dimanche 12 avril 2015

Saint ZÉNON (ZENO) de VÉRONE, évêque et confesseur

Saint Zénon de Vérone

Évêque de Vérone, martyr ( 380)

Évêque et confesseur. 

Il naquit en Afrique du Nord. Sous le règne de Julien l'Apostat, il vint à Vérone en Italie où il baptisa de nombreux idolâtres et incita ses fidèles à quitter l'arianisme. Il montrait un grand exemple de pauvreté évangélique. Pour n'être à la charge de personne, il allait lui-même pêcher pour assurer sa subsistance.

À Vérone en Vénétie, vers 372, saint Zénon, évêque, dont les travaux et la prédication conduisirent la ville au baptême.

Martyrologe romain

SOURCE : http://nominis.cef.fr/contenus/saint/961/Saint-Zenon-de-Verone.html

San Zeno basilica, Verona, Italy (Copyright © 2004 David Monniaux)

Prière de Saint Zénon de Vérone

Voici une Prière, un véritable éloge de la Charité « Ô Charité, que tu es bonne, riche et puissante ! » de Saint Zénon de Vérone__ (300-371), l’un des premiers Africains à devenir évêque en Europe, de la Mauritanie à l’Italie, qui fut Moine, Prêtre puis Évêque de Vérone vers 362.

La Prière de Saint Zénon de Vérone « Ô Charité, que tu es bonne, riche et puissante ! » :

« Ô Charité, que tu es bonne et riche ! Que tu es puissante ! Il ne possède rien, celui qui ne te possède pas. C'est toi qui as pu faire de Dieu un homme. Tu L'as fait s'abaisser et s'éloigner pour un temps de son immense Majesté. Tu L'as retenu prisonnier neuf mois dans le sein de la Vierge. Tu as guéri Ève en Marie. Tu as renouvelé Adam dans le Christ. Tu as préparé la Croix pour le salut du monde déjà perdu. Ô amour, c'est toi qui, pour vêtir celui qui est nu, te contentes d'être nue. Pour toi, la faim est un repas abondant, si un pauvre affamé a mangé ton pain. Ta fortune consiste à destiner tout ce que tu possèdes à la miséricorde. Toi seule tu ne te fais pas prier. Les opprimés, tu les secours sans retard, même à tes dépens, quelle que soit la détresse où ils sont plongés. C'est toi l'œil des aveugles, le pied des boiteux, le bouclier très fidèle des veuves et des orphelins. Tu aimes tes ennemis de telle façon que nul ne discerne quelle différence il y a pour toi entre eux et tes amis. C'est toi, ô Charité, qui unis les Mystères célestes aux choses humaines, et les mystères humains aux Choses célestes. Tu es la gardienne de ce qui est Divin. C'est toi qui, dans le Père gouvernes et ordonnes tout ; c'est toi l'Obéissance du Fils ; c'est toi qui exultes en l'Esprit-Saint. Parce que tu es une dans les trois Personnes, tu ne peux pas être divisée. Jaillissant de la Source qu'est le Père, tu te déverses tout entière dans le Fils, sans te retirer du Père. Ainsi soit-il. »

Saint Zénon de Vérone (300-371) - Sermon « De spe, fide et caritate »

SOURCE : http://site-catholique.fr/index.php?post/Priere-de-Saint-Zenon-de-Verone

Basilique San Zeno, appelée aussi San Zeno Maggiore ou San Zenone àVérone

St. Zeno

Entered in the Roman Martyrology on 12 April as a Bishop of Verona martyred under Gallienus. Probably, however, he was a confessor who governed the Church of Verona from 362-380. At Verona a basilica, San Zenone, is dedicated to his honour, and some thirty churches and chapels bear his name. In the basilica his statue, bearing the episcopal insignia, is prominent in the choir; coins with his likeness and an inscription were in use. On 21 May and 6 Dec. the translation of his body and his consecration were formerly commemorated. In "De viris illust." of St. Jerome and Gennadius, Zeno is not mentioned, but St. Ambrose (Ep. v) speaks of him as an episcopus sanctae memoriae, and St. Gregory (Dial., III, 19) relates a miracle wrought at the Church of St. Zeno at Verona. Mabillon ("Vetera analecta", Paris, 1675) published an anonymous poem, "De landibus Veronae", taken from the writing of Ratherius, Bishop of Verona (d. 974), found in the abbey at Lobbes in Belgium (P.L., XI, 154, 225), which gives a list of the bishops of Verona and makes Zeno eighth. In the Monastery di Classe at Ravenna was found an eighth-century chasuble (casula diptycha) with the names and pictures of thirty-five bishops of Verona on its front and back; among them was that of Zeno. This list was accepted by Gams in his "Series episcoporum" (Bigelmair, p. 27). Zeno had not been known as a writer before 1508, when two Dominicans, Albertus Castellanus and Jacobus de Leuco, edited at Venice 105 tractatus or sermons found in the episcopal library of Verona fifty years earlier. In 1739 the brothers Ballerini published "S. Zenonis episcopi Veronae sermones", with an elaborate prolegomena. From these it appears that Zeno was a native of Africa, eighth Bishop of Verona (362-80), an able speaker, and an untiring champion of Christianity against the heathens and of orthodoxy against the Arians. Much controversy arose as to the time at which St. Zeno lives, whether two bishops of Verona of this name were to be admitted or but one, and on the authorship of the sermons. Various opinions were held by Sixtus of Siena, Baronius, Ughelli, Dupin, Tillemont, Fabricius, and others. Of the 105 sermons 12 have been rejected as belonging to other authors. Of the rest 16 are larger sermons, the others merely sketches or perhaps fragments. They contain valuable material on Catholic doctrine, practice, and liturgy; they treat of God, creation, the Blessed Virgin, Holy Scripture, the Church, the sacraments, etc., and warn against the vices of the day.


