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E00615: A letter from papal legates in Constantinople to Pope Hormisdas in Rome reports that Justinian (the future emperor; nephew of the emperor Justin I) seeks relics of the Apostles *Peter and *Paul (S00008 and S00037), and of *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037) for his basilica of Peter and Paul in Constantinople. When told the request is against the custom of Rome, he requests contact relics (sanctuaria) of Peter and Paul, and pieces from their chains and from the grate of Laurence. Written in Latin in 519; preserved in the Collectio Avellana.

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posted on 2015-06-29, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Collectio Avellana 218 (Papal legates in Constantinople to Pope Hormisdas, JH 1587)

Letter dated 29 June 519, to Pope Hormisdas from the papal legates sent to Constantinople to negotiate the end of the Acacian schism.

(1.) Filius uester magnificus uir Iustinianus res conuenientes fidei suae faciens basilicam sanctorum apostolorum, in qua desiderat et beati Laurentii martyris reliquias esse, constituit: sperat per paruitatem nostram, ut praedictorum sanctorum reliquias celeriter concedatis. (2.) habuit quidem petitio praedicti uiri secundum morem Graecorum et nos e contra consuetudinem sedis apostolicae exposuimus. accepit rationem. et quia talis feruor est fidei eius, qui mereatur quicquid de apostolica sede depoposcerit, et tale est, quod sperat, unde et salus animae et fidei affectus accrescat, talibus desideriis postulata competit non negare. (3.) unde si et beatitudini uestrae uidetur, sanctuaria beatorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli secundum morem ei largiri praecipite, et, si fieri potest ad secundam cataractam ispa sanctuaria deponere, uestrum est deliberare. petit et de catenis sanctorum apostolorum. si possibile est, et de craticula beati Laurentii martyris. (4.) ista sunt desideria praedicti uiri, in haec fides ipsius est incitata. propter hoc in urbem uestram uirum spectabilem Eulogium magistrianum direxit, hoc sibi satisfacere iudicans, si de ipso fonte, de quo per omnem terram sanctuaria apostolorum sunt data, inde et ipse reliquias suscipere mereatur. et bene facitis causam ecclesiasticam, magnopere in contestatione dei, tali homini commendare, cuius sinceritas et integritas circa religionem catholicam nota est omnibus hominibus. (5.) hinc uoluerunt capsellas argenteas facere et dirigere, sed postea cogitauerunt, ut hoc quoque a uestra sede pro benedictione suscipiat. Singulas tamen capsellas per singulorum apostolorum reliquias fieri debere suggerimus. Data III Kal. Iul. Constantinopoli.

(1.) Your son Justinian, of magnificus rank, acting as befits his faith, has built a basilica of the Holy Apostles, in which he also wishes there to be relics (reliquiae) of the blessed martyr Laurence. He hopes that, by the mediation of our humbleness, you will quickly grant relics of the said saints. (2.) The petition of the said man was according to the custom of the Greeks, and we explained to him that it was against the custom of the Apostolic See. He accepted our reasoning. And since the fervour of his faith is of a kind that merits whatever it requests from the Apostolic See, and what it hopes for is the kind of thing from which both the salvation of the soul and the feeling of faith are increased, he beseeches that the things requested with such desire be not declined. (3.) Hence, if Your Beatitude approves, order that sanctuaria [lit. 'holy things'] of the blessed Peter and Paul be granted to him according to custom, and it is for you to decide if it is possible to place the same sanctuaria at the second opening (cataracta). He also requests something from the chains of the Holy Apostles, if it is possible, and of the griddle of the blessed martyr Laurence. (4.) These are wishes of the said man; towards these his faith has been incited. For this reason, he has sent to your city the magistrianus Eulogius, of spectabilis rank, considering that he will be satisfied if, from the very source from which sanctuaria of the Apostles are given all over the earth, he too may be worthy to receive relics. And you do well for the interests of the church, and greatly in bearing witness to God, by trusting such a man, whose sincerity and integrity with regard to the Catholic religion is known to all men. (5). They wished to make and send from here silver cases (capsella), but later they thought that he should receive this too from your See, as a blessing. So we suggest that separate cases should be made for the relics of each of the Apostles. Given on the third day before the Kalends of July at Constantinople.'

