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E01295: The Liber Pontificalis, written in Latin in Rome in the 530s, and re-edited before 546, in its account of *Xystus III (bishop of Rome, ob. 440, S00764) describes the construction and decoration of several churches in Rome during his episcopate (432-440): the basilica of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), present-day Santa Maria Maggiore, the confessiones of the Apostles *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008), and a basilica and confessio of *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037).

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posted on 2016-04-20, 00:00 authored by robert
Liber Pontificalis 46

First edition (as reconstructed by Duchesne)

Hic fecit basilicam sanctae Mariae iuxta macellum Libiae. Hic ornavit de argento confessionem beati Petri apostoli, qui habet lib. CCCC. Huius supplicatione optulit Valentinianus Aug. imaginem auream cum XII portas et apostolos XII et Salvatorem gemmis praetiosissimis ornatam, quem voti gratiae suae super confessionem beati Petri apostoli posuit.

'He [Xystus III] built the basilica of St Mary, close to the market of Livia. He decorated the confessio of blessed Peter with silver: it weighs 400 lb. At his entreaty the emperor Valentinian presented a gold image with 12 portals, 12 apostles, and the Saviour, decorated with very precious jewels; and he placed it as an offering for prayers answered.'

Second edition
Hic fecit basilicam sanctae Mariae, quae ab antiquis Liberii cognominabatur, iuxta macellum Libiae, ubi et obtulit hoc:
altare argenteum purissimum, pens. lib. CCC;
patenas argenteas III, pens. lib. LX;
amas argenteas IIII, pens. lib. LX;
scyphum aureum purissimum, pens. lib. XII;
scyphos argenteos V, pens. lib. L;
calices ministeriales aureos II, pens. sing. lib. singulas;
calices ministeriales argenteos X, pens. sing. lib. ternas;
aquamanulis argenteus, pens. lib. VIII;
coronam farum ante altare argenteum, pens. lib. XXX;
coronas argenteas farales XXXIIII, pens. sing. lib. X;
candelabra argentea IIII, pens. sing. lib. XX;
tymiamaterium argenteum, pens. lib. V;
cantara cereostata aurocalca XXIIII, pens. sing. lib. XV...

'He [Xystus III] built the basilica of saints Mary, which the ancients called that of Liberius, close to the market of Livia, where he presented the following:
an altar of finest silver weighing 300 lb;
3 silver patens weighing 60 lb;
4 silver amae weighing 60 lb;
a scyphus of finest gold weighing 12 lb;
5 silver scyphi weighing 50 lb;
2 gold service chalices each weighing 1 lb;
10 silver service chalices each weighing 3 lb;
a silver handbasin weighing 8 lb;
a silver crown light in front of the altar, weighing 30 lb;
34 silver crown lights each weighing 10 lb;
4 silver candelabra each weighing 20 lb;
a silver censer weighing 5 lb;
24 brass candlestick chandeliers each weighing 15 lb...'

There follows a list of the endowments of the basilica; then the list of offerings continues:

cervum in fontem argenteum fundentem aquam, pens. lib. XX;
omnia vasa baptismi sacrata argentea, pens. lib. XV;
cenacula a regiae gradorum adherentes basilicae vel quidquid intrinsecus esse videtur.'

'a silver stag at the font, pouring water, weighing 20 lb;
all the sacred silver vessels for baptism, weighing 15 lb;
the garrets adjoining the steps to the main door of the basilica, and everything reckoned as included therein.'

Hic ornavit de argento confessionem beati Petri apostoli, qui habet libras CCCC. Ex huius supplicatione optulit Valentinianus Augustus imaginem auream cum XII portas et apostolos XII et Salvatorem gemmis praetiosissimis ornatam super confessionem beati Petri apostoli,
Huius temporibus fecit Valentinianus Augustus confessionem beati Pauli apostoli ex argento, qui habet libras CC.
'He decorated the confessio of the blessed Peter the apostle with silver: it weighs 400 lb. At his entreaty the emperor Valentinian presented a gold image with 12 portals, 12 apostles, and the Saviour, decorated with very precious jewels; as an offering for prayers answered he placed this over the confessio of the blessed Peter the apostle.
In his time the emperor Valentinian built a confessio for the blessed Paul the apostle of silver weighing 200 lb.'