DANIELL in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v. Zeno (6); BARDENHEWER, Patrologie (Freiburg, 1910), 362; Zeitschrift fur kath. Theol. (Innsbruck, 1884), 233; Acta SS., II April, 68; HURTER, Nomenclator, I (1903), 362; BIGELMAIR, Zeno von Verona (Munster, 1904).

Mershman, Francis. "St. Zeno." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 11 Apr. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15754d.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. St. Zeno, pray for us.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Statue de Saint Zénon dans la Basilique de San Zeno à Vérone

April 12

St. Zeno, Bishop of Verona, Confessor

From his life, compiled from his writings and other monuments, by Peter and Jerom Ballerini, two learned priests of Verona, and brothers, in their third dissertation in the excellent edition they gave of this father’s works, p. 109. See also the Marquis Scipio Maffei, Historiæ Diplomaticæ Monumenta, at the end, p. 329. Also the same author, Veronæ Illustratæ, par. II. The history of the translation of his relics by an anonymous monk; and Serie Chronologica del Vescovi di Verona, par Biancolini, a Verona, 1761, 4to.

A.D. 380.

THIS holy prelate is styled a martyr by St. Gregory the Great, 1 and in several martyrologies. But was honoured only with the title of confessor, in the ancient missal of Verona, before the time of Lewis Lippoman, bishop of that city, in 1548: 2 and it appears, from the manner in which St. Ambrose, who was his contemporary, writing to Syagrius, our saint’s successor, speaks of his happy death, and extols his eminent sanctity, that he did not die by the sword. 3 Living in the days of Constantius, Julian, and Valens, he might deserve the title of martyr, by sharing in the persecutions carried on by those princes. Hence, in some calendars, he is styled martyr, in others confessor.

