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E02090: The Latin Martyrdom of *Christina (martyr of Tyre, and here also of Bolsena, S00907) is written before the late 7th c. in several versions, apparently based on an original Greek version, and all containing the same broad narrative. It narrates Christina’s refusal to sacrifice to pagan gods, her baptism, her trial presided over by three successive judges, and her death, killed by blows to her heart and side. The location of the martyrdom and burial of Christina varies, most texts situate it in Tyre (Syria), while some place it in Bolsena (central Italy).

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posted on 2016-12-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Christina (BHL 1748, 1749, 1751)


This summary provides the main narrative, which is common to the versions consulted: BHL 1748 (Pennazzi, S. A., Vita e martirio ammirabile della gloriosa s. Cristina (Montefiascone, 1725), 259-275); BHL 1749, BHL 1749b (both published by Cross-Tuplin (1980), 187-203 and 173-187); and BHL 1751 (Acta Sanctorum, Iul., V, 524-528). These versions have been chosen for the following reasons: the first three are attested in manuscripts from the 8th or 9th century, while BHL 1751 is the most widely available text, the only one printed in the Acta Sanctorum. There are several minor differences, additions and omissions in these texts, which are not considered here. Only a few major differences in the narrative are mentioned, in square brackets. Paragraph numbers follow the edition in the Acta Sanctorum (BHL 1751).

§§ 1-3: Christina [BHL 1748, 1749: ‘from Tyre’; BHL 1749b: ‘Under Hadrian’, ‘living in the city of Tyre’; BHL 1748, 1749, 1749b: ‘not yet 11-years old’; BHL 1751: ‘ around 11 years old’], is the only daughter of her father Urbanus, a magister militum, and her mother, who is from the gens Anicia. Christina is very beautiful and many seek to marry her, but Urbanus sends Christina with twelve handmaids to adore the gods in a high tower that he has built. However, Christina loves God and, as she receives incense for the gods, she places it on a window to the East and does not offer it to the idols for seven days. The handmaids try to convince Christina to offer incense, she tells them about God and Jesus Christ and tries to convert them, however they fear to be punished by Urbanus if they abandon the gods. Then Urbanus comes and expects her to offer incense but she does not. The handmaids tell Urbanus that his daughter has not sacrificed to the gods for nine days. Urbanus asks Christina why and exhorts her to adore the gods to avoid their punishment. Christina tells him not to call her his daughter, as she is the daughter of the God for whom she offers sacrifice.

§§ 4-6: Urbanus is pleased, as he thinks that she is referring to the gods. He tries to kiss her but she rejects him: she wants to remain pure for God. Her father exhorts her not to venerate only one god, to avoid angering the others. She states that she adores the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. [BHL 1749, 1749b have considerations regarding ‘substantia’ not found in BHL 1748 and 1751]. Urbanus remarks that she adores three gods. She replies that she adores one divinity (BHL 1749, 1751: ‘divinitas’; BHL 1749b: ‘tres personae sed deitas una’) and asks her father to provide her with gifts to offer sacrifice to God. He agrees. She asks in particular for a spotless tunic to adore God and be purified from sin. She washes her hands and face, and, weeping, prays to Jesus Christ, asking for the forgiveness of her sins and for his help at the time of suffering. An angel appears and comforts her in preparation of her trial. Christina asks for a sign of protection and the angel places the sign of the cross on her head. She then finds white bread at her right and gives it to the angel, asking for eternal life and saying that she has not eaten bread for twelve days. The angel blesses the bread, breaks it and gives it to Christina. Christina invokes the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and thanks Jesus Christ. In the evening she breaks the idols of Jupiter, Apollo and Venus, uses them as steps to escape from the tower with the help of her tunic tied to the window. She gives them to the poor before returning to the tower again with the help of her tunic. The next day her father comes to adore the idols, cannot find them and asks the handmaids who tell him that Christina has broken them and given them away.

