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E02074: The Life of *Iohannes (hermit and abbot near Spoleto, perhaps in the early 6th c., S01158) is written in Latin, presumably in Spoleto or its vicinity (central Italy), probably in the 7th or 8th c. It narrates that Iohannes, a hermit from Syria, founded a monastery near Spoleto, where he died and was buried. Miracles occur at his shrine.

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posted on 2016-12-05, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Life of Iohannes (BHL 4420)


§ 1: Iohannes returns from Syria asking for God’s protection and guidance in his travels: in whatever place, where he gives his psalter to someone and does not receive it back, there he will choose to stay.

§ 2: He comes to Italy to the city [Spoleto], at the fifth mile at the farm of Agellus (in fundo Agello), there he finds a servant of God and gives her his psalter. When he asks for it back, she tells him to stay there for another day. He spends the night there in prayer.

§ 3: In the morning, receiving back his psalter, he leaves, and when he is only a bow-shot away, an angel appears to him and tells him to stay there under a tree.

§ 4: As December comes, it is very cold and everything is frozen. Iohannes' tree however flourishes. Hunters see him and ask him where he comes from; he tells them his story. They are amazed by how he is dressed and he tells them not to disturb him.

§ 5: They realise that the Lord is with him and go to tell the news in the city of Spoleto. The bishop of Spoleto, also called Iohannes, hears this and goes to meet the hermit. They weep together with joy, and Iohannes is instructed in the Scriptures by the bishop.

§ 6: All thank God, and a monastery is built on the site thanks to donations of the people. Iohannes lives there all his life, for forty-four years. He is then buried there with hymns and chants. Many miracles (healing, exorcism) happen there to the present day, and mass is regularly celebrated there.

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Mar. III, 31. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Iohannes, hermit and abbot near Spoleto, perhaps in early 6th c. : S01158

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • 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)

Spoleto Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities Healing diseases and disabilities Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle during lifetime Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Miracle with animals and plants

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The Life of Iohannes is a short account describing the travels of a certain Iohannes from Syria, who founds a monastery in a place close to Spoleto in central Italy. It ends with the foundation of the monastery, Iohannes' burial, and mention of miracles occurring at the monastery after Iohannes' death. The text, BHL 4420, was quite widespread. The database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( lists 24 manuscripts. This list is incomplete as it does not mention the oldest manuscript, a 9th century legendary, perhaps from Reichenau: Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV 13, f. 139v. Further manuscripts can also be mentioned: Auxerre, Bibliothèque Municipale 127, 182v (12th c.); Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Ms. Magdeb. 26, f. 264r (anno 1439); Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14031, f. 160 (11th c.). The Life was published by Mombritius in the 15th century and later in the Acta Sanctorum (collating Mombritius' text with two manuscripts).


There is no early evidence outside this text about Iohannes' monastery and cult. Nor is anything known about Iohannes himself outside his Life. The only evidence in the text that would enable us to situate him chronologically is the mention of a bishop of Spoleto, also called Iohannes. Scholars generally identify him as the bishop mentioned at the time of pope Symmachus (498-514), attending councils in Rome in 499 and 502 (Prosopographie Chrétienne du Bas-Empire II, 1064-1066, 'Iohannes 12'). Moreover, there is a later medieval Martyrdom of Johannes of Spoleto situating the death of a bishop Johannes of Spoleto under the Goth Totila in 546. Iohannes’ place of origin near Spoleto is known as Civitas Penariensis (with variants of spelling) in medieval martyrologies. This place cannot be easily identified but may correspond to a place called Panaca or Panaria near Spoleto (see Dufourcq III, 62 n. 2, and G. Henskens, Acta Sanctorum, Mar. III, 30) or to a Syrian city called Parin (Marcheselli, 85). Dufourcq (followed by Grégoire) noted parallels between Iohannes’ figure and that of the monk Isaac of Spoleto in the Dialogues of Gregory the Great (see E04476). Thus he argued (followed by Lanzoni and Grégoire; Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2199) that the Life was contemporary to the Dialogues and composed in the 6th century; he also based his argument on the mention of Iohannes in the Martyrologium Parvum Romanum which was then thought to date from the early 7th century but is actually contemporary to Ado (9th c.), if not forged by him. More recently, Paoli (following a suggestion of Boesch Gajano) emphasised that the narrative of a foreigner who is welcomed thanks to the local bishop rather points to a composition in the times following the conversion of the Lombards to the Catholic faith, between the mid 7th and the mid 8th century, or even later, if influence from the 8th or 9th century legend of the Twelve Syrians can be demonstrated (although it could be our Life that influenced that legend according to Lanzoni). The only certainty, however, is that the Life existed by the 9th century: not only does the oldest manuscript date from then, but Iohannes’ Martyrdom is also recorded in 9th c. martyrologies (Martyrologium Parvum Romanum, Ado, Usuardus, see Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 421, 459, 552, 644).