The marquis Scipio Maffei, and some others, pretend from his name, that he was a Grecian: but the Ballerini show, from the natural easiness, and the sharpness and conciseness of his style, that he was by birth, or at least by education, a Latin, and an African; which is confirmed from his panegyric on St. Arcadius, a martyr of Mauritania. From the African martyr, called Zeno, it is clear this name was there in use. Our saint seems to have been made bishop of Verona in the year 362, in the reign of Julian the Apostate. We learn from several of his sermons, that he baptized every year a great number of idolaters, and that he exerted himself with great zeal and success against the Arians, whose party had been exceedingly strengthened in those parts by the favour of the emperor Constantius, and the artifices of the ringleaders of that sect, Ursacius and Valens, and particularly of Auxentius, who held the see of Milan, into which the heretics had intruded him, for twenty years, till 374. He also opposed himself, as a strong bulwark, against the errors of the Pelagians. The church of Verona was purged by his zealous labours and holy prayers, in a great measure, both of heresy and of idols. His flock being grown exceeding numerous, he found it necessary to build a great church, in which he was liberally assisted by the voluntary contributions of the rich citizens. 4 In this church he mentions a cross of wood erected, as it were, to defend the doors. 5 By the precepts and example of this good pastor, the people were so liberal in their alms, that their houses were always open to poor strangers, and none of their own country had occasion even to ask for relief, so plentifully were the necessities of all supplied. 6 And he congratulates them upon the interest which they accumulate in heaven by money bestowed on the poor, by which they not only subdue avarice, but convert its treasures to the highest advantage, and without exciting envy. “For what can be richer than a man to whom God is pleased to acknowledge himself debtor?” After the battle of Adrianople, in 378, in which the Goths defeated Valens, with a greater slaughter of the Romans than had ever been known since the battle of Cannæ, the barbarians made in the neighbouring provinces of Illyricum and Thrace an incredible number of captives. 7 It seems to have been, on this occasion, that the charities of the inhabitants of Verona were dispersed like fruitful seeds through the remotest provinces, and by them many were ransomed from slavery, many rescued from cruel deaths, many freed from hard labour. 8 St. Zeno himself lived in great poverty. 9 He makes frequent mention of the clergy which he trained up to the service of the altar, and the priests his fellow-labourers, to whom a retribution was allotted at Easter, according to every one’s necessities and functions. 10—He speaks of the ordinations 11 which he performed at Easter: 12 also the solemn reconciliation of penitents, which was another function of that holy time. 13 St. Ambrose mentions, 14 at Verona, virgins consecrated to God by St. Zeno, who wore the sacred veil, and lived in their own houses in the city; and others who lived in a monastery, of which he seems to have been both the founder and director, before any were established by St. Ambrose at Milan. Love-feasts, or agapes, were originally established on the festivals of martyrs in their cemeteries, which, by the degeneracy of manners, were at length converted into occasions of intemperance and vanity. St. Zeno inveighed warmly against this abuse. 15 Nor can we doubt but he was one of the principal amongst the bishops of Italy, who, by their zeal and eloquence, entirely banished out of their diocesses a custom which gave occasion to such an abuse, for which St. Austin gave them due praise. 16 St. Zeno extended his charity to the faithful departed, and condemned severely the intemperate grief of those who interrupted by their lamentations the divine sacrifices and public office of the church for their deceased friends, 17 which the priests performed by apostolic tradition at the death and funerals of those who slept in Christ.—St. Zeno received the crown of his labours by a happy death, in 380, on the 12th of April, on which day he is commemorated in the Roman Martyrology. He is honoured at Verona with two other festivals, that of the translation of his relics on the 21st of May, and that of his episcopal consecration, and also of the dedication of his new church in the reign of Pepin, king of Italy, on the 6th of December. The first church which bore his name was built over his tomb, on the banks of the river Adige, without the walls of the city. St. Gregory the Great relates the following miracle, which happened two centuries after the death of the saint, and which he learned from John the Patrician, who was an eye-witness, with king Autharis and count Pronulphus. 18 In the year 589, at the same time that the Tiber overflowed a considerable quarter of Rome, and the flood overtopped the walls, the waters of the Adige, which fall from the mountains with excessive rapidity, threatened to drown great part of the city of Verona. The people flocked in crowds to the church of their holy patron Zeno: the waters seemed to respect its doors, they gradually swelled as high as the windows, yet the flood never broke into the church, but stood like a firm wall, as when the Israelites passed the Jordan: and the people remained there twenty-four hours in prayer, till the waters subsided within the banks of the channel. This prodigy had as many witnesses as there were inhabitants of Verona. The devotion of the people to St. Zeno was much increased by this and other miracles; and, in the reign of Pepin, king of Italy, son of Charlemagne, and brother of Lewis Debonnaire, Rotaldus, bishop of Verona, translated his relics into a new spacious church, built under his invocation in 865, where they are kept with singular veneration in a subterraneous chapel. 19

St. Zeno is chiefly known to us by his sufferings for the faith. Persecutions and humiliations for Christ are not a chastisement, but a recompense, and the portion of his most faithful servants. Happy are they who know their value, and bear them at least with patience and resignation; but more happy they who, with the martyrs and all the saints, suffer them with a holy joy and exultation. From his own feeling sentiments, and perfect practice of patience, St. Zeno composed his excellent sermon on that virtue, which he closes with this pathetic prayer and eulogium. “How earnestly do I desire, if I were able, to celebrate thee, O Patience, queen of all things! but by my life and manners more than by my words. For thou restest in thy own action and council more than in discourses, and in perfecting rather than in multiplying virtues. Thou art the support of virginity, the secure harbour of widowhood, the guide and directress of the married state, the unanimity of friendship, the comfort and joy of slavery, to which thou art often liberty.—By thee, poverty enjoys all, because, content with itself, it bears all. By thee, the prophets were advanced in virtue, and the apostles united to Christ. Thou art the daily crown and mother of the martyrs. Thou art the bulwark of faith, the fruit of hope, and the friend of charity. Thou conductest all the people and all divine virtues, as dishevelled hairs bound up into one knot, for ornament and honour. Happy, eternally happy, is he who shall always possess thee in his soul.” 20 In the following discourse, he speaks no less pathetically on humility: but surpasses himself in his sermon on charity, or divine love, “O Charity! how tender, how rich, how powerful art thou! He who possesseth not thee, hath nothing. Thou couldst change God into man. Thou hast overcome death, by teaching a God to die,” 21 &c