§§ 7-9: Urbanus is full of rage, Christina is beaten. He requires her to return the idols and adore the gods to avoid death. She however adores God and Jesus Christ. [BHL 1749b adds that Urbanus orders the handmaids’ throats to be cut, angering Christina]. He orders Christina to be beaten by twelve men. However she endures it and prevails. She tells Urbanus that idols have no power. Urbanus orders her to be sent to jail in chains, then, full of sadness, he goes home and refuses to take any food. Her mother learns what happened and goes to meet Christina. Weeping, she asks her only and most beloved daughter to explain why she worships a foreign god. Christina tells her that she should not be called her daughter, she has the name of the Saviour. [BHL 1749b then has a lacuna until the narrative of Christina’s next torture, preceded by Christina’s thanks to God to be worthy of suffering.] Her mother goes home and tells Urbanus, who, full of rage, orders her to be brought to his court by soldiers. Urbanus requires his daughter to adore the gods to avoid torture. Christina tells him that he is not her father. Urbanus orders her to be tortured by twelve men. Her flesh is ripped off, and Christina throws some of it in her father’s face, giving it to him as food, to shame him. Urbanus asks her to adore the gods or be killed, but Christina tells him that she endures suffering thanks to the Son of God who came from heaven to save mankind.

§ 10: Urbanus orders Christina to be put on a rack and burnt. She prays to Jesus Christ asking for help: immediately the fire burns many of the pagans [BHL 1748, 1749, 1749b: ‘a thousand and five hundred’; BHL 1751: ‘five hundred’] and leaves her unharmed. Urbanus then interrogates her about her magical powers and she explains that she defeats the devil in Christ’s name. Urbanus sends her to jail, where three angel appear to her and take care of her. Christina prays to God, acknowledging His help.

§ 11: In the night Urbanus sends five servants and orders her to be bound to a stone and thrown into the sea. However she is taken by angels and walks over the water. She prays to Jesus Christ, asking for baptism and the forgiveness of sins. She hears a voice telling her that her prayer has been heard, and she receives a purple robe [BHL 1749b states that it is given by Jesus Christ himself; BHL 1748 and 1749 that Christ’s glory comes down to her; BHL 1751 simply states that it is given from heaven].

[Here BHL 1749b has a longer narrative. It starts with a prayer of Christina, narrating how she was baptised in the sea by Jesus Christ himself in the name of the Father, of Himself and of the Holy Spirit. Then he left her to the care of the archangel Michael, and she saw Him returning to heaven. Then Christina tells that Urbanus found her in his praetorium and interrogated the servants who did not know how she arrived there. After this story narrated by Christina, BHL 1749b continues the narrative: Urbanus asks her how she escaped from the sea. She tells him that she has been reborn in Jesus Christ, who will free her from him. Another judge will come after Urbanus. Jesus Christ will bring Urbanus to death and darkness where he will have no rest. Urbanus sends her to jail awaiting punishment by the sword].

Christina prays to Jesus Christ, acknowledging that she has received the forgiveness of sins and asking Him to give Urbanus back his due, since he plans her execution the following day. She is brought back to jail, while Urbanus dies the same night.

§§ 12-13: Hearing that Urbanus has died, Christina gives thanks for the fulfilment of her prayer and for the fact that Urbanus has been sent to hell. Then another judge comes, named Dion, worshipper of idols and persecutor of Christians. Christina’s deeds are read to him, and he summons her, trying to convince her to worship the gods, in order to avoid death. [BHL 1748, 1749, 1749b add that Dion offers Christina, who is from the gens Anicia, to be married with an aristocrat of his court.] Christina refuses and replies that Christ will free her from his hands. The judge orders her to be beaten, while she tells him that he will be defeated like Urbanus. She also notes that the judge, Dion, has a name given to idols. Angered, the judge orders her to be put on a hot iron grill, but she is unharmed. [BHL 1748, 1749, BHL 1749b add that Christina thanks God for having been baptised and for joyfully enduring this torture]. Dion states that she is helped by the gods, but Christina replies that it is God who helps her, and who will send him to hell like Urbanus. The judge orders her hair to be shaved and her body to be exposed naked. Women see this and are disconcerted by the judge’s unfitting decision. Christina thanks God for being worth of enduring all this.

