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E02088: The Martyrdom of *Apollinaris (bishop and martyr of Ravenna, S00331) is written in Latin, presumably in Ravenna, between the 5th and the late 7th c. It narrates the foundation of the Christian community in Ravenna at the time of the emperor Claudius by Apollinaris, a disciple of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036) sent from Rome to Ravenna. It describes Apollinaris’ numerous healing miracles, his trials in front of local judges, his exile and miracles in Moesia, Thracia and Dalmatia, his return to Ravenna and death at the time of Vespasian at the hands of a pagan mob in Classe, and finally his burial in a sarcophagus outside the walls of Classe.

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posted on 2016-12-08, 00:00 authored by Bryan, mpignot
Martyrdom of Apollinaris (BHL 623)


§ 1: At the time of the emperor Claudius, Peter comes to Rome from Antioch with many other Christians. Peter preaches among Jews at the synagogue about Jesus the son of God and many Jews and Romans believe in him and are baptised.

§ 2: Much later, Peter sends Apollinaris, his fully instructed disciple, to Ravenna to preach about Jesus, bestowing on him the Holy Spirit and the pontificate (pontificatum), blessing him with a prayer asking Jesus Christ to send an angel to help him in his task.

§ 3: Close to Ravenna, Apollinaris stays with an Asiatic soldier named Herenaeus who asks him to heal his blind son to demonstrate what he preaches and thus convince him. Apollinaris heals the boy in front of everyone with a prayer and a sign of the cross on his eyes. The blind man and all his family believe, and are baptised in a river close to Ravenna.

§ 4: The tribunus militum, who has a wife named Tecla, gravely ill for many years, hears about Apollinaris’ miracle from Herenaeus. The tribunus asks Herenaeus (who wonders whether Apollinaris is Greek rather than Roman, although he comes from Rome) to secretly bring Apollinaris to his house.

§ 5: Apollinaris arrives at the house praying to God for help. As Apollinaris preaches about Jesus Christ, the tribunus asks him to heal his wife, whose paralysis has for many years resisted all attempts to cure it, to demonstrate Jesus’ power.

§ 6: Apollinaris heals her with a prayer and she proclaims Jesus as God. The tribunus and all his household believe and are baptised, while many other pagans receive the faith.

§ 7: Apollinaris lives in the tribunus’ house in Ravenna and secretly preaches about Jesus to the many who visit him; aristocrats entrust him with the Christian education of their sons and he celebrates mass and performs baptisms with his disciples for those who believe in the house. Within twelve years he ordains two priests (Adheretus and Calocerus) and two deacons (Marcianus and Leocadius/Eleucadius); he establishes six clerics with whom he chants psalms night and day.

§ 8: As Apollinaris’ fame grows, he cannot hide anymore. The judge Saturninus summons him and interrogates him in front of the pontiffs of the capitolium of Ravenna. Apollinaris states that he is Christian and speaks about Christ. Saturninus complains about Apollinaris’ preaching and tells him about Jupiter and his temple; Apollinaris however replies that he knows nothing about these.

§ 9: The pontiffs bring Apollinaris to the temple with its many riches, but Apollinaris retorts that these riches should be given to the poor. The priests and the crowd severely beat him and throw him into the sea, leaving him almost dead. His disciples rescue him, hide him in the house of a Christian widow and cure him.

§ 10: Six months later, a noble man named Bonifatius, from the city of Classe, suddenly becomes dumb. Finding no cure, he hears that Apollinaris is still alive and sends his wife to ask for help. As he arrives at the house, a possessed girl tries to send him away, but Apollinaris chases the devil from her. He comes into the house and meets Bonifatius.

§ 11: Apollinaris heals Bonifatius with a prayer to Jesus Christ. Bonifatius praises God, more than five hundred people believe in Jesus Christ and are initiated by Apollinaris.

§ 12: A few days later, some possessed pagans catch Apollinaris and severely beat him with sticks, forbidding him to speak about Jesus. Apollinaris loudly proclaims that Jesus is God; they refuse to hear him and force him to stand on burning coals, but he holds fast. They throw him out of Classe and forbid him to enter the city. Apollinaris preaches about Jesus Christ outside the walls.

§ 13: Numerous Christians from the city come to him. Apollinaris celebrates mass in a hut (tugurium) not far from the walls and performs baptisms in the sea. Several years later, Apollinaris goes to [the province of] Aemilia, instructing people secretly. In the meantime, the priest Calocerus administrates the Church in Ravenna. Soon after, Apollinaris comes back from Aemilia.

