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E01675: Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of *Makrina (ascetic S00899), of the early 380s, refers to the shrine of the *Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (S00103), built on his family estate in Pontus (northern Asia Minor). It contains the tomb of his parents and of Makrina (Gregory's sister). Written in Greek in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor).

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posted on 2016-06-28, 00:00 authored by erizos
Gregory of Nyssa, Life of *Makrina (CPG 3166, BHG 1012)

For the context of this passage, see E01660


ἑπτὰ δὲ ὄντων ἢ ὀκτὼ τῶν ἐν μέσῳ σταδίων ἀπὸ τῆς ἐσχατιᾶς ἐπὶ τὸν τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων οἶκον, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὰ τῶν γονέων ἀπέκειτο σώματα, διὰ πάσης σχεδὸν τῆς διὰ πάσης σχεδὸν τῆς ἡμέρας μόλις τὴν ὁδὸν διηνύσαμεν. οὐ γὰρ εἴα τὸ πλῆθος τό τε συνερχόμενον καὶ τὸ ἀεὶ προσγινόμενον κατὰ γνώμην τὴν πρόοδον γίνεσθαι. ἐπειδὴ οὖν ἐντὸς τῶν θυρῶν τοῦ οἴκου κατέστημεν, ἀποθεμένοι τὴν κλίνην τὰ πρῶτα εἰς προσευχὴν ἐτρεπόμεθα· ἡ δὲ εὐχὴ θρήνων γίνεται ἀφορμὴ τῷ λαῷ. τῆς γὰρ ψαλμῳδίας κατασιγασθείσης ἐπειδὴ τὸ ἱερὸν ἐκεῖνο πρόσωπον αἱ παρθένοι προσέβλεψαν καὶ ἡ σορὸς ἤδη τῶν γονέων ἀπεκαλύπτετο, ἐν ᾗ καταθέσθαι δεδογμένον ἦν, μιᾶς τινος ἀτάκτως ἐκβοησάσης, ὅτι οὐκέτι μετὰ τὴν ὥραν ταύτην τὸ θεοειδὲς τοῦτο προσβλέψομεν πρόσωπον, ὡς καὶ αἱ λοιπαὶ παρθένοι τὸ ἴσον μετ᾽ αὐτῆς ἐξεβόησαν, σύγχυσις ἄτακτος τὴν εὔτακτον ἐκείνην καὶ ἱεροπρεπῆ ψαλμῳδίαν διέχεε, πάντων πρὸς τὴν τῶν παρθένων οἰμωγὴν ἐπικλασθέντων.

35.13 – 36.5

[…] καὶ οὕτως ὑποκρυφθέντων τῇ σινδόνι τῶν σωμάτων ἀράμενοι τῆς κλίνης τὸ ἱερὸν ἐκεῖνο σῶμα ἐγώ τε καὶ ὁ μνημονευθεὶς τῶν τόπων ἐπίσκοπος τῇ μητρὶ παρακατεκλίναμεν κοινὴν ἀμφοτέραις πληροῦντες εὐχήν. τοῦτο γὰρ παρὰ πᾶσαν τὴν ζωὴν συμφώνως ἀμφότεραι τὸν θεὸν ᾐτοῦντο, ἀνακραθῆναι μετὰ τὸν θάνατον ἀλλήλοις τὰ σώματα καὶ τὴν κατὰ τὸν βίον ἐν τῇ ζωῇ κοινωνίαν μηδὲ ἐπὶ τῷ θανάτῳ διαζευχθῆναι. Ἐπεὶ δὲ πάντα ἡμῖν τὰ ἐν τῇ κηδείᾳ νενομισμένα πεπλήρωτο καὶ ἔδει πάλιν τῆς ἐπανόδου γενέσθαι, ἐπιπεσὼν τῷ τάφῳ καὶ τὴν κόνιν ἀσπασάμενος εἰχόμην πάλιν τῆς ὁδοῦ κατηφής τε καὶ δεδακρυμένος, λογιζόμενος ὅσου ἀγαθοῦ διεζεύχθη ὁ βίος.