§§ 14-15: [BHL 1748, 1749 and 1749b narrate that Dion summons Christina and asks her to come to the temple of Apollo to offer sacrifice. Christina refuses and does not fear any punishment. Dion insists and Christina agrees to go there. Dion thinks that she will offer sacrifice. Then Christina speaks to the idol, requiring it to go walk outside the temple to a distance of 40 feet. BHL 1748 and 1749 add that the idol follows Christina’s orders, and that the judge is shocked and tells Christina that she used magic but that the idol showed mercy and therefore obeyed. Christina replies that he fails to see that the idol is no god, and she exhorts him to believe in God. She asks the Lord to destroy the idol; BHL 1751 simply states that, as she is brought to the temple of Apollo by Dion, she asks for God’s help in the destruction of the idol.] The idol immediately falls and becomes dust. Many pagans believe in God after seeing this. [BHL 1748, 1749, 1749b: three thousand men believe; BHL 1751: seven thousand men believe]. The judge dies and Christina is sent back to jail. Later, another judge named Iulianus, a pagan, comes and is made aware of Christina’s deeds (gesta). He summons her to his court and requires her to adore the gods to avoid death. As Christina refuses, Iulianus orders a furnace (furnax) to be h


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Christina, martyr of Tyre/Bolsena, ob. 3rd c. : S00907

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Martyr shrine (martyrion, bet sāhedwātā, etc.)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Power over life and death Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Unbaptized Christians Pagans Relatives of the saint Aristocrats Soldiers Officials Slaves/ servants Angels Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Christina 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 light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Christina The origins of the Martyrdom of Christina and of the development of her cult are complex. There are two parallel traditions: Christina is referred to either as a martyr of Bolsena in central Italy, or as an eastern martyr of Tyre, in Phoenicia. Outside her Martyrdom, Christina is mentioned in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum on 24 July, and situated in Tyre (E04891); she is however portrayed in the 6th century mosaic in Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (E06046) among a group of western virgins. Moreover, archaeological evidence in the catacombs of Bolsena shows that since the 4th century, the cult of a martyr developed there, who may have been Christina, although there is only later evidence, from the 10th century, naming the martyr Christina (see De Rossi (1880); Carletti (1985); Fiocchi Nicolai-Carletti (1989)). Fiocchi Nicolai and Carletti summarise scholarly hypotheses, stating that either the Greek literary tradition developed from an existing cult of Christina in Bolsena and then found its way into the Martyrologium, or the literary figure of the Greek Christina was only later assimilated for the cult of a Christina in Bolsena (for further hypotheses, see, for instance, Lanzoni (1927), 536-543). There are both Greek and Latin versions of the Martyrdom of Christina, although the Greek tradition is almost certainly the earliest and the basis of the Latin versions. Indeed, the earliest Greek copy is a 5th century fragmentary papyrus from Oxyrhynchus, which contains a text close to the Latin §§ 9-10 (Papiri greci e latini, I (Florence, 1912), n. 27, E07744). Other fuller Greek versions are also preserved in later manuscripts (see BHG 302, E07745). The Latin tradition is complex, with a great number of versions: while BHL 1758 (and other variant texts) place Christina’s death and burial in Bolsena, most corroborate the Greek and situate Christina’s martyrdom in Tyre and her burial in a martyrium in the temple of Apollo in Tyre (BHL 1748 to 1757h, with the exception of some variant texts and of BHL 1751 which provides no details about the location). The database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( lists more than a hundred Latin manuscripts of the Martyrdom of Christina in its various recensions (see a list on the dvd attached to Goullet (2014)). Only a few of these are found in the oldest manuscripts. BHL 1748 is found in Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 344r-350r (9th or 10th c.). BHL 1749 is found in Turin, Biblioteca Universitaria, D.V.3, f. 111v-122v (end of 8th c.); Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14 (9th or 10th c.); Zürich, ZB, C. 10.i (around 900); Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Farf. 29 (341) (late 9th c.). Cross-Tuplin (1980) have identified another version, preserved in the manuscript London, British Library, Add. 11880, f. 41v-59v (9th c.), now classified as BHL 1749b. BHL 1758 is found in Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.14, f. 218r-218v (9th c.) and Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 304r-307v (9th or 10th c.). It is important to underline that the classification of these versions can be problematic because all attributions to a specific BHL number are based on the incipit and explicit: thus, at times, manuscripts may not necessarily contain the same text as the one recorded in the corresponding BHL number. For instance, Cross-Tuplin (1980), 169 n. 31, state that the texts preserved in the Brussels, Rome and Turin manuscripts, all classified as BHL 1749, are in fact not the same. We have not been able to check the different versions in the manuscripts, although this would be required for further study of the Martyrdom of Christina.


