Sts. Nereus and Achilles were soldiers in the Praetorian Guard, who became Christians–baptized by Saint Peter, it is said–and decided that they must give up fighting. They escaped from the guard, but were discovered and sent into exile first to the island of Pontia with Saint Flavia Domitilla and then to Terracina. There during the reign of Emperor Trajan in 100 A.D. both saints were beheaded. Their sepulcher is preserved in the cemetery on the Ardeatine Way, where a basilica has been built in their honor.
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Toward the end of the 4th century, Pope Saint Damasus inscribed a tombstone in honor of the saints. It read:
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“Nereus and Achilleus the martyrs joined the army and carried out the cruel orders of the tyrant, obeying his will continually out of fear. Then came a miracle of faith. They suddenly gave up their savagery, they were converted, and they fled the camp of their evil leader, throwing away their shields, armor, and bloody spears. Professing the faith of Christ, they are happy to witness to its triumph. From these words of Damasus understand what great deeds can be brought about by Christ’s glory.”
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