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May 25, 2015

Saint Zenobius, First Bishop of Florence

St. Zenobius of Florence (Feast Day - May 25)


Born of a Florentine noble family (Geronimo), he was educated by his pagan parents. He came early under the influence of the holy bishop Theodore, was baptized by him, and succeeded, after much opposition, in bringing his father and mother to Christianity. He embraced the clerical state, and rapidly rose to the position of archdeacon, when his virtues and notable powers as a preacher made him known to Saint Ambrose, at whose instance Pope Damasus I (366-86) called him to Rome, and employed him in various important missions, including a legation to Constantinople (in 381 to deliver the papal views on the Arian heresy). On the death of Damasus he returned to his native city, where he resumed his apostolic labors, and on the death of the bishop of that see, Zenobius, to the great joy of the people, was appointed to succeed him. His deacons are venerated as St. Eugene and St. Crescentius. He evangelized Florence and its outskirts completely and combated Arianism.

According to his biographer and successor in the See of Florence, Antonius, he died in his ninetieth year, in 424; but, as Antonius says that Pope Innocent I (d. 417) was at the time pope, the date is uncertain.

There is ground for believing that he actually died in 417, on 25 May, on which day the ancient tower where he is supposed to have lived, near the Ponte Vecchio, was annually decorated with flowers.


His body was first buried in the Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze (consecrated by St. Ambrose in 393), and was later translated to the church of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral).

In the back of the middle of the three apses is the altar of Saint Zenobius. Its bronze shrine, designed around 1440, a masterpiece of Ghiberti, contains the urn with his relics. The central relief shows us one his miracles, the reviving of a dead child. Above this shrine is the painting Last Supper by Giovanni Balducci. There was also a glass-paste mosaic panel The Bust of Saint Zanobius by the 16th century miniaturist Monte di Giovanni, but it is now on display in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.


Extraordinary miracles, including several instances of the restoration of the dead to life, are attributed to him. Zenobius is said to have resurrected five dead people. It is also said that after his death, a dead elm burst into life after his body touched it while being borne to the cathedral for burial.

One story states that a child was once run over by a cart while playing. His mother, a widow, wailed as she brought the dead child to Zenobius' deacon. By means of a prayer, St. Zenobius revived the child and restored him to his mother.