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E00782: Latin poem on *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037), composed by Prudentius, writing c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain). The poem, part of the Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), recounts the martyrdom of Laurence and presents him as a saint who led Rome to victory over pagan gods.

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posted on 2015-10-14, 00:00 authored by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem II


Laurence is described as the martyr who led the city of Rome to victory over pagan gods.

During the persecutions Sixtus, bishop of Rome, is crucified, and at his martyrdom he predicts the martyrdom of his deacon Laurence (see E00767). Laurence is described as one of the seven deacons of Rome, responsible for the treasury. The city prefect wishes to seize the wealth of the church; he inquires of Laurence about the place where precious vessels and money from the faithful are hidden, and wants it to be given to the emperor. Laurence agrees and asks for some time, so that he can make a list of all the belongings of the church. He finds all the poor whom the church supported, inscribes them on a list and lets them gather in front of the church. He presents them to the prefect as the real wealth and gold of the world; they are weak in flesh, but strong in their souls, unlike the rich and powerful, who suffer from internal illness. The prefect accuses Laurence of mocking him; he is aware that Laurence is prepared for martyrdom, but he does not want him to die quickly and puts him to a slow death. A pyre is prepared for the martyr; soldiers undress him and his face shines with beauty and calm. He is compared to Stephen, the first martyr. He is slowly roasted on the pyre, his burning flesh smelling of nectar to the Christians present. After a while Laurence asks his tormentors to turn him on the pyre, so that also the other half of his body is burnt. Laurence dies while praying for the city of Rome which he says was founded by God, for it one day to become Christian. The senators inspired to the faith by the example of Laurence carry his body on their shoulders. From the day of the martyrdom the pagan religion starts to falter and more and more people, even from the highest levels of the society, convert to Christianity and give honour to the martyr. The poet, turning to a more personal tone, says that he is geographically far away from Rome and cannot see with his own eyes the signs of Laurence's martyrdom but can look up to heaven where Laurence dwells as an honoured citizen and official. In this capacity he listens to the petitions of the inhabitants of Rome. At the end, Prudentius confesses his own sinfulness that makes him unworthy to approach Christ directly but believes that he can be healed by the advocacy of the martyrs (see $E05958).

Edition: Cunningham 1966: 257-277. Translation: Thomson 1953, 108-142. Summary: M. Tycner and M. Szada.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Laurence, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Calahorra Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miraculous protection - other


Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405) was a Christian aristocrat from Calahorra in the Spanish province of Tarraconensis. He was a high official in the imperial bureaucracy in Rome, but withdrew from public life, returned to Calahorra, and dedicated himself to the service and celebration of God. Most of what we know about his biography comes from the preface to the ensemble of his works, which can be reliably dated to 404 (Cunningham 1966, 1-2), and other autobiographical remarks scattered throughout his works (for a detailed discussion, see Palmer 1989, 6-31). He composed several poetical works, amongst them the Peristephanon (literally, On the Crowns [of the Martyrs]), a collection of fourteen poems of different length describing martyrdoms of saints. We do not know exactly at which point in his literary career Prudentius wrote the preface (possibly at the very end, just before publication); for attempts at a precise dating of the Peristephanon, see Fux 2013, 9, n. 1. The poems in the Peristephanon, written in elegant classical metres, deal mainly with martyrs from Spain, but some of them are dedicated to saints of Rome, Africa and the East. The poems were widely read in the late antique and medieval West, and had a considerable influence on the diffusion of cult of the saints included. In later periods they were sometimes used as hymns in liturgical celebrations and had an impact on the development of the Spanish hymnody. Some indications in the poems suggest that they were written to commemorate the saints on their feast days, but Prudentius probably did not compose them for the liturgy of his time. Rather, they probably provided 'devotional reading matter for a cultured audience outside a church context' (Palmer 1989, 3; see also Chapter 3 in her book).


The second poem in Prudentius' collection is consecrated to Laurence, one of the most prominent Roman martyrs, whose cult starts to blossom around the time the Peristephanon is composed. As in the case of other Roman saints, Prudentius probably got interested in his cult during his service in Rome. The story presented by Prudentius does not differ visibly from other early accounts of the martyr. It has been suggested that the wording of the poem, even though original, might imply some indirect links to the Milanese tradition (the hymn on Laurence composed by Bishop Ambrose, see E05216, and passages from his De officiis, see E05285) – see Nauroy 1989, 53-60. Particularly interesting is the direct association between Laurence and the city of Rome. The martyr is explicitly described as the one who led the city to victory over pagan gods and rituals. Prudentius evidently perceives the community of Rome as Christian, but knows that this religious identity is still recent in his times and refers to the struggle which allowed the change. In this poem there is no information on specific activities associated with the cult of Laurence. The poem is written in iambic dimeter.


Editions of the Peristephanon: Cunningham, M.P., Prudentii Carmina (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 126; Turnhout: Brepols, 1966), 251-389. Bergman, J., Prudentius, Carmina (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 61; Vienna, 1926), 291-431. Translations of the Peristephanon: Eagan, C., Prudentius, Poems (Fathers of the Church 43; Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1962), 95-280. English translation. Thomson, H.J., Prudentius, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library; London Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann; Harvard University Press, 1953), 98-345. Edition and English translation. Further reading: Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). Malamud, M.A., A Poetics of Transformation: Prudentius and Classical Mythology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). Nauroy, G., “Le martyre de Laurent dans l'hymnodie et la prédication des IVe et Ve siècles et l'authenticité ambrosienne de l'hymne Apostolorum supparem,” Revue d'Etudes Augustiniennes et Patristiques 35 (1989), 44-82. Palmer, A.-M., Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Roberts, M., Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs: The "Liber Peristephanon" of Prudentius (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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