Note 1. Dial. l. 3, c. 19. [back]

Note 2. Hence some have distinguished two St. Zenos, bishops of Verona, the first a martyr, about the reign of Gallien: the other an illustrious father of the fourth century. But Onuphrius, in his exact history of the bishops of Verona, mentions but one of that name, the predecessor of Syagrius, in the fourth century: in which the Ballerini, and all judicious critics, now agree. [back]

Note 3. St. Ambros. ep. 5, ad Syagrium. [back]

Note 4. St. Zeno, l. 1, Tr. 14, p. 103. [back]

Note 5. Ib. p. 106. [back]

Note 6. L. Tr. 10, p. 83. [back]

Note 7. Ammian. Marcellin. Zozimus, l. 4, c. 31; St. Ambros. de Offic. l. 2, c. 15 and 28. [back]

Note 8. Ib. p. 82. [back]

Note 9. L. 2, Tr. 14, p. 251. [back]

Note 10. L. 2, Tr. 50, de Pascha. 6, p. 261. [back]

Note 12. From the omission of Easter, in the enumeration of the times for conferring holy orders, by Gelasius, ep. 9, ad Episc. per Bruttios et Lucanium, c. 11, by Pope Zachary, in the Roman council, in 743, &c. some have pretended, with Quesnel (in Op. S. Leonis, diss. 3, n. 5, et non. in ep. 11,) and Mabillon, (Musæ Ital. t. 2, p. 104,) that anciently Easter was not one of the times for conferring holy orders. But that it was so at Verona, and, doubtless, in many other churches, is clear from St. Zeno, l. 2, Tr. 49, de Pascha 5, p. 261. The reconciliation of penitents was performed on Maunday Thursday, according to the Sacramentaries of Gelasius, &c. but on Good-Friday, at Milan, as appears from St. Ambrose, ep. 20, ad Marcellin, n. 26, imitated afterwards in Spain, and in some churches in France. See Martenne, t. 2, de Antiquis. Eccles. Ritibus, l. 1, c. 6, art. 5. [back]

Note 13. Ib. p. 162. [back]

Note 14. S. Ambros. ep. 5, ad Syagrium. [back]

Note 15. S. Zeno, l. 1, Tr. 15, p. 115; Vide Annot. 18, ib. and S. Ambr. 1, de Elia et Jejunio. c. 17, n. 62. [back]

Note 16. S. Aug. ep. 22, Item ep. 29, and Conf. l. 6, c. 2. [back]

Note 17. Solemnia ipsa divina quibus a Sacerdotibus Dei quiescentes commendari consueverunt, profanis aliquoties ululatibus rumpit. S. Zeno, l. 1, Tr. 16, p. 126. [back]

Note 18. S. Greg. M. Dial. l. 3, c. 19. [back]

Note 19. The fire and spirit of the good African writers are so remarkable in the sermons of St. Zeno, that Gaspar Barthius calls him the Christian Apuleius. One hundred and twenty-seven sermons were printed under his name at Venice, in 1508, at Verona, in 1586, and in the Libraries of the Fathers. In the MS. copies, as in that which Hincmar gave to the monastery of St. Remigius, at Rheims, the title of St. Zeno’s works belonged only to the first part, and others of different authors were added without their names or a different title. Hence Dupin, Tillemont, Ceillier, t. 8, p. 362, and others, have been led into several mistakes about the writings of St. Zeno, which are corrected, and all the difficulties cleared up, by the two learned editors of the new excellent edition, published at Verona, in folio, in 1739, and dedicated to Cardinal Passionei. Here, according to the ancient MSS. these sermons are called Tractatus, which title was given in that age to familiar short discourses made to the people. They are divided into two books; the first of which contains sixteen Tractatus, or sermons, the second seventy-seven, much shorter. Many points of morality and discipline, as well as articles of our faith, are illustrated in these discourses. It appears, from l. 2, tr. 35, p. 234, that it was the custom at that time to plunge the whole body in the water in baptism, and that the water was warmed; for which purpose the editors observe, that the Popes Innocent I. and Sixtus III. had adorned the great baptistery at Rome with two silver stags with cocks. St. Zeno is the only author who mentions the custom of giving a medal to every one that was baptized. See the Ballerini, Annot. ib. p. 233, et in l. 1, Tractat. 14, p. 108. The spurious discourses are thrown into an appendix, and consist of two sermons of Potamius, a Greek bishop, mentioned in a letter written to St. Athanasius, published by Luke D’Acheri in his Spicilegium, t. 3, p. 299. Five others are St. Hilary’s, who was contemporary with St. Zeno, and four are a free translation from St. Basil’s, probably made by Rufin of Aquileia. [back]

Note 20. St. Zeno, l. 1. Tract. 6, de Patientiâ, p. 63. [back]

Note 21. L. 1, tr. 2. de Charitate. [back]

 Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.