‘Although the distance between the retreat and the house of the holy martyrs, where the bodies of our parents also lay, was seven or eight stades, it took us almost the entire day to get there, and that with difficulty, because the crowd both of those following and those constantly joining the procession, did not allow us to proceed as we wished. At last, when we entered the doors of the house, we put down the bier, and turned first to prayer. The prayer, however, became a signal to the people for lamentations. For, when during a lull in the psalmody the virgins gazed on that holy face, and the tomb of our parents, where it had been decided that she would be laid, was already being uncovered, a woman cried out impulsively that “from this hour on we shall be seeing this godlike face no more!” [……]

[The sarcophagus of Gregory’s parents is opened for Makrina’s burial, and the corpses covered with a cloth]

‘And, once the bodies had been covered like this under the sheet, I and the aforementioned bishop of the district lifted that hallowed body from the bier, and laid it out beside her mother, thus fulfilling a common wish of them both. For, throughout their lives, both of them had been unanimously requesting this thing from God, that their bodies should be reunited with each other after death, and that the sharing of their way in life should not be broken even after death. And, when all the rites of the funeral had been performed and I had to set off for my journey home, I cast myself on the tomb, embraced the dust, and took the road again, sad and in tears, pondering how much goodness my life had been severed from.’

Text: Maraval 1971
Translation: Silvas 2008 (modified)


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Makrina the Younger, ascetic in Pontus, ob. 379 : S00899 Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint Literary - Letters


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Nȳsa Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nyssa

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Burial ad sanctos

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats Ecclesiastics - bishops Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - dust/sand/earth


Gregory of Nyssa was born in the late 330s as one of the youngest of a leading Christian family of Cappadocia. His siblings included important figures of church life, namely Basil of Caesarea, the ascetic Makrina the Younger, and Peter of Sebaste. Gregory was trained in philosophy and rhetoric mainly by his brother Basil, who, in 371 or 372 ordained him bishop of the Cappadocian township of Nyssa. In 376, Gregory was deposed from his see, to which he was able to return in 378, and, from then onwards, he was one of the protagonists of church politics in the East Roman Empire. He played an important role during the Council of Constantinople (381) and was very close to the imperial family of Theodosius I. He was sent on missions to Armenia and Arabia in order settle problems in local churches. Gregory died after 394. He left a large literary heritage on philosophical, theological, ascetical, catechetical and homiletic works. Gregory probably wrote the Life of Makrina in winter 381/2, over three years after his sister’s death (which probably occurred on 19 July 378). The manuscript tradition of the text is analysed by Silvas 2008, 93-99. For a list of the 44 manuscripts see: (accessed 02/02/2017)


The description of the burial of Makrina is one of the most emotional scenes of the text. Descriptions of public mourning at the funerals of illustrious people were important parts of eulogies, widely present in the Christian oratory of the time, e.g. the orations of Gregory of Nazianzus on Basil of Caesarea and Athanasius (E01177 and E01235). The funeral of Makrina, of course, was an occasion of special emotional weight for the author, since he participated in it as a bishop officiating at the funeral of his sister who was buried in the tomb of their parents. The description of the burial is particularly interesting, because it seems to suggest (though not with certainty) that the family tomb was located within the martyrion of the Forty Martyrs, the dedication of which Gregory mentions in his second oration on the Forty Martyrs (E01299), mentioning that the shrine housed a casket with relics of the martyrs, and that his parents were buried on the site. The final phrase of this passage, referring to the way Gregory embraced and venerated the tomb of his parents and sister is particularly important for our understanding of certain practices of the cult of relics. His reference to the dust (konis) of the tomb recalls sepulchral epigrams of Gregory of Nazianzus (E00339), and, of course, the practice of taking dust from the tombs of martyrs for blessing (e.g. E01747). It was very probably a funerary custom demonstrating the affection of friends and relatives for the departed, which, in the context of the cult of saints, acquired the meaning of a devotional practice, seeking the blessing of a saint.


Text and French Translation: Maraval, P. Grégoire De Nysse, Vie De Sainte Macrine. Sources Chrétiennes. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1971. English translation, comments, bibliography: Silvas, Anna. Macrina the Younger, Philosopher of God. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008. Further Reading: Duval, Y. Auprès des saints corps et âme. L’inhumation « ad sanctos » dans la chrétienté d’Orient et d’Occident du IIIe au VIIe siècle. Paris : Etudes Augistiniennes, 1988. Elm, S., Virgins of God: the Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, 78-105. Ludlow, M., Gregory of Nyssa, Ancient and (Post)modern, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, 202-219. On Gregory of Nyssa: Dörrie, H., “Gregor III,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 12 (1983), 863-895. Maraval, P., ‘Grégoire, évêque de Nysse’, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 22 (1988): 20–4. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 1-57.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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