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E01870: The Martyrdom of *Torpes (martyr of Pisa, S00947) is written in Latin, presumably in Pisa, by the 9th c. at the latest. It narrates the conversion of Torpes, baptised by the presbyter Antonius, his martyrdom in Pisa, and finally the miraculous translation of his body across the sea to 'Portus Sinus' in Hispania where his tomb is said to be located, in a church dedicated to him.

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posted on 2016-09-29, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Torpes (BHL 8307)


§ 1: During his reign, the emperor Nero restores the city of Pisa and decorates the pretorian palace. Close to the porta Latina, near the bridge over the river Auser, Nero builds a temple to Diana with a precious statue of the goddess, where priests regularly celebrate her cult. He then builds a 'bronze sky' supported by 90 marble columns and holes in this sky, of a height of 100 feet, with water flowing through, almost as if rain. The goddess Diana, for whom these wonders are performed, is praised by the keeper of the place, Narzius. Then, two mechanisms are built to imitate the light of the sun during the day and the light of the moon during the night, and a quadriga to imitate thunder. These are destroyed by the Lord.

§ 2: One day, as Nero is praising Diana, Torpes, who is part of his officium, rejects the worship of multiple gods in favour of the single true God. He presents himself as akin to those who Nero killed in Rome and who were crowned by angels. In a dialogue with Nero, Torpes rejects the gods and condemns Nero’s buildings as fiction incomparable to God’s creation, while Nero warns him that he could be punished.

§ 3: Torpes then decides to seek baptism and goes to ask the priest Antonius who is hiding in the mountains. He leaves the city from the porta Lucana, passes by the amphitheatre and comes at night to Antonius. Although Antonius fears him because he works for the emperor, Torpes reassures him, telling him that he has told the emperor that he wants to worship Christ. Now he wants to be baptised. Torpes is baptised at the bottom of the mountains where there is living water. Antonius leaves after baptism, blessing him with the protection of an angel.

§ 4: As Torpes goes back to town, he has a vision: he hears an angel speaking to him in glowing light. At first Torpes is frightened, but the angel tells him that he has been crowned as the only man in town ready to be slapped in the face for Christ; he will be received in paradise and his body will be brought to another province. The angel disappears, Torpes thanks the Lord for sending the angel and prays Him asking for his help in enduring suffering.

§ 5: Torpes comes into town in the morning through the stone gate (porta lapidea) and goes to Nero and his advisors at the forum and predicts to them that they will perish with Diana. As the emperor leaves for Rome in a hurry, where saints who are crowned for Christ are suffering greatly, he asks a certain Satellicus to deal with Torpes and try to convince him to change his mind using torture if necessary. He should kill him by the sword if he refuses to amend. Satellicus puts Torpes in prison and orders that wild beasts should not be fed for three days.

§ 6: Three days later, Satellicus asks Torpes to sacrifice to the gods, in order to be freed. In a dialogue between them, Torpes refuses and tells Satellicus about the angel of Christ that he has seen. Satellicus however does not believe him. Torpes is beaten and tied naked to the habietina column. While he is beaten, blood flows from his side as water from a spring, he prays to God for help and for vengeance: the column falls and fifty unbelievers, amongst them Satellicus, are killed. He is put on a wheel by the ministers of Nero, among whom is Silvinus the angry son of Satellicus.

§ 7: The next day, the people are extremely upset: they remove Torpes from the wheel and bring him to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre. They first send a lion, killed by Torpes with a sign of the cross, then a leopard who licks his wounds. Everyone is amazed, the emperor’s advisor Evellius believes in Christ and flees to Rome where he is martyred on the fifth day before the Calends of May [= 27 April]. Torpes then leaves the amphitheatre and, under the bronze sky of the temple, asks God to send his angel to destroy it. The angel comes as a thundestorm, destroying the bronze sky and 24 columns, killing several pagans. From that day, many start doubting the cult of idols.

§ 8: Then Silvinus orders that Torpes should be killed by the sword: he is to be brought to the porta Romana but asks to meet his friend Andronicus first. As they all arrive at his house, Torpes asks Andronicus to follow him and bury his body after his death, but the ministers of Nero refuse so that the prophecy of the angel might be fulfilled (‘I will bring your body to another province’). They leave town through the porta Circensis and take a small boat on the river, the ministers holding Torpes to avoid him jumping into the river. Meanwhile, Silvinus decides in the forum in front of many pagans that Torpes should be beheaded at sea to avoid any chance of him surviving. He sends this order to those who are leading Torpes. When they reach the Arno delta (Gradus Arnense), Torpes is decapitated.

