The Regius Poem refers to, “The Four Crowned Ones”. Here is a small discourse on the reference, plus an excellent image of the Four (although there were actually
five) , from Florence, Italy. Four Crowned Saints (or Four Crowned Martyrs) and relief at base of tabernacle, Orsanmichele in Florence, Italy.
Nanni di Banco 1410-12 marble, life-sized.
This sculptural grouping was commissioned by the Maestri di Pietra e Legname, the guild of stone and woodworkers, of which Nanni di Banco was a member. The guild’s patron saints were these 3rd century Christian sculptors who were willing to die rather than carve a statue of Aesculapius for the Emperor Diocletian. There is a sense of a narrative as these four unified figures, arranged in a semicircular group on a pedestal in an arc form, seem to engage in serious conversation.
Also referred to as “The Four Crowned Martyrs”. The old guidebooks to the tombs of
the Roman martyrs make mention, in connection with the catacomb of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus on the Via Labicana, of the Four Crowned Martyrs (Quatuor Coronati), at whose grave the pilgrims were wont to worship (De Rossi, Roma sotterranea, I, 178-79).
One of these itineraries, the “Epitome libri de locis sanctorum martyrum”, adds the names of the four martyrs (in reality five): “IV Coronati, id est Claudius, Nicostratus, Simpronianus, Castorius, Simplicitus”.
These are the names of five martyrs, stone masons/sculptors in the quarries of Pannonia (now a part of Austria-Hungary, south-west of the Danube), who gave up their lives for their Faith in the reign of Diocletian.
Their work exhibited a perfect understanding of stone and space. Emperor Diocletian himself had commissioned a number of works from them and he was pleased with their work. Other less talented stonemasons/sculptors were doubtless envious and persuaded Diocletian to order them to carve a statue of Aesculapius, but the five stone masons were Christians and politely refused to cooperate in the worship of idols.
The stone masons were then ordered to make a sacrifice to the Sun god, which was refused. The emperor accepted their beliefs as Christians, but when they refused to do their civic duty, a sacrifice to the sun gods, they were imprisoned.
When Diocletian’s officer, Lampadius, who was trying to convince them to sacrifice to the gods, suddenly died, his relatives accused them of his death.
For this they were condemned to death as Christians. They were put into leaden caskets and drowned in the River Save. This happened towards the end of 305.
The Acts of these martyrs, were preserved for history, by a revenue officer named Porphyrius probably in the fourth century.
They have been venerated since the fourth century and share a feast day on November 8th.
The bodies were buried on the Lavican Way about three miles from Rome. Pope Gregory the Great mentions an old church of the four crowned martyrs in Rome. Pope Leo IV, in 841, repaired the church and translated the relics from the cemetery on the Lavican Way. When this church was destroyed by fire, Paschal II rebuilt it. During the course of the reconstruction two rich urns–one of porphyry, the other of serpentine marble–were discovered under the altar. The urns were deposited in a stone vault under the new altar where they were again found by Paul V.
Working masons of the Middle Ages held the Four Crowned Martyrs in special honor, and this has been perpetuated in English Freemasonry; there is a Quatuor Coronati lodge in London that has published its annual report for 75 years under the title of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. There was already a chapel of the Four Crowned Martyrs in Canterbury in the year 619 (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).
In art they are, of course, represented by four men with sculptor’s tools. At times the picture will include a chisel, column and sculptor’s tools; or Claudius planing a plank, Simplician (Simpronian) with a pick-axe, and Castor as an old man. They are the patrons of sculptors, stone-cutters, and marble- workers, as well as protectors of cattle. Invoked against fever (Roeder).