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E01987: The Martyrdom of *Nabor and Felix (soldiers and martyrs, buried in Milan, S00609) is written in Latin, presumably originally in Milan, probably in the 5th or 6th c., in a number of divergent versions. It narrates how these soldier brothers are arrested in Milan, questioned, tortured and brought to Lodi, where they are executed. Their bodies are brought back to Milan and buried there (the return of the bodies to Milan is omitted in one version of the text).

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posted on 2016-11-04, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix (BHL 6029)


§§ 1-3: There is a persecution of Christians in Milan under Maximian. Denounced as Christians, the soldier brothers Nabor and Felix are presented to the emperor. Maximian questions Nabor who states his belief in Christ and is put in jail. Then Felix is similarly interrogated and ignores the threats of Maximian, who wants him to sacrifice to the gods. He is put in jail with Nabor, close to the circus near the Porta Ticinensis. They stay in jail for twelve days without bread or water, then are brought to Maximian in the circus. After failing to convince them to sacrifice, Maximian orders his advisor Anolinus to torture them the next day if they still refuse to sacrifice. Anolinus questions them but they still refuse to sacrifice.

§§ 4-5: They are again sent to jail, close to the Porta Romana, for five days. Again refusing to sacrifice, they are tortured. Nabor keeps professing the Christian faith and is put on a rack. He stays firm and states that Anolinus may harm his body but not his soul. Anolinus then asks Felix to explain why Nabor does not yield to torture.

§§ 6-8: Felix tells Anolinus about Christ’s incarnation and life as narrated in the Gospels, particularly referring to the miracles performed, and ending with the passion and resurrection. He summarises it as the Christian faith, which does not suffer any harm from torture.

§ 9: Anolinus claims that his god Jupiter is the true god while Felix’s god was crucified. Felix replies that Jupiter is an adulterer, rapist, parricide; believing in him leads to eternal fire. Anolinus tears his tunic and orders that they should be thrown into fire; however, they are unharmed and are again put in jail.

§ 10: Some days later, the emperor comes to Lodi; he asks that the saints should be brought to him. After the third day, outside the city, they are asked to sacrifice and abandon magic. When they resist, they are beaten and beheaded at the gates of the city close to the river Exelera (or Scilera/Silara).

Et illi, licet terræ se dederunt, nostra tamen sinu suo suscipere et condere meruit terra reliquias: et sicut olim maternus eos in hac luce edidit uterus, ita et nostræ terræ venter resurrecturos perpetuam perducet ad palmam.

'And although they gave themselves in that land, our land was worthy of receiving and burying their relics in its bosom, and as once the womb of their mother gave them birth, so the belly of our land will bring them to the eternal crown at their resurrection'
[Passage not found in BHL 6028].

A matrona from Lodi, Sabina, steals their bodies and brings them back to Milan where they are buried.

§ 11: The merits of the saints shine in the whole world. Their feast day should be celebrated and lead us to imitate their example. Nabor and Felix were martyred on 12 July under Maximian.

Text: Mombritius (1910) II, 289-291; Acta Sanctorum, Iul. III, 292-294 (adds paragraph numbers) and Paredi (1960), 88-96. Summary and translation: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nabor and Felix, martyrs in Lodi, ob. c. 303-305 : S00609

Saint Name in Source

Nabor, Felix

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 Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Milan Lodi

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

Milan Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia Lodi Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Soldiers Women Monarchs and their family Officials

