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E01915: The Martyrdom of *Alexander (martyr of Bergamo, S01121) is written in Latin, in three variant versions, probably in Bergamo (northern Italy), at an uncertain date, but by the 9th c. at the latest. A prologue, in two versions, defends and promotes the veneration of martyrs and their stories. The longest version narrates conversions performed by Maternus, bishop of Milan, including that of *Fidelis (martyr of Summus Lacus, S01484); together they visit imprisoned Christians, Alexander (a member of the Theban legion), Cassius, Severus, Secundus and Licinius in Milan; this triggers the conversion of the soldiers *Carpophorus and Exantius (martyrs of Como, S01485); all travel to Como and resurrect a man on the way; then Alexander leaves them. All versions agree for the final part: Alexander is arrested, flees to Bergamo and is found and executed after long prayers of blessings, and buried near the walls of Bergamo, where miracles still happen.

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posted on 2016-10-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Alexander (BHL 275, 276, 277)


Among the three main variant versions of the Martyrdom, the earliest, according to Savio and Lanéry would be BHL 277, while BHL 275 and BHL 276 are closely related to each other. As at least BHL 276 and BHL 277 are attested in 9th c. evidence, we here provide a summary of each of these versions, and a brief comparison of BHL 276 with BHL 275, to better highlight their relation and specific content.

BHL 277:


§§ 1-2: Prologue starting with the words ‘Supplicationibus catholicae fidei devotione sobrie, ac disciplinaliter oblatis’, and serving as an introduction defending the orthodoxy of the martyrdom account. It more broadly promotes the reading of trustworthy martyrdom accounts, and exhorts the audience to venerate the martyrs appropriately on their feast day and to follow their example.

§§ 3-4: At the time of the emperor Maximian, who persecutes Christians, the bishop of Milan, Maternus, leads many to become Christians and abandon the idols and pagan temples. He takes care of the teaching of Christians. The son of a senator, named Fidelis, becomes a disciple of Maternus and is instructed by him. Maternus and Fidelis take care of, and comfort, the holy martyrs under arrest. They hear that the primipilarius of the sacred legion, Alexander, is kept chained in prison in Milan together with Cassius, Severus, Secundus and Licinius. Fidelis, together with Maternus, visits them and exhorts them to ask Christ to grant that he may share martyrdom with them.

§§ 5-6: The guardian of the prison, Sillanus, hears this and tells everything to the emperor in the palace. There, two most noble soldiers, Carpophorus (Carpoforus) and Exantius (Exantus), hear what is being told about the prisoners, are amazed by such devotion, and ask to be brought to the prison. Sillanus agrees. When Carpophorus and Exantius arrive, they greet the saints by granting them peace, and these reply likewise, addressing them as soldiers of Christ. They all rejoice, kiss and comfort each other, eagerly awaiting eternal paradise. Carpophorus and Exantius go back to the palace, reject the idols and start adoring God, creator of all things.

§ 7: The emperor Maximian sends his soldiers to fight in Gaul. The next day he orders a tribunal to be prepared in the hippodrome of the circus, and the saints Alexander, sign-bearer (signiferus) of the legion of Mauritius [= Maurice, commander of the Theban legion], Cassius, Severus, Secundus, and Licinius to be brought before him. He gives them the choice either to sacrifice or be killed with tortures. They reject the worship of idols, stating that they offer themselves as a sacrifice to God. Maximian orders them to be sent to prison, waiting to see how he will kill them.

§§ 8-10: Carpophorus, Exantius and Fidelis go to the prison and they all decide to go to the city of Como. The saints leave the city of Milan at night and reach a village (vicus) not far from the city where they stay until dawn. At dawn, they see a body on a litter about to be buried. Alexander orders it to be set down and tells his companions that they should pray to the Lord to resurrect the dead man and bring him to believe. They prostrate themselves on the ground and adore God with a prayer asking for the man to be resurrected and to believe. The man arises and with a loud voice proclaims that there is only one true God, whom the saints worship and who has resurrected him through their prayers. The martyrs thank God with great joy and, having given the sign [of the cross] to the man, send him to be baptised by bishop Maternus. He is received by the bishop, who initiates (catechizare) and baptises him. From then, he kept faith in God. The saints continue on their way and reach a village (vicus) not far from Como, at a place called Silvula, and hide there. Alexander leaves his brothers Cassius, Severus, Secundus, Licinius, Carpophorus and Exantius and takes another way. Maximian sends his soldiers, telling them to quickly bring him any martyrs of Christ that they find. They find Alexander and bring him back to the walls of Milan and before Maximian.