§ 14: At that time Rufus, patricius and consul has the military command (ducatus) over Ravenna. As his only daughter is ill, he hears about Apollinaris and asks that he should come to his house. As Apollinaris comes with clerics, the daughter dies. Rufus is irritated against the gods who refused to save his daughter and wonders if Apollinaris can help. Apollinaris asks Rufus to swear that he will allow his daughter to follow her saviour Jesus Christ; he agrees.

§ 15: Apollinaris resurrects the girl with a prayer to Jesus Christ. She stands up and proclaims that God is great and Apollinaris is his servant. All Christians rejoice, she is baptised with her mother and their household, in total three hundred and twenty-four people; many pagans also believe in Christ.

§ 16: Rufus fears the emperor and secretly cares for Apollinaris. His daughter becomes a consecrated virgin. Pagans tell the emperor that someone from Antioch spreads the name of Jesus Christ in Ravenna thanks to magic and has many followers, including Rufus. The emperor writes to the vicarius Messalinus to make sure that Apollinaris either adheres to the gods or is sent into exile. Messalinus brings Apollinaris to his residence (praetorium) and interrogates him in front of the pontiffs of the capitolium. Apollinaris states that he comes from Antioch and is a Christian and disciple of the Apostles.

§ 17: As Apollinaris explains who Christ is, Messalinus notes that gods cannot die nor suffer. Apollinaris tells him of the incarnation of Christ. Messalinus finds it hard to believe.

§ 18: Apollinaris further explains the two natures of Christ to Messalinus: the flesh (caro) suffered, but God remained immortal and without suffering. Apollinaris then tells him about the resurrection, and the miracles performed by his disciples. Messalinus refuses to follow gods that are not accepted by the Senate. He asks Apollinaris to come to the capitolium and offer incense to Jupiter, otherwise he will be beaten and sent into exile.

§ 19: Apollinaris replies that he will not offer incense, but only honour Jesus Christ. The priests remark that Apollinaris appropriated the function of pontiff (pontifex) that is theirs, to seduce the crowds. Messalinus orders Apollinaris to be beaten in order to bring him to sacrifice to the gods. As he is beaten, Apollinaris shouts that he is Christian and will not change his mind. One of the priests suggests that Apollinaris should be tortured on a rack. When this is done, Apollinaris continues to confess Jesus Christ.

§ 20: Messalinus asks about the rewards expected by Apollinaris for his sufferings. Apollinaris quotes Mathew 24:13 about the salvation offered to those who believe, and endure to the end. All those present admire Apollinaris. Messalinus orders Apollinaris to be tortured again and boiling water to be poured on his wounds, before sending him on a boat to Illyricum into exile, bound with a heavy iron weight. One of the torturers, who had been particularly ferocious towards Apollinaris, is taken by a demon and dies.

§ 21: Apollinaris asks Messalinus to believe in Jesus Christ, but Messalinus orders Apollinaris’ mouth to be crushed with a stone. The Christians that are present are upset; they attack the pagans and kill more than two hundred of them. They plan to kill Messalinus as well, who goes into hiding after ordering Apollinaris to be sent to jail with a heavy weight, his feet stretched, and left with no care until he dies. An angel comes at night, terrifies the guards and comforts Apollinaris. On the fourth day, the judge hears that Apollinaris is still alive; he secretly puts him in chains on a boat and sends him into exile. Three members of Apollinaris’ clergy join him and take care of him.

§ 22: Meanwhile, the Church in Ravenna is administered by priests and deacons and the congregation grows. As the exiles sail near Corinth, the boat hits the land and is broken by a storm. Only Apollinaris with his clerics and two soldiers survive. As the soldiers ask Apollinaris what they should do, he tells them to be baptised. They renounce idols and are baptised.

§ 23: They travel, arrive in Moesia and preach, but nobody receives them. The brother of an important man catches leprosy. Apollinaris asks him to believe in Jesus Christ to be healed; he accepts. Apollinaris heals him; he renounces idols, believes and is baptised. The man then travels to the Danube and converts many there.

§ 24: Apollinaris escapes from pagans to Thrace and stays there several days. There is a temple of Serapis in a city: during Apollinaris' stay the god offers no response to the offerings being made and says that it is because of Apollinaris who hinders him through his preaching. People find Apollinaris and interrogate him, he tells them that he is a Christian sent into exile from Ravenna.

§ 25: Apollinaris is beaten and taken to the sea. The governor (rector) of the province is asked to provide a boat to send him back to Italy. After three years, Apollinaris arrives back in Ravenna, Christians rejoice; he performed many miracles on his way along the Dalmatian coast.

