and were officers of the Roman army in the days of Constantine the Great. They served in the house of Constance, daughter of Constantine, who was consecrated to God; their virtues and services to her father rendered them very dear to her. They would soon glorify God by a great moral victory; after despising the honors of the world, they triumphed by their martyrdom over its threats and torments.
With the aid of the liberality of the Christian princess, they were practicing many works of charity and mercy, until the deaths of both Constantine and Constance. Then, at the accession of Julian the Apostate to the imperial throne, they resigned their position in the palace. Julian had returned to the cult of idols and was attempting to re-establish it in the empire. The Christian brothers saw many wicked men prosper in their impiety, but were not dazzled by their example. They considered that worldly prosperity accompanied by impunity in sin is the most dreadful of all judgments, indicating reprobation. And history reveals how false and short-lived was the glittering prosperity of Julian.
While still in power the apostate attempted to win back these influential officers into active service. When he was refused, he gave them ten days to reconsider. The officer Terentianus, who at the end of that time brought to their house a little idol of Jupiter for their adoration, found them in prayer. In the middle of that night they were decapitated secretly in their own garden, since the emperor feared their execution might cause a sedition in Rome. He instigated a rumor that they had been exiled, but the demons took hold of possessed persons in Rome, and published the fact of their martyrdom everywhere.
The son of the officer who had slain them also became possessed, and it was only after their father, Terentianus, had prayed at the tomb of the martyrs that the child was liberated. This so impressed him that he became a Christian, with all his family, and wrote the history we have reported.
The martyrs, by their renouncement of favors and their heroic resistance, purchased an immense weight of never-fading glory, and were a spectacle worthy of God. Their house became a magnificent Christian basilica already at the end of the fourth century.
Originally, the church and the house beneath it bore the senator’s name. It was the church of Pammachius, whose house was a “titular” church — which means his name hung outside the main door: “titulus Pammachii.” It is listed among the twenty-five early house-churches: homes or apartments adapted for Christian use in the city. By the time of the church synod in Rome in 595, the church of Pammachius was also known as the Church of Saints John and Paul.
The cult of the two soldier saints grew as miracles were reported through their intercession. By the 6th century, their names were listed in the ancient Roman Canon; their feast was celebrated in Rome, Milan and Ravenna on June 23rd, which may be the day of their martyrdom. The two martyred soldiers would have been favorites of the soldiers stationed on the Coelian Hill, who passed their shrine on the Clivus Scauri regularly. They also reminded Christians — who were becoming increasingly more comfortable in Roman society — that those who follow Jesus must be ready to bear their cross.