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix 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 widespread literary genre, that scholars often designate as 'epic' Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, shorter 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 light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix The Martyrdom was clearly written by someone familiar with Milan, providing details about the topography of the city. There are a number of slightly divergent versions of the text. The most common is BHL 6029, with more than forty extant manuscripts preserved, mostly from Italy, the earliest being from the 9th century (Stuttgart, Würtemberg. Landesbibl., HB XIV.14, f. 66v-68): see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( for a list and the additional list in Lanéry 2010, 259-260 n. 552. The other variant versions (BHL 6028, 6029b, 6029c) are less common. BHL 6028 is a rare version preserved in only three manuscripts (two from the 15th century). It is a shorter account with less detail and less emphasis on the return of the martyrs’ relics to Milan, omitting for instance the name of the matrona bringing back the bodies. BHL 6029b, a variant version of BHL 6029, is widespread in Italy with around fifteen manuscripts preserved; it bears a different epilogue which states that the matrona Savina actually buried the bodies in Lodi shortly after their death. Both BHL 6028 and BHL 6029b are preserved in early manuscripts (for BHL 6028: Intra, Biblioteca dell’Archivio Capitolare 12 (10), f. 68v-72r (9th c.) on which see Gavinelli (2001), 60-62; for BHL 6029b: Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 5771, f. 76v-78v (9th-10th c.)). BHL 6029c, another variant of BHL 6029, is only preserved in the 15th century legendary of Hermann Greven, on which see De Gaiffier 1936. Lanéry 2010, 259-260 argues that BHL 6029 is the earliest version, while the others are reworked, shorter and simplified versions. The simplification of the epilogue in BHL 6029b, according to Lanéry would have facilitated the circulation of the text outside Milan across Carolingian Europe. However, the briefer character of BHL 6028 and the omission of the return of the bodies to Milan in BHL 6029b can also be read differently. They could shed light on BHL 6029 as an expanded Milanese version more firmly grounding the veneration of Nabor and Felix in Milan, to claim the primacy of the cult in that city (a hypothesis already found in Borella (1960), 242). Moreover, the manuscript transmission shows that BHL 6029 had greater success than the other versions, thus contradicting Lanéry’s argument about simplification to facilitate circulation outside Milan. This issue therefore has to remain open until further research is carried out on all versions. BHL 6028 was published in the Acta Sanctorum, together with BHL 6029, first published by Mombritius and reedited by Paredi; BHL 6029b and 6029c are still unpublished (except for their beginning and end, which are recorded in BHL) and we have not consulted them in full in the manuscripts.


There is little evidence to date accurately the Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix. A Milanese liturgical preface, difficult to date, is dedicated to them and clearly borrows from the version BHL 6029 of the Martyrdom (Paredi 1937 suggested a dating of c. 450, but this remains uncertain; a similar example, with the same issues about the dating of the prefaces is discussed in E01916). Moreover, Ambrose refers to the martyrs in a hymn and in his commentary on Luke (E05214) in quite generic terms but corroborates the Martyrdom, especially the version BHL 6029. Both Ambrose and BHL 6029 particularly emphasise the Milanese roots of their cult. There is no evidence that Ambrose had knowledge of the Martyrdom in any of its versions, but the bishop, like the hagiographers, seems to draw on a common Milanese tradition. Lanéry 2008, 267 (and again in Lanéry 2010, 260) argues, however, that the authors of the Martyrdom may have been influenced by Ambrose: she finds that BHL 6029 may have borrowed from Ambrose. Finally, the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (10 July, E04877) clearly refers to written evidence (acta) narrating how the bodies of Nabor and Felix were brought to Milan, perhaps alluding either to BHL 6028 or BHL 6029. From all this evidence, and if Lanéry's suggestion that the hagiographers borrowed from Ambrose is accepted, it may be said that the Martyrdom was probably composed after Ambrose, and before the Martyrologium Hieronymianum in its preserved form, thus in the 5th or 6th century. It remains to be ascertained which of the variant versions was the earliest and when it was reworked (at some point before the ninth century, when there is evidence for three divergent versions: BHL 6028, 6029, 6029b).


Editions: BHL 6028: AASS, Iul. III, 291-292. BHL 6029: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 158-159 (originally published in ca. 1480); AASS, Iul. III, 292-294. Paredi, A., "La passione dei santi martiri Nabore e Felice," Quaderni di Ambrosius 36 (1960), 81-96. BHL 6029b: Unpublished. Brief description in Poncelet, A., Catalogus codicum hagiographicorum latinorum bibliothecarum Romanarum praeter quam Vaticanae (Brussels, 1910), 15.59. BHL 6029c: Unpublished, in the legendary of Hermann Greven, see De Gaiffier, B., "Le martyrologe et le légendier d'Hermann Greven," Analecta Bollandiana 54 (1936), 316-358. Further reading: Borella, P., “S. Savina, matrona Lodigliana,” Memorie storiche della diocesi di Milano 7 (1960), 3-15. Calderini, A., “La basilica milanese dei ss. Nabore e Felice,” Quaderni di Ambrosius 36 (1960), 135-170. Cattaneo, E., “Il culto dei SS. Nabore e Felice e le vicende delle loro reliquie,” Quaderni di Ambrosius 36 (1960), 97-137. Lazzati, G., “L’inno Victor Nabor Felix pii," Quaderni di Ambrosius 36 (1960), 69-80. Gavinelli, S., “Per una edizione della Vita Gaudentii: i codici carolingi,” Hagiographica 8 (2001), 35-86, at 60-62. Lanéry, C., Ambroise de Milan hagiographe (Paris, 2008), 162-165 and 262-269. 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), 15-369, at 257-260.

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