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E00212: Eusebius of Caesarea, quoting the Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne of the late 2nd c., records the martyrdom in 177 of ten people from Lyon and Vienne in central-southern Gaul (the *Martyrs of Lyon, S00316), and the humiliation and destruction of their remains by the pagans; with no reference to subsequent cult. From Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, written in Greek in Palestine, 311/325.

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posted on 24.11.2014, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 5.1-3

(1.) Γαλλία μὲν οὖν ἡ χώρα ἦν, καθ’ ἣν τὸ τῶν δηλουμένων συνεκροτεῖτο στάδιον, ἧς μητροπόλεις ἐπίσημοι καὶ παρὰ τὰς ἄλλας τῶν αὐτόθι διαφέρουσαι βεβόηνται Λούγδουνος καὶ Βίεννα, δι’ ὧν ἀμφοτέρων τὴν ἅπασαν χώραν πολλῷ τῷ ῥεύματι περιρρέων ὁ Ῥοδανὸς ποταμὸς διέξεισιν. (2.) τὴν οὖν περὶ τῶν μαρτύρων γραφὴν αἱ τῇδε διαφανέσταται ἐκκλησίαι ταῖς κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν καὶ Φρυγίαν διαπέμπονται, τὰ παρ’ αὐταῖς πραχθέντα τοῦτον ἀνιστοροῦσαι τὸν τρόπον, (3.) παραθήσομαι δὲ τὰς αὐτῶν φωνάς. «Οἱ ἐν Βιέννῃ καὶ Λουγδούνῳ τῆς Γαλλίας παροικοῦντες δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ τοῖς κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν καὶ Φρυγίαν τὴν αὐτὴν τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως ἡμῖν πίστιν καὶ ἐλπίδα ἔχουσιν ἀδελφοῖς· εἰρήνη καὶ χάρις καὶ δόξα ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν».

'(1.) So Gallia was the land where the arena for the events I am describing was set up. Lugdunum and Vienna [Lyon and Vienne] are reputed to be its principal cities, exceeding the rest in the area. The river Rhodanos [Rhône] crosses both of them, flowing through the whole land with a large stream. (2.) So the most prominent churches of this region sent the document about the martyrs to those of Asia and Phrygia, describing what had happened at their home in the following terms, (3.) and I shall quote their words: "The servants of Christ living in Vienna and Lugdunum of Gallia to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia, who hold the same faith and hope of salvation with us. Peace and grace and glory from God the Father, and Christ Jesus, our Lord".'

The letter is partly summarised by Eusebius and partly quoted in full. The Christian community of the area faces great hostility from the pagans, which leads to several martyrdoms (4-7). A large group is arrested and judged by the tribune. They are imprisoned until the arrival of the governor, when a new trial takes place and the Christian Ouettios Epagathos (Vettius Epagathus) is put to death (8-10). Several appear courageous and ready for martyrdom, but about ten are feeble and discourage the enthusiasm of many. People are arrested every day, including some pagan slaves of Christians, who, out of fear, accuse the Christians of cannibalism and incest, thus increasing the hostility against them. Several are tortured (12-17). Especially harsh is the treatment of the deacon Sanctus from Vienna, the neophyte Maturus, Attalus from Pergamon and the young girl Blandina who demonstrates particular courage and strength (18-19). Sanctus is tried and tortured with burning bronze plates. His body is badly wounded, but his injuries are miraculously healed (20-24). Biblis, a repentant renegade Christian, publicly defends the Christians, confesses her Christian faith and becomes a martyr (25-26). Several die in gaol, often strangled or submitting to the harsh conditions (27-28). The ninety-year old bishop of Lugdunum, Potheinos, is arrested and led to trial, during which he is lynched by the mob. He dies in gaol two days later (29-31). Despite denying their Christian faith, even renegades are detained on accusations of murder, and suffer both the torments of the gaol and their conscience. By contrast, those confessing their faith are cheerful and some even give off ‘the sweet smell of Christ’ (32-35). Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina and Attalus are condemned to face the beasts during specially held gladiatorial games and suffer various tortures. The mob demands the execution of Attalus, but approval has to come from the emperor, because he is a Roman citizen. Encouraged by the spectacle of the martyrs, many renegades repent and declare themselves as Christians (36-45). Orders come from the emperor that they should be beheaded. During a great local festival, the governor holds a public trial of Christians again. Those of them that had Roman citizenship are condemned to beheading, and the rest to the beasts. Many repentant renegades join the martyrs (46-48). A certain Alexandros from Phrygia, who was a doctor and Christian missionary, stands by at the trial encouraging the martyrs. The mob is enraged and hands him over to the governor who condemns also him to the beasts (49-50). Next day, he is brought to the arena together with Attalus, and killed by the beasts. Attalus is burnt on an iron seat (51-52). Blandina is also thrown to the beasts together with the fifteen-year- old boy Ponticus. She dies last after several tortures (53-54). The pagans do not allow the Christians to take and bury the remains of the martyrs, causing them great distress. After exposing the remains of the bodies for six days, they eventually cremate them and throw the ashes to the Rhone. The passages read as following:

(57.) «ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ οὕτως κόρον ἐλάμβανεν αὐτῶν ἡ μανία καὶ ἡ πρὸς τοὺς ἁγίους ὠμότης. ὑπὸ γὰρ ἀγρίου θηρὸς ἄγρια καὶ βάρβαρα φῦλα ταραχθέντα δυσπαύστως εἶχεν, καὶ ἄλλην ἰδίαν ἀρχὴν ἐπὶ τοῖς σώμασιν ἐλάμβανεν ἡ ὕβρις αὐτῶν· … (59.) καὶ γὰρ τοὺς ἐναποπνιγέντας τῇ εἱρκτῇ παρέβαλλον κυσίν, ἐπιμελῶς παραφυλάσσοντες νύκτωρ καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέραν μὴ κηδευθῇ τις ὑφ’ ἡμῶν· καὶ τότε δὴ προθέντες τά τε τῶν θηρίων τά τε τοῦ πυρὸς λείψανα, πῇ μὲν ἐσπαραγμένα, πῇ δὲ ἠνθρακευμένα, καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν τὰς κεφαλὰς σὺν τοῖς ἀποτμήμασιν αὐτῶν ὡσαύτως ἀτάφους παρεφύλαττον μετὰ στρατιωτικῆς ἐπιμελείας ἡμέραις συχναῖς. ... (61.) καὶ τὰ μὲν ἀπ’ ἐκείνων τοιαύτην εἶχε τὴν ποικιλίαν, τὰ δὲ καθ’ ἡμᾶς ἐν μεγάλῳ καθειστήκει πένθει διὰ τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι τὰ σώματα κρύψαι τῇ γῇ· οὔτε γὰρ νὺξ συνεβάλλετο ἡμῖν πρὸς τοῦτο οὔτε ἀργύρια ἔπειθεν οὔτε λιτανεία ἐδυσώπει, παντὶ δὲ τρόπῳ παρετήρουν, ὡς μέγα τι κερδανοῦντες, εἰ μὴ τύχοιεν ταφῆς.» (62.) Τούτοις ἑξῆς μεθ’ ̓ἕτερά φασιν· «τὰ οὖν σώματα τῶν μαρτύρων παντοίως παραδειγματισθέντα καὶ αἰθριασθέντα ἐπὶ ἡμέρας ἕξ, μετέπειτα καέντα καὶ αἰθαλωθέντα ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνόμων κατεσαρώθη εἰς τὸν Ῥοδανὸν ποταμὸν πλησίον παραρρέοντα, ὅπως μηδὲ λείψανον αὐτῶν φαίνηται ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔτι. (63.) καὶ ταῦτ’ ἔπραττον ὡς δυνάμενοι νικῆσαι τὸν θεὸν καὶ ἀφελέσθαι αὐτῶν τὴν παλιγγενεσίαν, ἵνα, ὡς ἔλεγον ἐκεῖνοι, «μηδὲ ἐλπίδα σχῶσιν ἀναστάσεως, ἐφ’ ᾗ πεποιθότες ξένην τινὰ καὶ καινὴν εἰσάγουσιν ἡμῖν θρῃσκείαν …»

'(57.) "But, even thus, their fury and ruthlessness towards the saints found no satisfaction. Stirred up by the wild Beast, these wild and barbarous races could hardly stop, and their atrocity found another, new beginning, over the bodies. … (59.) Those namely that had been strangled in gaol they threw to the dogs, watching sedulously day and night lest any of them be buried by us. Then they similarly exposed unburied whatever was left over by the beasts and the fire, some ripped apart, some charred, and the heads and severed parts of their bodies, keeping them under military guard for several days. ... (61.) Such were the various attitudes of them, while we were in great grief for being unable to bury the bodies in the earth. Neither did night help us to this end, nor did money persuade them, nor did supplication discomfit them, but they kept guard in every way, as if they would gain a great profit, if they would be deprived of burials." (62.) Then after other things they say, "So the bodies of the martyrs were publicly humiliated and exposed in every possible way for six days. Later they were burnt and incinerated by the lawless, and swept into the Rhodanos which was flowing nearby, so that not a single remnant of them may be seen on earth any more. And they did this as if they could defeat God and deprive the martyrs of their rebirth, so that, as they were saying, they should have no hope of resurrection, trusting in which they introduce to us this strange and new cult …".'