§ 26: After a long time, as Apollinaris celebrates mass on the suburban estate of the senator Pyreneus (suburbano Pyrenei senatoris), pagans rush at Apollinaris, catch him, beat him and bring him to the forum. The pontiffs of the capitolium refuse to bring him to Jupiter but instead send him to Apollo, followed by a crowd of Christians and pagans. When they arrive there, pagans explain to Apollinaris that Apollo is their god and protector of the city.

§ 27: Apollinaris tells them that when the temple will be destroyed, Jesus Christ will offer protection in the same place


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Apollinaris, bishop of Ravenna and martyr, ob. 69/79 : S00331 Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source

Apollinaris Petrus apostolus

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)

Ravenna Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracles experienced by the saint Healing diseases and disabilities Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracles causing conversion Power over life and death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Children Soldiers Officials Other lay individuals/ people Crowds Angels

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Apollinaris is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the Apostolic times that provide the background of the narrative. 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 Apollinaris There is one main version of our Martyrdom, BHL 623, preserved in a great number of manuscripts. The earliest dates from the late 7th or 8th century, and was perhaps written in Ravenna: St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, V.I.12, f.47v-62r (for a discussion of this manuscript see Orioli 2001 and Everett 2016, 152-153). Another early manuscript, noted by Guy Philippart (who kindly shared with us his unpublished list) is the fragment in Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, N. I. 2, f. 5 (last quarter of 8th c.). The database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( lists 129 further manuscripts, the three earliest, from the 9th century: Chartres, Bibliothèque Municipale 63 (115 1/G), f. 118v-130r; Montpellier, Faculté de Médecine 156, f. 102v-112; Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 118r-128v. This list however, is far from complete. One can add for instance: Graz, Universitätsbibliothek, Ms. 412, 120v-127v (first half of 9th c. except 123r-124r from the 13th c.); Intra, Archivio Capitolare, 12 (10), f. 106r-112v (end of 9th c.); Zürich, Zentralbibliothek , Ms. C 10i, f. 115v-118r (9th or 10th c.); St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 242, f. 17-20 (10th c. fragment, § 4 to the middle of § 26). There is a shortened version of BHL 623, BHL 623b attested in a few manuscripts (Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek, 2, f. 1v-3 (12th c.); Bad Windsheim, Stadtbibliothek, Cod. 60, f. 3r-4r). BHL 623 was published by Mombritius in the 15th century and again notably in the Acta Sanctorum. These editions have not taken the St Petersburg manuscript into account. However, Everett (2016), 154-169 provides a translation based on the readings of the St Petersburg manuscript, with notes comparing it to the version of the Acta Sanctorum. BHL 623b is still unpublished.


The Martyrdom was clearly written by someone familiar with Ravenna, and provides evidence for the cult of Apollinaris in the city, notably mentioning his stone sarcophagus. There is abundant late antique evidence about Apollinaris’ cult outside the Martyrdom. A 5th c. sermon of the bishop of Ravenna Peter Chrysologus refers to Apollinaris as a martyr, confessor, and the first bishop of Ravenna, without reference however to apostolic origins nor to the details found in the Martyrdom, but with a peculiar discussion over Apollinaris’ status as a martyr (E02977). There is no evidence to suggest that Peter used the Martyrdom. Later, the Liber Pontificalis refers to the building by pope Symmachus (498-514) of an oratory dedicated to Apollinaris in the church of Andrew in Rome (E01347), later mentioned in the 7th c. Notitia ecclesiarum Urbis Romae (E00690). In the 530s the church of St Apollinare in Classe was built, with a mosaic representing Apollinaris (see E06048). Apollinaris is also represented on a 6th c. mosaic in St Apollinare Nuovo, carrying the crown of martyrdom (see E06046). Gregory the Great (590-604) refers to Apollinaris’ feast day and sarcophagus, employed to swear oaths (see E06367 and E06384). In the 7th century, the Liber Pontificalis mentions that Pope Honorius (625-638) built a basilica dedicated to Apollinaris in the portico of St Peter's and ordered a procession in his honour every Saturday (E01443). Bede’s early 8th c. martyrology notice for 23 July is the first source clearly borrowing from our Martyrdom (E05590). Our Martyrdom was later employed in the 9th century by Agnellus of Ravenna to write his life of Apollinaris (BHL 624) and in Ado’s martyrology (on 23 July). Agnellus seems to have known a version of our Martyrdom close to the St Petersburg manuscript. He also provides several further details about the cult of Apollinaris, the transfer of his relics, and notably inscriptions devoted to the saint (see more in Everett 2016, 140-151). Still in the 9th century, Apollinaris’ name was carved in the Neapolitan marble calendar on 23 July, the standard date of his feast. Historical features in the Martyrdom suggest a late antique date, while Bede’s borrowing, and the late 7th or 8th c. dating of the earliest manuscript provide the latest possible date of composition. Thus, the Martyrdom can be broadly dated between the 5th and the late 7th century. There is little straightforward evidence, however, to narrow the range. Several dating hypotheses have been put forward, mainly: under Gothic rule in the late 5th or early 6th century (see Orioli 1986 on this hypothesis, with more bibliography); at the time of the building of the church of Apollinaris in Classe in the 530s; or under bishop Maurus (642-671), during the period of Ravenna’s autocephaly (as noted in Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2166). These hypotheses have recently been discussed in detail by Everett 2016, 140-151, who notes that they are all plausible to some extent. Everett, however, argues in favour of a dating in the mid 6th century, particularly because of the interest of bishop Maximianus’ (546-556) in emphasising the apostolic origins of the Church of Ravenna and the links with Rome at the time of the controversy of the Three Chapters.