Nef de la basilique San Zeno de Vérone

Zeno of Verona B (RM)

(also known as Zenone)

Born in North Africa; died at Verona, Italy, April 12, 371 (or 380); additional feasts in Verona are celebrated on May 21 (translation) and December 6 (episcopal consecration). Because Saint Zeno's sermon on the martyrdom of Saint Arcadius appears to be an eyewitness description, Zeno was probably born in Mauretania near Algiers before 302.

On December 8, 362, during the reign of Julian the Apostate, Saint Zeno was consecrated bishop of Verona, Italy, possibly by Bishop Aussenzius of Milan. Soon after his arrival in Verona, he fought against the idolatry that had spread throughout the city; he even managed to reduce it in the surrounding country where paganism was more entrenched. He also strongly opposed the Arian heresy, and defended the eternal generation of the Word, the intimate union of the Holy Spirit and the Son with the Father.

His success, in part, was due to his training as an orator. Zeno drew large crowds for his sermons, 93 of which still exist--the earliest collection of Latin homilies we possess. In fact, the crowds were so massive whenever Zeno preached that he was obliged to build a bigger cathedral. Each Easter many whose hearts were converted were baptized into the faith. He preached often to a group of nuns who lived in a convent he himself had founded. Long before Saint Ambrose did the same in Milan, Zeno encouraged virgins living at home to be consecrated.

While Zeno had a reputation as a hard-working pastor, who was zealous in building churches, in almsgiving, and in purging Arianism, he is remembered primarily as an ecclesiastical writer, especially on the topic of the virgin birth of our Lord. His sermons are of interest for the information they provide about Christian teaching, worship, organization, and life in the fourth century. He emphasizes the importance of the Sacraments for the Christian life. To him, Baptism is "the sacrament that truly calls men from death to life." Even though his sermons never mention the Eucharist, he indirectly stresses its importance by speaking of the "precious bread and wine that comes from our Father's table" and admonishing his flock that "none of you should ever take the Sacrifice unworthily, because offering unworthily is sacrilege, and taking unworthily is deadly." Saint Zeno offers practical advice for the Christian life. He notes that faith in God's revealed truth is necessary, but more important for eternal salvation is charity.

Most of the extant details about Saint Zeno's life derive from medieval documents that mix facts and legend. According to these stories, Zeno loved fishing in the River Adige (the second longest in Italy) that flows through Verona and may have been a fisherman before his consecration. For this reason, his symbol today is a fish. He also chose to live in great poverty and seclusion. By the precepts and example of this good pastor, the people were so liberal in their alms, that their houses were always open to poor strangers, and none of their own country had the need even to ask for relief. He congratulates them upon the interest they accumulate in heaven by money bestowed on the poor, by which they not only subdue avarice, but convert its treasures to the highest advantage, and without exciting envy. "For what can be richer than a man to whom God is to acknowledge himself debtor?" This inspiration to charity proved vital when the Goths overran the neighborhood and took many captives. The people of Verona were foremost in offering all they possessed to ransom these prisoners.

Zeno is said to have saved the city of Pistoia, Italy, from flood by creating an exit for the waters of the Rivers Arno and Ombrone through what is now known as the Gonfolina Pass.

Saint Gregory the Great mistakenly calls Zeno a martyr, but the ancient missals of Verona and Saint Ambrose call him a confessor. This same Gregory relates a miracle that took place two centuries after Zeno's death based on an eyewitness account. In 589, when the River Adige threatened to drown most of Verona, the people flocked to the church of their holy patron Zeno. The waters seemed to respect its doors, they gradually swelled as high as the windows, yet the flood never broke into the church, but stood like a firm wall, as when the Israelites passed the Jordan; and the people remained there 24 hours in prayer until the waters subsided. The devotion of the people to Saint Zeno increased because of this and other miracles; and, in the reign of Pepin, son of Blessed Charlemagne and brother of Louis Debonnaire, Bishop Rotaldus of Verona, translated Zeno's relics into a spacious, new church.

The body of the saint lies today in one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches of Italy, San Zeno Maggiore in Verona. In the tympanum over the great west doorway is sculpted the dark-skinned saint, who holds a fishing rod as he tramples down the devil. Zeno's tomb is in the huge, 12th-century crypt, where they were placed in 807 after having rested in various churches (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth).

In art, Saint Zeno is a bishop with a fish (a symbol for baptism or of an angler?) tied to his crozier, or holding a fishing rod (Ferguson, Roeder). He is invoked for children learning to speak and walk (Roeder) and as the patron of Verona (Ferguson).