The letter continues with praise for the martyrs, and for the courage and humility they demonstrated while in gaol. They refused to be addressed as martyrs and forgave their persecutors. They also offered forgiveness and consolation to repentant renegades, strengthening the unity and peace of the church (5.2.1-8). The same document, according to Eusebius, contained the following account about a certain Alkibiades:

5.3 (1.) Ἡ δ’ αὐτὴ τῶν προειρημένων μαρτύρων γραφὴ καὶ ἄλλην τινὰ μνήμης ἀξίαν ἱστορίαν περιέχει, ἣν καὶ οὐδεὶς ἂν γένοιτο φθόνος μὴ οὐχὶ τῶν ἐντευξομένων εἰς γνῶσιν προθεῖναι· ἔχει δὲ οὕτως. (2.) Ἀλκιβιάδου γάρ τινος ἐξ αὐτῶν πάνυ αὐχμηρὸν βιοῦντος βίον καὶ μηδενὸς ὅλως τὸ πρότερον μεταλαμβάνοντος, ἀλλ’ ἢ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ καὶ ὕδατι χρωμένου πειρωμένου τε καὶ ἐν τῇ εἱρκτῇ οὕτω διάγειν, Ἀττάλῳ μετὰ τὸν πρῶτον ἀγῶνα ὃν ἐν τῷ ἀμφιθεάτρῳ ἤνυσεν, ἀπεκαλύφθη ὅτι μὴ καλῶς ποιοίη ὁ Ἀλκιβιάδης μὴ χρώμενος τοῖς κτίσμασι τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἄλλοις τύπον σκανδάλου ὑπολειπόμενος. (3.) πεισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἀλκιβιάδης πάντων ἀνέδην μετελάμβανεν καὶ ηὐχαρίστει τῷ θεῷ· οὐ γὰρ ἀνεπίσκεπτοι χάριτος θεοῦ ἦσαν, ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ἦν σύμβουλον αὐτοῖς. καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ὡδὶ ἐχέτω·

'5.3 (1.) The same text of the above-mentioned martyrs also contains another account worthy of remembrance, and no one would object to our bringing it to the knowledge of our readers. It is as follows. (2.) One of them called Alkibiades led a very austere life, partaking of nothing whatever but bread and water, and he attempted to live like that even in prison. Yet it was revealed to Attalus, after the first combat he endured in the amphitheatre, that in not using the creatures of God Alkibiades was not doing well, and was setting a scandalous example for others. (3.) And Alkibiades obeyed, and partook of all things without restraint, and gave thanks to God. For they were not deprived of the grace of God, but the Holy Ghost was their counsellor. So much for these matters.'

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Summary and translation: E. Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E00212

Saint Name

Martyrs of Lyon (Gaul), ob. 177 : S00316

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories) Literary - Letters

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

177

Evidence not after

325

Activity not before

177

Activity not after

325

Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms Asia Minor Palestine Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Lyon Caesarea Maritima Vienne

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Lyon Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Caesarea Maritima Vienne Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Officials Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Bodily relic - other body parts Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Bodily relic - head Noted absence of relics

Source

The Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne The Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia is known only from its partial quotation by Eusebius in the Ecclesiastical History (on which see below). It is the only part of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History extensively referring to the Latin-speaking provinces of the Roman Empire beyond the city of Rome. Eusebius seems to have used only Greek sources about the west. His access to the Letter was perhaps due to the fact that it was written in Greek and was addressed to an Anatolian readership. Eusebius dates it to the seventeenth year of the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 177), but how he reaches this chronology is unclear from the parts of the text he quotes. These lengthy passages constitute only a fraction of the original document which was included in full in a lost collection of martyrdom accounts compiled by Eusebius before AD 300 (the Martyrdoms of the Ancient or Ancient Martyrs, on which see E00139). The letter is a document of the utmost interest for the history of early Christianity, and the only extant piece of documentary evidence for Christianity in 2nd century Gaul. If it is what it purports to be, it allows some unique insights into the mechanisms of the spread of Christianity in the 2nd century, presenting a Christian community in Gaul consisting largely of Greek-speaking Anatolian immigrants and keeping strong connections to Christian groups in Rome and Asia Minor. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History Eusebius lived in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine between c. AD 260 and 340. He was a pupil and friend of the martyred Christian intellectual Pamphilus. Under Constantine, he emerged as one of the most influential Christian figures of the Roman Empire, and was ordained bishop of Caesarea. Written between 311 and 325, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History is the first literary work to employ the methodology and objectives of classical historiography – which, since Herodotus and Thucydides, had traditionally focused on military and political events – in a novel field, the history of the Christian community. The first paragraphs of the work outline its chronological framework and thematic range: it is a narrative of events in the life of the Christian community from the times of Christ and the Apostles to the times of Eusebius (c. AD 260-340); it records the leaders of the most important communities (i.e. successions of bishops in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem); it records the most notable exponents of Christian doctrine and their works, and also the main heresies and their proponents; it finally records persecutions and people that suffered and were martyred during them. The Ecclesiastical History is mostly a synthesis of quotations and summaries from other sources, for which Eusebius often gives concrete references. Thus his work preserves excerpts from early Christian texts which do not survive in their full form. Eusebius’ source material consists mostly of Greek texts, originating from Christian communities in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. These areas constitute the main geographical range of his narrative, while his information about Christianity in the western provinces of the Roman Empire (except Rome) is very limited. The text survives in several Greek manuscripts, in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and in Syriac and Armenian translations.