Editions (BHL 623): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 117-122. The original edition was published c. 1480. Acta Sanctorum, Jul. V, 344-350. English translation: Everett, N., Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2016), 154-169. Further reading: Orioli, G., “La ‘Vita Sancti Apolenaris’ di Ravenna e gli antecedenti storici dell’Organizzazione ecclesiastica ravennate,” Apollinaris 59 (1986), 251-267. Orioli, G., “La Passio Sancti Apolinaris secondo il codice Petropolitano,” Ravenna: Studi e Ricerche 8, (2001), 13-62. Everett, N., Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2016), 139-170.

Continued Description

. He prays and the temple is destroyed. Pagans want him dead, Christians thank God. Apollinaris is brought to the judge named Taurus to be killed. All the nobles of the city assemble in his residence (praetorium). The judge asks him how he is able to gather such a crowd of followers.§ 28: Apollinaris states that Jesus Christ is his only strength but that Christians also have a building not far from the city where they celebrate liturgy. Taurus asks about Apollinaris’ helpers; Apollinaris tells him that they dwell in Ravenna. Taurus wonders about Apollinaris' abilities to cure through Jesus Christ his son who had been born blind. He promises to believe if his son is healed; otherwise Apollinaris will be burned for his crimes.§ 29: The son is brought to Apollinaris who heals him in the name of Jesus Christ. Everyone is amazed, many believe in Jesus Christ. Taurus takes Apollinaris away from the crowd at night and takes care of him for four years on his estate situated at the sixth milestone from the city. Many Christians come and are instructed there, many are healed.§ 30: Later, in the time of the emperor Vespasian, the pontiffs of the capitolium of Ravenna, presiding over three hundred altars, full of envy, go to Rome to ask that Apollinaris, who is now old, should be killed since he seduces many people, preaches against the state and traditional cult, and destroys temples. Vespasian gives the order that anyone insulting the gods shall either please the gods or be sent into exile, but not killed since the gods will themselves take revenge if they need to.§ 31: The order reaches Demonsten, a pagan vir illustris and patricius. He summons the now old Apollinaris, in order to interrogate him, although pagans who already know him want him immediately punished or to be sent into exile.§32: Demonsten hears from Apollinaris that he is Christian, a disciple of Peter, and that he came to evangelise Ravenna. He asks him to sacrifice, but Apollinaris refuses and offers himself as a sacrifice for his disciples.§ 33: Apollinaris asserts that anyone who does not adore God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will burn forever; anyone that believes and is baptised will obtain eternal rest. Furious, the judge hands him to be executed to a centurion who is secretly Christian. The centurion brings Apollinaris to Classe into his house, and after a few days he tells Apollinaris that he does not want him to die. He tells Apollinaris to go at night to the quarter of the city where the sick dwell and hide there until the crowd calms down. The centurion frees him at night to let him escape.§ 34: Pagans find out about Apollinaris’ escape and catch him not far from the gate (porta). He is beaten and left for dead. He is rescued by his disciples who bring him to the lepers’ city quarter. He survives seven days, taking care of the Christian community and predicting several further persecutions, the conversion of emperors to Christianity, the destruction of pagan idols, and the freedom of cult for Christians.§ 35: Apollinaris, martyr and bishop, dies and is buried outside the walls of Classe in a stone sarcophagus, which is buried in the ground to be hidden from pagans. He presided over the Church for twenty-eight years and four days [‘twenty-nine years, one month, and four days’, according to the St Petersburg manuscript, as mentioned in Everett 2016, 152-164]. He was martyred in Ravenna under Vespasian the 10th day before the Calends of August [= 23 July].Text: Acta Sanctorum, Jul. V, 344-350 (checked with readings from the St Petersburg manuscript in Everett 2016, 152-164). Summary: M. Pignot.

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