§ 9: The ministri leave him to drift at sea on a small and damaged boat with a dog and a cock until they lose sight of it. They return to the city and tell what happened. The angel brings the boat to 'portus Sinus' on the sea-shore, the dog protecting the body and the cock guiding the way. The angel then visits the matrona and senatrix Celerina asking her while she is sleeping to go to the coast at portus Sinus and bury the body of Torpes. Celerina wakes up and thanks God. The next day, she gathers a huge crowd of priests and people. Fasting, they all go to the sea but fail to find the body. Celerina prays to God, hears the cock crowing and finds the boat with the body, the dog and the cock. The priests and people are amazed: they take the body, wrap it in clean linen cloth and bring it into portus Sinus. Celerina embalms the body with perfume and places it in a tomb (locus). Celerina who rules 'half of Spain' (medietas Hispaniæ), builds a great and adorned church. On the day of the dedication of the church, many are healed and freed from evil spirits as they pray to the body, and wonders occur up to this day. Celerina also endowed the church with money and in our day people still gather there.

§10 : Fifteen years later, all provinces rejoice because of Nero's death, as they all believe in Jesus Christ. A member of his officium, Artemius, who has already been baptised, comes to Sinus, enters the church and prays at the body. Unaware of the saint’s name, he asks the inhabitants who tell him that it is Torpes. He realises that it is the same Torpes who suffered in Pisa. He asks the Lord to forgive him for what he has done, following the orders of unjust pagans, since he was present when Torpes was killed. The inhabitants ask him to tell them what happened. Since Artemius is skilled in letters, he sits and dictates the story of Torpes and his martyrdom. Torpes’ feast is celebrated on the third day before the Calends of May [= 29 April].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Mai., IV, 7-10 Summary: M. Pignot


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Torpes, martyr of Pisa : S00947 Evellius, martyred in Rome : S00949

Saint Name in Source

Torpes Evellius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Pisa Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Procession

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Meetings and gatherings of the clergy

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Punishing miracle Miracle after death Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities Miracles experienced by the saint Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light Invisibility, bilocation, miraculous travels Miracle during lifetime

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Officials Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Monarchs and their family Crowds Angels Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Construction of cult building to contain relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Torpes of Pisa is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the great persecutions of Christians that provide the background of the narrative. It is part of a widely spread literary genre, that scholars often designate as "epic" Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, short and more plausible accounts, apparently based on the genuine transcripts of the judicial proceedings against the martyrs. These texts narrate the martyrdom of local saints, either to promote a new cult or to give further impulse to existing devotion. They follow widespread stereotypes mirroring the early authentic trials of martyrs, but with a much greater degree of detail and in a novelistic style. Thus they narrate how the protagonists are repeatedly questioned and tortured under the order of officials or monarchs, because they refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods but profess the Christian faith. They frequently refer to miracles performed by the martyrs and recreate dialogues between the protagonists. The narrative generally ends with the death of the martyrs (often by beheading) and their burial. These texts are literary creations bearing a degree of freedom in the narration of supposedly historical events, often displaying clear signs of anachronism. For these reasons, they have been generally dismissed as historical evidence and often remain little known. However, since most certainly date from within the period circa 400-800, often providing unique references to cult, they are an essential source to shed new light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Torpes The earliest manuscripts containing our text (BHL 8307) are from the 9th century: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes 14, f. 1r; Vatican City, Palat. lat. 846, f. 84r-86r (9th-10th c.). There are more than 25 other extant manuscripts containing our text, ranging from the 10th to the 15th century.


