A third-century missionary who was one of the saints martyred near the Roman fortress of Turicum (Zurich) (feast day: 1 Tut). The earliest descriptions of his death are found in the eighth-century Codex 225 in the Convent of Saint Gall (pp. 473-78), the mid-ninth-century Codex C.10.i in the Central Library of Zurich (fols. 59r-60r), and the late ninth-century Codex 550 in Saint Gall (pp. 29-39). Linguistic, geographical, and chronological studies of the first two codices indicate that both are based on a much earlier manuscript, possibly written by Florentinus in the fourth century.
According to these accounts, Felix, his sister Saint REGULA, and their companions, all members of the THEBAN LEGION, left Agaunum (Saint Maurice-en-Valais, Switzerland) upon the advice of their commander, Saint MAURITIUS, in order to carry Christianity into new territory. Heading east, they traversed the desolate wastes of Glarus and finally reached the Limmat River at the end of Lake Zurich. There they remained, preaching the word of God. However, Maximian, later emperor, notorious for his ruthless persecution of the Theban Legion, had them pursued. As a result, they were brought before Decius, Roman governor of the region, who in the face of their resolute faith ordered that they are tortured. Legend says that during this torture, a voice from heaven proclaimed, “Fear not. A crown is ready for you, and you will have great glory among the host of my saints.”
After they were beheaded, the saints arose and carried their heads in their hands forty ells uphill, to a spot that became their resting place and over which the Zurich Grossmünster now stands. Two other Zurich edifices built to commemorate this event are the Wasserkirche, which stands over the spot of their martyrdom, and the Fraumünster, which contains eight famous medieval frescoes depicting every stage of the story. Although we have no specific dates of the construction of these edifices, their erection is ascribed by tradition to Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious, or his grandson Louis the German.
Throughout the Middle Ages, these three churches enjoyed many privileges from the Holy Roman Emperor, and they became popular centers of veneration. Indeed, during the iconoclasm of the Swiss Reformation, a portrait of the saints that adorned their resting place in the Grossmünster was the only image to survive destruction. The gilded shrine holding the main relics of the saints at the Grossmunster was hidden, and thus saved. In 1225 the risen saints, with head in hand, were depicted on the oldest seal of Zurich, and they still appear on the coat of arms of both the city and the canton.
Other sites of veneration in Switzerland are the Church of Saints Felix and Regula in Zurich, the Church of Niederglatt and the Church of Wattwil in Saint Gall, and the Church of Thalwil in Zurich. We also find evidence of homage to Felix and Regula in Swabia, Alsace, and Hungary.
[See also: Exuperantius, Saint.]
- Egloff, E. Wer hat das Christentum nach Zürich gebracht? Zurich, 1948.
- ___. Der Standort des Monasteriums Ludwigs des Deutschen in Zürich. Zurich, 1949.
- ___. Die Auffindung der Zürcher Heiligen. Zurich, 1950.
- Müller, I. “Die frühkarolingische Passio der Zürcher Heiligen.” Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Kirchengeschichte 65 (1971). Müller, J. Geschichte der heiligen Märtyrer Felix und Regula. Altdorf, Switzerland, 1904.
- Ramer, C. Felix, Regula und Exuperantius, Ikonographie der Stift und Stadtheiligen Zürichs. Zurich, 1973.
SAMIR F. GIRGIS