Particular thanks for supplementary information goes to the Veronese fan of Saint Zeno, Francesco Foti.

SOURCE : http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/0412.shtml

 Statue de Saint Zénon dans la Basilique de San Zeno à Vérone

San Zeno (Zenone) di Verona Vescovo

Mauritania, IV secolo – Verona, 12 aprile 372

Proveniente dall'Africa, forse dalla Mauritania, dal 362 alla morte fu vescovo di Verona, dove fondò la prima chiesa. Dovette confrontarsi con il paganesimo e l'arianesimo, che confutò nei suoi discorsi. I suoi iscritti ricordano quelli di più affermati scrittori africani e ci danno notizie importanti su di lui e sulla sua attività pastorale. Preoccupazione primaria di Zeno fu quella di confermare e rinforzare clero e popolo nella vita della fede, soprattutto con l'esempio della sua carità, dell'umiltà, della povertà e della generosità verso i bisognosi.

Patronato: Verona, Pescatori

Etimologia: Zeno = divino, che viene da Giove, Zeus greco

Emblema: Bastone pastorale, Pesce

Martirologio Romano: A Verona, san Zeno, vescovo, dalle cui fatiche e dalla cui predicazione la città fu condotta al battesimo di Cristo.

La città di Verona, ha per il suo santo patrono, una devozione “affettuosa e brusca”, che dura ininterrotta da sedici secoli; per il santo vescovo “moro e pescatore”, i veronesi eressero nel tempo una magnifica Basilica, più volte ricostruita e centro del suo culto.

San Zeno o Zenone, secondo la “Cronaca”, leggenda medioevale di Coronato, un notaio veronese vissuto sulla fine del VII secolo, era originario dell’Africa settentrionale, più precisamente della Mauritania. 

Tale provenienza, mancando una documentazione certa, è stata confermata dal tenore dei suoi scritti, che rispecchiano lo stile e la sostanza di tanti altri celebri autori, dell’effervescente Africa dell’epoca, come Apuleio di Madaura, Tertulliano, Cipriano e Lattanzio. 

Non si sa, se egli giunse a Verona con la famiglia, né il motivo del trasferimento; d’altra parte bisogna considerare che nel IV secolo, dopo la fine delle grandi persecuzioni contro i cristiani, la Chiesa prese davvero un respiro universale, con scambio, viaggi e trasferimenti, di personaggi di grande dottrina e santità, si ricorda che africani erano s. Venanziano († 367) vescovo di Aquileia, Donato prete in Milano, il grande sant’Agostino, Fortunaziano, ecc. 

Si è ipotizzato che Zeno fosse figlio d’un impiegato statale finito in Italia settentrionale, a seguito delle riforme burocratiche volute dall’imperatore Costantino; altra ipotesi è che Zeno si trovava al seguito del patriarca d’Alessandria, Atanasio, esule e in visita a Verona nel 340. 

Rimasto nella bella città veneta, Zeno (Zenone il suo nome originario), avrebbe fatto vita monastica, fino a quando nel 362, fu eletto successore del defunto vescovo Cricino, divenendo così l’ottavo vescovo di Verona, il suo episcopato durò una decina d’anni, perché morì il 12 aprile del 372 ca.; la prima testimonianza su di lui si trova in una lettera di sant’Ambrogio al vescovo Siagro, terzo successore di san Zeno, che lo nomina come un presule “di santa memoria”; qualche anno dopo Petronio, vescovo di Verona fra il 412 e il 429, ne ricorda le grandi virtù e conferma la venerazione che gli era già tributata. 

La conferma del culto di s. Zeno o Zenone, si ha anche da un antico documento, il “Rhytmus Pipinianus” o “Versus de Verona”, un elogio in versi della città, scritto fra il 781 e l’810, in cui si afferma che Zeno fu l’ottavo vescovo di Verona e poi c’è il cosiddetto “Velo di Classe”, dell’ottavo secolo, una preziosa tovaglia conservata a Ravenna, in cui sono ricamati i ritratti dei vescovi veronesi, fra i quali s. Zeno. 

Anche il papa s. Gregorio Magno, alla fine del VI secolo raccontò un prodigio avvenuto in città, attribuito alla potente intercessione del santo; verso il 485 una piena del fiume Adige, sommerse Verona, giungendo fino alla chiesa dedicata a san Zeno, che aveva le porte aperte; benché l’acqua del fiume avesse raggiunto l’altezza delle finestre, non penetrò attraverso la porta aperta, quasi come se avesse incontrato una solida parete ad arginarla. 

