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E00616: Letter from Justinian (the future emperor; nephew of the emperor Justin I) to Pope Hormisdas, requesting relics of the Apostles *Peter and *Paul (S00036 and S00008) from Rome, for his basilica of the same saints in Constantinople. He donates two silk cloths for their altar in Rome. Written in Latin in Constantinople in 519; preserved in the Collectio Avellana.

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posted on 2015-06-29, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Collectio Avellana 187 (Justinian to Pope Hormisdas, JH 1585)

Extract from Justinian's letter to Pope Hormisdas. Undated, but contemporaneous with Collectio Avellana 218 (E00615), which is dated 29 June 519.

(5.) praesumentes autem de beatitudinis uestrae beniuolentia paternam dilectionem nimium petimus, quatenus reliquiis sanctorum apostolorum tam nos quam basilicam eorum hic in domo nostra sub nomine praedictorum uenerabilium constructam illustrare et illuminare large dignemini, cognoscentes, quod nullum nobis maius nec munus nec beneficium praestare potestis, domine beatissime pater, quam in hanc nostram petititionem adimpleueritis. (6.) subito autem iter arripiente praedicto agente in rebus etiam duo pallios holosericos ad ornamentum altaris sanctorum apostolorum direximus, quos suscipientes efficacissimis precibus uestris nostri iubete iugiter memoriam facere.

'(5.) But presuming upon your paternal love we request too great a thing from the benevolence of Your Beatitude: whether you would generously deign to honour and glorify with relics (reliquiae) of the Holy Apostles, both us and their basilica, constructed here in our house under the name of the said venerable ones – knowing, my lord and most blessed Father, that you can bestow on us no greater gift or benefaction than to fulfil this our petition. (6.) Now, with our aforementioned agent, who has taken swiftly to his journey, we have sent two silk cloths for the adornment of the altar of the Holy Apostles, and, once you have received them, order that our commemoration be made regularly with your most efficacious prayers.'

Text: Günther 1898, 644-645. Translation: Efthymios Rizos and David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Rome Constantinople

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

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

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Other liturgical acts and ceremonies

Cult activities - Places


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects Cloth over/near the shrine


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.


This extract is from a letter written by Justinian to Pope Hormisdas. Though undated, the letter must have been written at the same time as Collectio Avellana 218 (E00615) from Hormisdas' legates, and was carried to Rome by the same messenger, Eulogius, described in this letter as an agens in rebus. In this extract from the letter (most of which deals with other issues), Justinian asks Hormisdas to provide him with relics of the Apostles with which to endow the church he was constructing, dedicated to Peter and Paul. Justinian describes the church as being in his house (in domo nostra), by which he means within the palace complex at Constantinople known as the Palace of Hormisdas (no connection to Pope Hormisdas), which was his residence at the time. Justinian does not specify the nature of the relics he would like the pope to provide, but we know from Collectio Avellana 218 that it had been agreed between Justinian and the papal legates that they would be sanctuaria: pieces of cloth sanctified by contact with a saint or his tomb or shrine (McCulloh 1976, 158-165). Justinian also sends the pope a gift of two silk altar cloths (pallios holosericos). 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 is described by Procopius in the Buildings 1.4.1-3 (E04332). An epigram from its dedicatory inscription is preserved as 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., 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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