There is no clear early evidence for cult of Torpes outside our text (the earliest other well-attested source is an eleventh-century reference to a now-lost church dedicated to Torpes in the region of Pisa, see Susi). An inscription added to an ivory diptych preserved in Lucca provides uncertain but perhaps relevant further evidence (CIL XI, 8137 originally made for Areobindus Dagalaiphus, consul in 506, see Mardindale, J. R., (ed.), Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1980), 143-144). This inscription consists of a fragmentary list of saints, perhaps including Torpes (only the first three letters ‘tor’ have been read), in Lombard cursive minuscule, perhaps from the sixth or seventh century (see Guidi, P., “La liste inédite des diptyques de la liturgie de Lucques à l’époque lombarde”, Revue bénédictine 30 (1913), 208-218). It has to be underlined that it appears clearly from the Martyrdom that Torpes' body was not in Pisa at the time of writing and that no reference is made in the text to the development of cult of Torpes in the city. It can only be said that the author was probably familiar with the landscape of Pisa, as he provides detailed references to place names and buildings; he particularly describes city gates, Roman temples and statues that he attributes to Nero, perhaps on the basis of his own observation of ruins or according to local traditions (see a discussion of topography with reference to modern archaeological finds in Susi). He also emphasises the links between Torpes and heremitic Christianity on nearby mountains (perhaps the Monte Pisano). The author shows as well connections to Rome, where a certain Evellius (unknown otherwise) is said to have been martyred. Dufourcq has suggested that the cult of Torpes, which is attested during the Middle Ages in Pisa and Genova, as well as in Sardegna, may have spread initially along the via Aurelia, as happened for a number of other saints. Susi rather emphasises a specific political context (the 8th century) explaining why the author would have had interest in promoting connections to papal Rome over local episcopal hierarchy. The date of composition of the Martyrdom, however, is most uncertain. It was certainly written by the 9th century at the latest, when the earliest manuscripts preserved were copied, and when it was borrowed from by Ado and Hrabanus Maurus in their martyrologies. However, it remains particularly difficult to suggest a more accurate dating because of the lack of clear corroborating evidence. Most scholars, following or refining an early hypothesis of Lanzoni based on weak parallels with other Italian martyrdom accounts, suggest that the Martyrdom was written between the 5th and 7th century (see Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2240 and a summary of hypotheses in Susi). Noting that there is no evidence of cult of Torpes in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, Susi puts forward the questionable hypothesis that the Martyrdom should have been written after it (more precisely after the recensions B and W), thus in the second half of the 8th century, further suggesting that the troubled last years of Lombard rule would provide a plausible context of writing. The most intriguing feature of this text is the combination of extensive references to local Pisan topography (but not to cult of Torpes in the city), with a detailed narrative of the translation of Torpes' body to an unknown place called portus Sinus, where cult of Torpes develops. His body is said to be collected there and buried, and a church built by the aristocrat Celerina, 'ruling over half of Spain (Hispania)'. This puzzling travelling cult has led scholars to propose various locations for Torpes' shrine; Férotin identified Portus Sinus with the bay of Cadiz (sinus Gaditanus) and Torpes with a Spanish virgin and martyr named Treptes venerated in Astigi, north of Cadiz. However, this improbable hypothesis has been rightly questioned (see a summary of these hypotheses with bibliography in Susi). Papebroch, on the other hand, in the introduction to the Acta Sanctorum, particularly suggested a connection to the later developing cult of St Tropez in Provence (first attested in the 11th century), identifying the Hispania mentioned in the Martyrdom with the Hispania citerior corresponding to Gallia Narbonensis in late antiquity. However, it has to be underlined that St Tropez lies well beyond the river Rhône, marking the western frontier of Gallia Narbonensis. Nevertheless, Susi favours and reinforces the same hypothesis, emphasising that a certain Celerina, from the gens Pompeia, wife of a prominent member of the gens Venuleia at the time of Nero, attested in particular in an inscription from the area of Pisa (CIL XI, 1735 see, and with connections to Hispania citerior, may have provided the inspiration for the hagiographers’ account of the translation of Torpes’ body and its burial by Celerina in Hispania. This noteworthy hypothesis, however, is partly weakened by the fact that Celerina was a quite common name well-attested across the western part of the Roman Empire. Susi himself notes that a martyr Celerina is attested in Carthage. However, he argues, rather improbably, that the hagiographer evoked Celerina not only as the Roman matrona of Nero’s time, but also to provide a connection to Africa and to point to the African origin of Torpes’ cult (one wonders why, then, he did not explicitly refer to an African origin). Despite the lack of any evidence to demonstrate this, Susi argues that Torpes’ cult would have originated in Africa, before being imported in Provence and then to Pisa, perhaps in connection to Lombard expeditions in the area in the 8th century that would have brought Torpes’ relics to Pisa. Moreover, Susi argues that the portus Sinus refers to the Portus Pisanus at the delta of the river Arno, and thus that the hagiographer would have simply described the travel of Torpes’ body from Pisa to the nearby sea and not to a foreign country. The author would have been aimed, by setting Torpes cult in that area, at claiming the authority of Pisan leaders over these disputed lands. Nevertheless, in view of the state of the evidence, these hypotheses are difficult to demonstrate. The clear emphasis of the Martyrdom on the absence of relics in Pisa at the time when the hagiographer wrote (presumably in the same city), as well as the story of Torpes’ translation and references to relics and cult in a foreign country, described as Hispania, would be worth further study.


Editions (BHL 8307): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 620-623. The original edition was published in c. 1480. Acta Sanctorum, Mai., IV, 7-10. Further reading: Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, vol. 3 (Paris, 1907), 205-211. Gordini, G.D., "Torpes," Bibliotheca Sanctorum 12 (1969), 628-629. Grégoire, R., “Aspetti culturali della letteratura agiografica toscana,” in: Atti del 5o Congresso Internazionale di studi sull’alto medioevo, Lucca 3-7 ottobre 1971 (Spoleto, 1973), 569-625. Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie. I. Les Passions latines composées en Italie", in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 301. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d'Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo VII (Faenza, 1927), vol. 2, 598-603. Lazzarini, P., Storia della chiesa di Lucca (Lucca, 1968), volume 1: "Dalle origini al Concilio Trullano," 323-237. Susi, E., “La barca di san Torpé. Strategie agiografiche e cultuali nella ‘Passio sancti Torpetis’ (BHL 8307),” in: Susi, E., Santi, porti e reliquie. Agiografia e culto lungo la costa tirrenica nell’alto medioevo (Spoleto, 2016), 167-251. Vocino, G., “L’Agiografia dell’Italia centrale (750-950),” in: Goullet, M. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. VII (Turnhout, 2017), 95-268, at 114-116.

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