Ciò che maggiormente testimonia l’origine africana del santo, sono i suoi 93 “Sermones” o trattati, di cui 16 lunghi e 77 brevi, con la cui stesura, a detta degli studiosi, Zeno aprì la grande schiera degli scrittori cattolici, fu il primo dei grandi Padri latini e meriterebbe quindi di essere collocato fra i Dottori della Chiesa, per la scienza testimoniata con i suoi scritti. 

I temi dei ‘Sermoni’ sono quelli affrontati nella predicazione: la genuinità della dottrina trinitaria, la mariologia, l’iniziazione sacramentale (l’Eucaristia e il Battesimo, con cui egli ammetteva i pagani solo dopo un’adeguata preparazione e un severo esame), la liturgia pasquale, le virtù cristiane della povertà, umiltà, carità e l’aiuto ai poveri e sofferenti. 

Gli argomenti dogmatici, morali, cristologici, biblici e gli episodi cui fa riferimento, sono espressi dal santo con uno stile che ne testimonia l’origine; dicono gli esperti che il suo latino è “caldo e conciso”, ricorda quello degli scrittori africani “abituati a tormentare le frasi e a coniare nuovi vocaboli, per scolpire in tutta la sua luminosa bellezza l’idea”. 

Lo stile africano è ricordato anche in quel “procedere sentenzioso, nei giochi di parole e di immagini, in quei larghi sviluppi oratori, nei quali l’anima del Santo trasfonde tutta l’irruenza dell’entusiasmo e dello sdegno…” (Mons. Guglielmo Ederle, per lunghi anni abate della Basilica). 

L’eleganza dello stile, accomunata alle espressioni sovrabbondanti e all’improvvisa mescolanza di lingua letteraria e di volgare, fece si che san Zeno fosse definito il “Cicerone cristiano”. 

Condusse con le sue predicazioni, trascritte da qualche suo discepolo nei “Sermones”, vivaci battaglie contro i Fotiniani (ariani) e la rinascita nelle campagne, del paganesimo (dovuta soprattutto all’apostasia di Giuliano); le sue prediche erano affollate da neoconvertiti ma anche da pagani, attratti dalla sua abile oratoria. 

Dal panegirico pronunciato da s. Petronio vescovo di Bologna, nella prima metà del V secolo, nella chiesa dove riposavano i resti del santo, si apprende che Zeno fu vescovo insigne per carità, umiltà, povertà, liberalità verso i poveri; sollecitava con forza clero e fedeli alla pratica delle virtù cristiane, dando loro l’esempio. 

Costruì a Verona la prima chiesa, che si trovava probabilmente nella zona dell’attuale Duomo, dove si riconoscono le tracce dei primi edifici cristiani; si tratta della chiesa già citata, che prodigiosamente non fu allagata dalla piena del fiume Adige nel 588, e per questo fu donata a Teodolinda, moglie di re Autari, che fu testimone oculare dell’avvenuto prodigio. 

Quella chiesa fu rifatta ai tempi di re Teodorico e nell’804 venne danneggiata, insieme al vicino monastero, da ‘uomini infedeli’, probabilmente dagli Unni e anche dagli Avari. 

Il vescovo Rotaldo la volle ricostruire, commissionando il nuovo progetto all’insigne arcidiacono Pacifico; l’8 dicembre 806, il nuovo tempio fu consacrato e dal romitaggio sul Monte Baldo sopra Malcesine, scesero gli eremiti Benigno e Caro, ritenuti degni di trasportare le reliquie del santo nel nuovo tempio, dove furono poste in un basamento di marmi levigati, nella cripta sorretta da colonne.
Alla consacrazione furono presenti, il re Pipino, figlio di Carlo Magno, il vescovo di Verona, quelli di Cremona e Salisburgo, più una folla immensa. 

Ma dal Nord Europa, ancora una volta calarono eserciti barbari, giungendo nell’antichissima e celebre città a cavallo dell’Adige; Verona è stata nei secoli la prima tappa dei popoli germanici e dell’Est europeo, che varcavano le Alpi per invadere e conquistare la Penisola e verso la fine del IX secolo, gli Ungheri assalirono Verona e saccheggiarono le chiese dei sobborghi. 

Ma le reliquie di san Zeno erano state messe in salvo in cattedrale e solo nel 921, poterono tornare nella cripta della chiesa a lui dedicata. Per mettere al sicuro definitivamente le reliquie del santo e la tranquillità del culto per il Patrono, in quegli anni si decise di costruire una grande basilica, più vasta e più protetta. Non fu impresa facile; per la nuova basilica romanica, giunsero aiuti finanziari e tecnici dai re d’Italia Rodolfo e Ugo; lo stesso imperatore Ottone I, lasciando Verona nel 967, donò una cospicua somma al vescovo realizzatore Raterio. 