Item fecit Xystus episcopus confessionem beati Laurenti martyris cum columnis porphyreticis et ornavit platomis transendam et altarem et confessionem sancto martyri Laurentio de argento purissimo fecit altarem pens. lib. L; cancellos argenteos supra platomas purphyreticas, pens. lib. CCC; absidam super cancellos cum statuam beati Laurenti martyris argenteam, pens. lib. CC.
Fecit autem basilicam sancto Laurentio, quod Valentinianus Augustus concessit, ubi et optulit: patenas argenteas III, pens. sing. lib. XX; amas argenteas III, pens. sing. lib. XV; scyphos argenteos IIII, pens. sing. lib. VIII; scyphum singularem aureum ornatum de margaritis, pens. lib. X; lucernam nixorum X auream, pens. lib. X; calices argenteos ministeriales XII, pens. sing. lib. II; aquamanulis argenteus, pens. lib. VIII; ministerium ad baptismum vel paenitentiae ex argento, pens. lib. V; conca aurocalca, pens. lib. XX; coronas argenteas farales XXX, pens. sing. lib. VI; fara canthara III, pens. sing. lib. XV; candelabra argentea II, pens. sing. lib. XXX; canthara cereostata in gremio basilicae aerea XXIIII; fara aerea LX.

'Also bishop Xystus built a confessio for the blessed martyr Laurence with porphyry columns, and decorated the passageway with tablets, and the altar and confessio for the martyr saint Laurence of finest silver, the altar he provided weighing 50 lb; silver railings over the porphyry tablets, weighing 300 lb; a niche over the railings, with a silver statue of the blessed martyr Laurence, weighing 200 lb.
He built a basilica to saint Laurence, with the agreement of the emperor Valentinian, where he presented:
3 silver patens each weighing 20 lb;
3 silver amae each weighing 15 lb;
4 silver scyphi each weighing 8 lb;
a special gold scyphus adorned with pearls, weighing 10 lb;
a gold lantern with 10 wicks, weighing 10 lb;
12 silver service chalices each weighing 2 lb;
a silver handbasin weighing 8 lb;
a service for baptism or penance, of silver, weighing 5 lb;
a brass shell weighing 20 lb;
30 silver crown lights each weighing 6 lb;
3 chandeliers each weighing 15 lb;
2 silver candelabra each weighing 30 lb;
24 bronze candlestick chandeliers in the body of the basilica;
60 bronze lights.'

Fecit autem monasterium in Catacumbas; fecit et fontem baptisterii ad sanctam Mariam et columnis porphyreticis exornavit. Hic constituit columnas in baptisterium basilicae Constantinianae, quas a tempore Constantini Augusti fuereant congregatas, ex metallo purphyretico numero VIII, quas erexit cum epistolis suis et versibus exornavit, et platoma in cymiterio Calisti ubi commemorans nomina episcoporum. Fecit autem scyphos aureos III: un ad sanctum Petrum, qui pens. lib. VI; ad sanctum Paulum unum, qui pens. lib. VI; ad beatum Laurentium I, qui pens. lib. III; calices ministeriales aureos XV pens. sing. lib. singulas.

'He built a monastery at Catacumbas; and he built the font of the baptistery at St Mary’s and adorned it with porphyry columns. In the baptistery of the Constantinian basilica he set up columns, 8 in number; these had been gathered at the time of the emperor Constantine from the porphyry quarry, and he erected them with their entablatures and adorned them with verses; and a tablet in the cemetery of Callixtus on which he recorded the names of the bishops. He provided 3 gold scyphi, one for St Peter’s weighing 6 lb, one for St Paul’s weighing 6 lb, one at St Laurence’s weighing 3 lb; and 15 gold service chalices each weighing 1 lb.'

Text: Duchesne 1886, 89/91 and 232-234. Translation: Davis 2010, 34-36, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Lawrence, martyr of Rome, ob. 258 : S00037 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Peter the Apostle : S00036

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 - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Oil lamps/candles Precious material objects Water basins Inscription


The Liber Pontificalis consists of a series of very 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 basilica of saint Mary, nowadays S. Maria Maggiore, was constructed shortly after the Council of Ephesus which confirmed that Mary should be called the Mother of God (Theotokos). The basilica of St Laurence can be identified modern San Lorenzo fuori le Mura. In this passage the author of the second edition uses for the first time the word confessio which will also appear later on in the notices presenting foundations of Hilarus, Anastasius II, Symmachus, John I, Boniface II, Honorius, and others. It is not evident if this term, used always in reference to the places of the cult of martyrs, had a technical architectural meaning. The author sometimes names the weight of a specific confessio, but his descriptions suggest that it was a monumentalized place of burial of a martyr or deposition of his relics rather than a specific type of construction. It is interesting to remark that the Liber Pontificalis does not use the term martyrium, and its usual Latin equivalent, memoria appears only a few times - in the lives of the 1st- and 2nd-century bishops. Thus it seems that confessio can be used as a synonym for both of these terms; it is actually a good translation of the Greek martyrion, both can be rendered as 'testimony' or 'witness'.


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). Further reading: Krautheimer, R., Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae: The early Christian Basilicas of Rome (IV–IX Centuries), Vatican City 1937–1977 Brandenburg, H., Ancient churches of Rome from the fourth to the seventh century : the dawn of Christian architecture in the West, Turnhout 2005.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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