Text: Günther 1898, 679-680. Translation: Efthymios Rizos and David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Lawrence, martyr of Rome, ob. 258 : S00037 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source

Laurentius Paulus Petrus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Constantinople Rome

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

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Condemnation/rejection of a specific cultic activity

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Contact relic - instrument of saint’s martyrdom Contact relic - cloth Privately owned relics Division of relics Making contact relics Reliquary – institutionally owned Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects


The Collectio Avellana is a collection of 244 letters and other documents written by or sent to various popes between 367 and 553, mostly correspondence between the papacy and the imperial authorities in Italy or in Constantinople. The date of its compilation is uncertain, but has most frequently been placed soon after 553. The letter discussed here comes from part of the collection containing correspondence between Rome and Constantinople under Pope Hormisdas (514–523). Between 484 and 519, the papacy was in a state of schism with the church of Constantinople and the eastern emperors Zeno (474–475, 476–491) and Anastasius (491–518). In 518, Justin I became emperor, and informed Hormisdas of his wish to end the schism. In the spring of 519, Hormisdas sent five legates to Constantinople to negotiate the end of the schism. Although the schism was formally terminated in March 519, the legates remained in Constantinople until July 520. Numerous items of correspondence from this period are preserved in the Collectio Avellana, both between Hormisdas and the legates, and with various figures in Constantinople.


Collectio Avellana 218 is a memorandum (suggestio) sent to Hormisdas in June 519 from Constantinople by the papal legates sent to negotiate the end of the Acacian schism. It is one of three suggestiones, each dealing with a different issue, sent by the legates on the same date (the others being Collectio Avellana 216 and 217). All three were taken to Rome by an imperial official, the magistrianus Eulogius, together with a letter to Hormisdas from Justinian himself, in which he made his request for relics directly (Collectio Avellana 187, E00616), and a gift of silk altar cloths from Justinian. The letter informs Hormisdas that Justinian wants relics from Rome for a church that he was building, dedicated to Peter and Paul. Justinian wished for bodily relics of Peter and Paul, and also of Laurence, as well as parts of the chains of the Apostles, and the griddle (craticula) on which Laurence was martyred. Justinian had evidently raised the matter with the legates, hoping that they would recommend his request to the pope. The legates report that they had told Justinian that his request for bodily relics, which they describe as being 'according to the custom of the Greeks' (secundum morem Graecorum), was impossible, but recommend that the pope should arrange for sanctuaria to be sent to him. Sanctuaria were pieces of cloth sanctified by contact or proximity with relics (for full discussion of the meaning of the word, see McCulloh 1976, 158-165, including discussion of this letter at 159-161)The contact in this instance was merely with the tombs or shrines of the Apostles, as is shown by the reference to placing them 'at the second opening' (ad secundam cataractam). The legates also report the request that each relic should be provided with its own silver case (capsella). The legates’ reference to placing the sanctuaria at the second cataracta suggests that there was an established practice at Rome of placing contact relics nearer to, or further away from, the actual tombs, with the implication that this was done according to the status of those who had requested them. The legates were all Roman clerics, and would presumably have been familiar with practices relating to relics at St Peter’s and other Roman churches. In 519 Justinian (emperor 527–565) was prominent mainly through his relationship with the emperor Justin, who was his uncle. He was Justin's adopted son and held the rank of comes, but at this point appears not to have held any formal office (Croke 2007, 20–26). The church of Peter and Paul was located within the complex of buildings that comprised the Palace of Hormisdas (no connection with Pope Hormisdas), which was Justinian's residence in Constantinople. The church is described by Procopius in the Buildings 1.4.1–3 (E04332). An epigram from its dedicatory inscription is preserved in the Greek Anthology (1.8) (E00551). Subsequently, Justinian built the still standing church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Küçük Ayasofya Camii) next to that of Saints Peter and Paul; the two churches shared an atrium (Croke 2006, 25–28).


Edition: Günther, O. (ed.), Collectio Avellana. 2 vols (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 35/1-2; Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1895, 1898). Further reading: Croke, B., “Justinian, Theodora, and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 60 (2006), 25-63. Croke, B., “Justinian under Justin: Reconfiguring a Reign,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 100 (2007), 13-56. McCulloh, J.M., "The Cult of Relics in the Letters and 'Dialogues' of Gregory the Great: A Lexicographical Study," Traditio 32 (1976), 145-184.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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