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E00409: The Liber Pontificalis, written in Latin in Rome in the 530s, and re-edited before 546, mentions a silver statue of *John the Baptist (S00020), commissioned by the emperor Constantine for the Lateran baptistery in Rome (312-337).

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posted on 2015-04-22, 00:00 authored by robert
Liber Pontificalis 34.13

For the following passage it is impossible to reconstruct the text of the first edition.

Second edition

The passage below is from a description of the baptistery 'where the emperor Constantine was baptised', which can be identified with the Lateran Baptistery, built and ornamented by the emperor Constantine, during the pontificate of pope Silvester. leva agni beatum Iohannem Baptistam ex argento, in pedibus V, tenentem titulum scriptum qui hoc habet: ECCE AGNUS DEI, ECCE QUI TOLLIT PECCATA MUNDI, PENS. LIB LXXX...

...on the left of the Lamb, the blessed John the Baptist in silver, 5 ft in size, bearing the inscription BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD, BEHOLD HIM WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD, weighing 100 lb...

There continues the description of the Baptistery and its endowment.

Text: Duchesne 1886, 174. Translation: Davis 2010, 18, modified. Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source

Iohannes Baptista

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Liber Pontificalis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family


The Liber Pontificalis consists of a series of short lives of popes. The preface attributes it to pope Damasus (366-384), but this attribution is obviously false. According to Louis Duchesne, the first modern editor of the Liber Pontificalis, the original series of lives was written in Rome by an anonymous author, probably a member of the lesser clergy, in the 530s, and contained the lives from *Peter the Apostle to Felix IV (ob. 530). Shortly after, before 546, the text was re-edited by another anonymous author and only this edition survives. The first edition, however, can be reconstituted on the basis of its two epitomes (and the second edition). The second edition started to be continued systematically from the time of pope Honorius (625–638). It should be noted that Theodor Mommsen dated both editions of the Liber Pontificalis to the 7th century, but his opinion is widely rejected and the commonly accepted dating is that of Duchesne. For the pre-Constantinian period (before 312), the credibility of the Liber Pontificalis is very low. The chronology is confused, and details concerning the personal lives, decisions, and ordinations of the bishops of Rome at best reflect what people in the 6th century trusted to be true, at worst are a pure invention of the author. The situation changes with the later lives. Already the information of 4th century papal foundations and offerings are generally trustworthy. The early 6th century evidence, based on the author's first hand knowledge is even better, though still imperfect.


The Baptistery described in this chapter is certainly that close to the Lateran Basilica, though actually Constantine was baptized on his death-bed in Constantinople, and not in Rome This passage does not suggest that John the Baptist's statue was an object of veneration, but the three-dimensional image of the saint is exceptional and worth mentioning.


Edition: Duchesne, L., Le Liber pontificalis. 2 vols (Paris: E. Thorin, 1886-1892). (With substantial introduction and commentary.) Translation: Davis, R., The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis) (Translated Texts for Historians 6; 3rd ed.; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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