Then the text follows, with variants, the same narrative as BHL 276 summarised below, starting from Maximian’ interrogation of Alexander in § 3. Only the story of Alexander’s flight bears noteworthy differences: in BHL 277 Alexander is said to cross the river Addua to reach a place near Bergamo called Plotacium where he is to be martyred; whereas in BHL 276 he first hides near Bergamo before being brought to Plotatio, a statue that has this name, before which Alexander is asked to offer sacrifice. BHL 277 also has variants in the text of the blessings pronounced by Alexander.

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Aug., V, 806-807 for the original part here summarised with corresponding paragraph numbers; for the full text see Grazioli (1735), 181-197. Summary: M. Pignot

BHL 276:

§§ 1-2: Introductory prologue starting with the words “Cum omnium beatorum Christi martyrum merito bella victricia”, promoting the appropriate veneration of the martyrs. The audience is exhorted to follow the example of the martyrs by leading an impeccable life, particularly those of whom relics are possessed, among which is Alexander, whose feast is said to be celebrated on the day when this introduction is pronounced.

§ 3: At the time of the emperor Maximian, there is a great persecution against Christians. At that time Alexander is baptised. Hearing about this, after 15 days, Maximian orders Alexander to be brought before him. He asks Alexander to sacrifice to the gods, so that he may return to their worship, which he abandoned by becoming Christian.

§§ 4-5: Alexander refuses to sacrifice and says that he is ready to die for his faith, not fearing any suffering. He exhorts Maximian to believe, states his faith, rejects the worship of the gods, and overturns the table that was readied for the performance of sacrifices.

§§ 6-7: Maximian hands him over to one of his ministers to be killed. However the minister, named Martianus, is unable to kill him. Alexander is handed over to others to be killed. However, he escapes, leaves Milan and reaches the place where he will be martyred, next to the city of Bergamo (Bergamus) on a small estate that is called praetoria. He is soon taken by ministers of Maximian, who bring him bound before a statue named Plotatio, where they aim to try to compel him to sacrifice, and kill him if he refuses.

§§ 8-9: When he arrives there, Alexander asks for water to be brought to him, washes his hands, kneels and pronounces a long series of blessings to the Lord. After the end of the blessings, he hands his spirit to the Lord and is beheaded. After some days a most chaste matrona named Grata comes, finds the body and brings it to her small estate, near the walls of Bergamo, where she buries it. Alexander suffered under Maximian on the seventh day before the Calends of September [= 26 August] and is buried next to the walls of the city of Bergamo. In that place the Lord shows wonders and fulfils vows.

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Aug., V, 803-805. Summary: M. Pignot.

BHL 275 is another shorter version, providing the same narrative as BHL 276 with a number of minor variants and some significant omissions. BHL 275 notably omits the prologue, then Alexander’s flight from Milan and his travel to Bergamo. In BHL 275, immediately after Maximian’s minister fails to kill Alexander, he is handed over to other ministers, says his prayers of blessing, which are related but shorter and different from those of BHL 276, and is beheaded. BHL 275 ends with the same details about Alexander’s burial and feast day. More generally, compared to BHL 275, BHL 276 has a stronger emphasis on the doctrine of grace, and seems more concerned with theological controversies (this is discussed by Dufourcq, see our bibliography).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Alexander, martyr of Bergamo : S01121 Fidelis, martyr of Summus Lacus near Como : S01484 Exantius and Carpophorus, martyrs of Como : S01485

Saint Name in Source

Alexander Fidelis Exantus, Carpoforus

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)

Bergamo Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over life and death Miracle after death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Aristocrats Soldiers Monarchs and their family Officials Women

