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Saints Felix and Regula

Image of Felix, Regula, Exuperantius, ca. 1500

Born ?
Died 286 AD
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Coptic Church
Beatified Pre-Congregation
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine Zürich
Feast September 11
Attributes N/A
Patronage Zürich

Felix & Regula in 'Stuttgarter Passionale' (1130)

Wasserkirche church Crypt with so called 'Martyr stone'

The saints Felix and Regula, together with their servant Exuperantius, are the patron saints of Zürich, their feast day being 11 September.

Felix and Regula were siblings, and members of the Theban legion under Saint Maurice, stationed in Agaunum in the Valais. When the legion was to be executed in 286, they fled, reaching Zürich via Glarus before they were caught, tried and executed. After decapitation, they miraculously stood to their feet, picked up their own heads, walked forty paces uphill, and prayed before lying down in death. They were buried on the spot where they lay down.

Accounts of this event also state there were others from the Theban Legion who were beheaded and thrown into the river. Many witnessed these walking up out of the water with their heads in their hands, similar to Felix and Regula.

A 1576 plan of Zürich showing the Grossmünster, burial place of Saints Felix and Regula, at the river Limmat the Wasserkirche (Water Church), the execution site, and on the left side of the Limmat the Fraumünster Abbey, where important relics of the saints used to be on display to the public.

The legend cannot be traced beyond an 8th-century account, according to which the story was revealed to a monk called Florentius. In the 9th century there was a small monastery at the location, outside the settlement of Zürich which was situated on the left side of the Limmat. The Grossmünster was built on their graves from ca. 1100, while at the site of their execution stands the Wasserkirche. From the 13th century, images of the saints were used in official seals of the city and on coins. On the saints' feast day, their relics were carried in procession between the Grossmünster and the Fraumünster, and the two monasteries vied for possession of the relics, which attracted enough pilgrims to make Zürich the most important pilgrimage site in the bishopric of Konstanz. The Knabenschiessen of Zürich originates with the festival.

With the dissolution of the monasteries by Huldrych Zwingli in 1524, their possessions were confiscated and the graves of the martyrs were opened. There are conflicting versions of what happened then. Heinrich Bullinger claims that the graves were empty save for a few bone fragments, which were piously buried in the common graveyard outside the church. The Catholics, on the other hand, claimed that the reformers were planning to throw the relics of the saints into the river, and that a courageous man of Uri (who happened to be exiled from Uri, and by his action earned amnesty) stole the relics from the church and carried them to Andermatt, where the two skulls of Felix and Regula can be seen to this day, while the remaining relics were returned to Zürich in 1950, to the newly built Catholic church St. Felix und Regula. The skulls have been Carbon 14 dated, and while one dates to the Middle Ages, the other is in fact composed of fragments of two separate skulls, of which one is medieval, and the other could indeed date to Roman times.

This event largely contributed to the massive conversion of the inhabitants of these regions to Christianity. It had such an impact on Zurich, that these three saints still appear on the coat of arms and seal of Zurich today.

Literature (in German)

  • Hansueli Etter, Urs Baur, Jürg Hanser, Jürg Schneider (Hrsg.): Die Zürcher Stadtheiligen Felix und Regula. Legenden, Reliquien, Geschichte und ihre Botschaft im Licht moderner Forschung. Hochbauamt der Stadt Zürich/Büro für Archäologie, Zürich 1988 ISBN 3-90524301-6
  • Walter Nigg: Felix und Regula, Aneignung einer Legende. Zürich: SV International, Schweizer Verlagshaus, 1983. ISBN 3726363610
  • Jürg Hanser, Armin Mathis, Ulrich Ruoff, Jürg Schneider: Das neue Bild des Alten Zürich. Zürich 1983
  • Cécile Ramer, Felix, Regula und Exuperantius; Ikonographie der Stifts- und Stadtheiligen Zürichs. Zürich: Antiquarische Gesellschaft, 1973.

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