Editions (BHL 4420): Acta Sanctorum, Mar. III, 31. Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 61-62. The original edition was published c. 1480. Further reading: Boesch Gajano, S., “Martiri vescovi e monaci: linea di sviluppo dell’agiografia umbra dell’Alto Medioevo,” in: Passarelli, G., (ed.), Il santo patrono nella città medievale: il culto di S. Valentino nella storia di Terni, Atti del convegno di studio, Terni 9-12 febbraio 1974 (Rome, 1982), 195-191 at 185. D’Angelo, E., Terni medievale. La città, la Chiesa, i santi, l'agiografia (Spoleto, 2015), 100-101. D’Angelo, E., “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Umbriae – pars altera – (314-1130),” in: Goullet, M., (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, volume VII (Turnhout, 2017), 269-344, at 319-320 and 333-334 (listing our Life as Bibliotheca Hagiographica Umbriae n°161). Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, volume III (Paris, 1907), 59-62. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 volumes (1927), I, 429-430 and 444-445. Gordini, P., “Giovanni di Penna, abate di Parrano,” Bibliotheca Sanctorum VI (1965), 866. Grégoire, R., "L’agiografia spoletina antica: tra storia e tipologia," in Il Ducato di Spoleto, Atti del IX Congresso internazionale di Studi sull’alto medioevo, Spoleto, 27 settembre–2 ottobre 1982, 2 vols. (Spoleto, 1983), I, 335-365, at 355-361. Marcheselli, M., “Fonti bibliche nella Vita di San Giovanni Parenense (secolo VI),” in: Tagliaferri, M., (ed.), Ravenna e Spoleto: i rapporti tra due metropoli; atti del XXVIII convegno del Centro Studi e Ricerche Antica Provincia Ecclesiastica Ravennate, Spoleto, 22–24 settembre 2005 (Imola, 2007), 85-98. Orioli, G., “La Passio Sancti Iohannis martyris arcivescovo di Spoleto e Vita vel Transitus Sancti Iohannis parenensis,” Archivum Historicum Spoletanum Norsinum, quaderno n. 2 “Petriana” (2004), 115-140 (not seen). Paoli, E., “L’agiografia umbra altomedievale,” in Umbria cristiana. Dalla diffusione del culto al culto dei santi (secc. IV-X), Atti del XV Congresso internationale di studi CISAM, Spoleto, 23-28 ott. 2000 (Spoleto, 2001), 479-529, at 509-510. Susi, E., “Monachesimo e agiografia in Umbria,” in Umbria cristiana. Dalla diffusione del culto al culto dei santi (secc. IV-X), Atti del XV Congresso internationale di studi CISAM, Spoleto, 23-28 ott. 2000 (Spoleto, 2001), 569-605, at 596-597; reprinted and updated in Susi, E., “Monachesimo e agiografia in Umbria,” in: Susi, E., Geografie della santità. Studi di agiografia umbra mediolatina (secc. IV-XII) (Spoleto, 2008), 65-96, at 87-89.

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