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Alexander 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 novel-like 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 Alexander There are three alternative versions of the Martyrdom, BHL 275, 276 and 277. BHL 277 is the longest and makes Alexander a member of the famous Theban legion (otherwise martyred at Agaune in Gaul), while BHL 275 and 276 are shorter and narrate Alexander’s martyrdom on its own. However, all three versions share, with some differences, the final part about Maximian’s interrogation of Alexander, the blessings he pronounced, his martyrdom and his burial. The database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( lists 6 manuscripts of BHL 275 starting from the 12th century, 11 manuscripts of BHL 276 starting from the 11th century, and 1 manuscript of BHL 277 from the 12th century. However, Gavinelli identified Intra, Archivio Capitolare, 12 (10) f. 93r-95r, from the late 9th century, as the earliest manuscript of BHL 275. Moreover, a portion of Alexander’s prayer in BHL 276 is attested in another 9th c. manuscript: Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale, Sessorianus 95, f. 97v-99r (see Dolbeau). Nevertheless, Savio, followed by Lanéry, argues that BHL 277 should be the earliest, originating in a broader, later fragmented, hagiographical cycle about martyrs of the Theban legend. BHL 276 and BHL 277 are also preceded by two different prologues, which point to controversy about the cult of the martyrs and especially the reading and copying of martyrdom accounts, about which see more in De Gaiffier. The transmission of the various versions of the Martyrdom would require further study.


The Martyrdom in its various recensions is of uncertain date, but was written by the 9th century at the latest. It is dated to the 6th century in repertories of Latin sources, broadly following Dufourcq’s hypothesis (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2162; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 51). Primarily on the basis of content, in particular theological concerns relating to Christian polemics of late Antiquity, Dufourcq thought that BHL 275 was the earliest form, written in the 5th century, while BHL 276 would date from the first quarter of the 6th century and BHL 277 from the Lombard or Carolingian period. Lanéry, however, following Spinelli’s conclusions, notes that veneration of Alexander may originate from the homonymous Anaunian martyr, whose cult would have been introduced in Bergamo in the 7th century. Following an hypothesis already put forward by Savio, Lanéry argues that BHL 277 would be the earliest version, the Martyrdom being originally part of a broader hagiographical cycle about Alexander and including other martyrs of the Theban legion and their martyrdom accounts (Fidelis, Exantius and Carpophorus, see E04651 and E04652), from which the BHL 277 Martyrdom would have been extracted and later shortened and reworked (BHL 275-276). While for Spinelli it would date from from the 9th century, Savio and Lanéry suggest that it might have been written in the 8th century. Lanéry underlines that the Martyrdom (BHL 277) is known to Florus of Lyons in his martyrology (see Quentin, Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 282-283). It should be added that there is 9th c. manuscript evidence for both BHL 275 and BHL 276.


Editions: BHL 275: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 51-52 (original edition published c. 1480). BHL 276: Acta Sanctorum, Aug. V, 803-805. BHL 277: Grazioli, P., De praeclaris Mediolani aedificiis (Milan, 1735), 181-197. Further reading: Dolbeau, F., “Prier avec les mots des saints dans l’Occident médiéval,” in Cottier, J.-F. (ed.), La prière en latin de l’Antiquité au XVIe siècle. Formes, évolutions, significations. (Table rond, Nice, 10-11 mai 2001) (Turnhout, 2006), 419-440. Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, vol. 2 (Paris, 1907), 162-163. De Gaiffier, B., “Un prologue hagiographique hostile au décret de Gélase,” Analecta Bollandiana 82 (1964), 341-353. Gavinelli, S., “Per una edizione della “Vita Sancti Gaudentii”: i codici carolingi,” Hagiographica 8 (2001), 35-86, at 62. Lanéry, C., “Hagiographie d'Italie (300-550). 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), 15-369, at 322-323. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 vols. (1927), 971. Pagani, L., (ed.), Bergamo e S. Alessandro: storia, culto, luoghi (Bergamo, 1999). Savio, F., “La légende des SS. Fidèle, Carpophore et autres martyrs,” Analecta Bollandiana 21 (1902), 29-39. Spinelli, G., “Alessandro d’Anaunia, Alessandro di Brescia, Alessandro di Bergamo: un unico martire?”, in Grégoire, R. (ed.), L’Anaunia e i suoi martiri. XVI Centenario dei martiri d’Anaunia, 397-1997 (Trento, 1997), 205-237.

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