La basilica, nel 1120, 1138, 1356, ebbe altre ristrutturazioni, modifiche e ampliamenti, specie all’interno, mentre il campanile fu eretto nel 1045 per iniziativa dell’abate Alberico; attualmente la vicina Torre merlata, è quanto resta della ricca abbazia benedettina, in cui furono ospitati, re, imperatori, cardinali. 

Il portale bronzeo della Basilica, è da tempo chiamato, ‘il libro di bronzo’ e la ‘Bibbia dei poveri’; esso racconta in successive 48 formelle, episodi biblici e della vita di Gesù, oltre ai miracoli di San Zeno. 

I miracoli raffigurati, furono tratti dai racconti del già citato notaio veronese Coronato, e dalle formelle si può apprendere quelli più eclatanti; quando san Zeno fu eletto vescovo di Verona, prese ad abitare con dei monaci, in un luogo solitario verso la riva dell’Adige e giacché viveva povero, era solito pescare nel fiume per cibarsi; e un giorno mentre stava pescando, vide più in là un contadino trascinato nella corrente del fiume, insieme al suo carro, dai buoi stranamente imbizzarriti. 

Avendo intuito che si trattava di un’opera del demonio, fece un segno di croce, che ebbe l’effetto di far calmare i buoi, che riportarono così il carro sulla riva. 

È uno dei tanti episodi di lotta con i demoni, che il santo vescovo, dovette affrontare lungo tutto il suo episcopato; poiché diverse volte lo disturbavano e tante volte san Zeno li scacciava adeguatamente; infatti nell’affresco della lunetta del protiro della basilica e nei bassorilievi di marmo che le fanno da base, s. Zeno è raffigurato fra l’altro mentre calpesta il demonio. 

In un’altra formella del portale, si vede il demonio scacciato dai buoi nel fiume, che indispettito si trasferisce nel corpo della figlia di Gallieno, che doveva essere un nobile locale, ma poi individuato erroneamente come l’imperatore, in tal caso le date non corrispondono. 

Gallieno, saputo del vescovo Zeno, che combatteva efficacemente i demoni, lo mandò a chiamare e così l’unica sua figlia fu liberata; per riconoscenza Gallieno gli concesse piena libertà di edificare chiese e predicare il cristianesimo, donandogli anche il suo prezioso diadema, che s. Zeno divise tra i poveri. 

Nella basilica esiste una bella vasca di porfido, pesantissima, che la tradizione vuole regalata da Gallieno al vescovo, il quale volendo punire l’impertinente demonio, gli ordinò di trasportarla fino a Verona; il demonio obbedì, ma con tanta rabbia, tanto da lasciare sulla vasca l’impronta delle sue unghiate; al di là della tradizione, la vasca può essere un importante reperto archeologico, delle antiche terme romane della città. 

Decine sono gli episodi miracolosi e i prodigi, che la tradizione e la leggenda, attribuiscono a san Zeno, sempre in lotta con i diavoli, perlopiù dispettosi, che cercavano sempre di ostacolarlo nella predicazione e nel suo ministero episcopale; si tratta di una particolare lotta del santo, che secondo alcune leggende avrebbe visto e scacciato il demonio, sin da quando era un chierico, mentre era in compagnia di s. Ambrogio. 

Infine non si può soprassedere sull’ipotesi, che san Zeno fosse un uomo oltre che istruito e saggio, anche bonario e gioviale; lo attestano due importanti opere, un’anta dell’antico organo, ora custodita nella chiesa di San Procolo, e la grande statua in marmo colorato, della metà del XIII secolo, nella basilica, che lo raffigurano entrambe sorridente fra i baffi; la statua raffigura san Zeno seduto, vestito dai paramenti vescovili, con il viso scuro per le sue origini nord africane, che sorride e benedice con la mano destra, mentre con la sinistra sorregge il pastorale, a cui è appeso ad un amo un pesce, a ricordo della sua necessità di pescare nell’Adige per i suoi pasti frugali. 

I veronesi indicano questa statua, come “San Zen che ride”; il santo è patrono dei pescatori d’acque dolci, il grosso sasso lustrato su cui, secondo la tradizione, sedeva mentre pescava nel fiume, è conservato in una piccola chiesetta denominata San Zeno in Oratorio, non lontano dalla millenaria basilica veronese, in cui riposa il santo Patrono. 

La festa liturgica di san Zeno è il 12 aprile; nella diocesi di Verona, però, la ricorrenza è stata spostata al 21 maggio, a ricordo del giorno della traslazione delle reliquie nella basilica, avvenuta il 21 maggio 807.

Antonio Borrelli