Discussion

The Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia describes events which follow an outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Lugdunum (Lyon) and Vienna (Vienne, Isère), two neighbouring cities in Gallia Lugdunensis. Ideas about the cult of saints are very poorly represented in the document. Except for sporadic references to miraculous events accompanying the martyrdom (the miraculous healing of the wounds of Sanctus, the miraculous fragrance of the bodies of the saints, the vision of Attalus about Alkibiades’ excessive fasting), there are no references to miracles or to the power of the martyrs after their death. The references of the text to the humiliation of the martyrs’ remains by the pagans seems to imply little more than the desire of the Christians to provide a decent burial for their people. If our text refers to any veneration of relics, this is done in a very implicit way, as opposed to the more developed references to it in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (E00035). The document has the format of a general letter addressed by the local Christian community, just like the Martyrdom of Polycarp which was written as a Letter of the Church of Smyrna to the Church of Philomelion (on which see E00035). The latter is also quoted by Eusebius, and dated by him to the same period, i.e. under Marcus Aurelius. The narrative describes the tribulations of at least ten martyrs, without focusing on a particular figure (the names mentioned are Vettius Epagathus, Sanctus, Maturus, Attalus, Blandina, Pothinus, Alexander, Biblis, Ponticus and Alcibiades). This structure is significant and seems to have been the norm in martyrdom texts of this early period. Such must have also been the original form of the Martyrdom of Polycarp which seems to have been initially written as the description of eleven martyrdoms, but was later transformed into a focused narrative about one figure, the bishop Polycarp (see E00035). It is unclear if the Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne underwent any editing during the third century. Certain themes, like the humiliation and destruction of the remains of the martyrs, the merciful attitude of the martyrs towards renegades, and their rejection of rigorist practices (the story of Alkibiades) seem to have been particularly prominent in the third century, and are central also in the Martyrdoms of Polycarp and Pionios. Nonetheless, the Gallic text contains much less evidence for reworking than them. As noted above, Eusebius probably acquired the Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne from an Anatolian based source, perhaps the same that provided him with the Martyrdoms of Polycarp, Pionios, Apollonios and Karpos, Papylos and Agathonike. It remains unknown if the Martyrs of Lyon and Vienne ever acquired any cultic prominence in the East. The Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne was probably an important reading during the 3rd century persecutions, but it is less than clear if its impact reached beyond mere commemoration and apologia. It seems that it was not reproduced after Eusebius, and does not seem to have led to the production of a separate hagiography for these martyrs. By contrast, in Gaul, the martyrs of Lyon and Vienne enjoyed great prominence throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Bibliography

Text and translations: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols. (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte NF 6/1-3; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Rebillard, E. Greek and Latin Narratives About the Ancient Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 145-173. Seeliger, H.R., and Wischmeyer, W., Märtyrerliteratur: Herausgegeben, übersetzt, kommentiert (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 172; Berlin/München/Boston: De Gruyter, 2015), 47-86 (with German translation, commentary, and bibliography). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; London and Cambridge, MA: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989). Further reading: Barnes, T.D., “Eusebius and the Date of the Martyrdoms,” in: Les Martyrs de Lyon (177) (Lyon 20-23 Septembre 1977) (Paris: CNRS, 1977), 137-143. Chesnut, G. The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986. Löhr, W., “Der Brief der Gemeinden von Lyon und Vienne,” in: D. Papandreou, W.A. Bienert and K. Schäferdiek (eds.), Oecumenica und Patristica: Festschrift für Wilhelm Schneemelcher (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1989), 135-149. Moss, C.R., Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), 100-121. Reynauld, J.-F., and Fündling, J., “Lyon,” in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, vol. 23 (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 2010), 802-828. Wierschowski, L., “Der Lyoner Märtyrer Vettius Epagathus. Zum Status und zur Herkunft der ersten gallischen Christen,” Historia 47:4 (1998), 426-453.

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