Despite the divergent traditions over Christina’s origins, the extant Latin versions, while bearing some differences, all seem to broadly share the same narrative (at least BHL 1748, 1749, 1749b, 1751, 1758, which we have checked and compared in printed editions). It is uncertain which text is the earliest and what is the exact relation between them. This complex issue can only be dealt with after a detailed examination of all versions and their manuscripts. More broadly, while it is clear that the earliest Greek narrative (though only a fragment is preserved) should be dated to the 5th century at the latest, the dating of the various versions may only be sharpened after an examination and comparison of the Latin versions with the Greek tradition and further versions in other languages (for the Georgian and Syriac versions see E00752 and E04278). Concerning the Latin versions here considered, the manuscripts preserved show that they were composed by the 8th century (for BHL 1749) or early 9th (for BHL 1748, 1749b, 1758) at the latest, although the existence of four competing versions in 9th or 10th century manuscripts suggests that Latin versions may have already circulated at an earlier period. Indeed, the story of Christina’s martyrdom was known to Aldhelm (E06627) in the late 7th century, although no reference is made to Christina's place of origin, and it is unclear which version he consulted. It seems likely therefore that Latin versions were produced early, during Late Antiquity. Christina is also found in a martyrology from Lyons dating from the late 8th or early 9th century, on her feast day, 24 July, situating her in Tyre, and with a summary of her martyrdom that follows the longer narrative (thus not BHL 1758; see Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 151-152). Later in the 9th century, Ado likewise refers to Christina’s martyrdom, however situating the city of Tyre on the lake of Bolsena, thus reconciling the two traditions! There are noteworthy potential literary sources employed by the hagiographer. First Eusebius’ Martyrs of Palestine narrating the martyrdom of Theodosia of Tyre, tortured and thrown into the sea alive by the prefect Urbanus (E00301). Then, the myth of Danaë, the only daughter of King Acrisius of Argos and Queen Eurydice, who was shut up in a tower by her father. Finally, an uncertainly dated apocryphal addition to Genesis 41:50-52 about Joseph and his wife Asaneth, narrating that the virgin Asaneth, daughter of a pagan priest in Egypt, fell in love with Joseph but was at first rejected because she worshipped idols. She secluded herself in a tower asking God for repentance; an angel visited her and granted her renewal and full repentance of her paganism, making her ready to marry Joseph and bear him two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (see more about the links between the Martyrdom and these texts in Paschini 1925 and Donnini 1989).


Editions: BHL 1748, BHL 1754, BHL 1755 and BHL 1757: Pennazzi, A.,Vita e martirio ammirabile della gloriosa S. Cristina vergine et martire (Montefiascone, 1725), 259-276, 352-358, 364-373, 416-421. BHL 1749 (on the basis of the Turin and Zürich manuscripts) and 1749b (London manuscript): Cross, J.E., and Tuplin, C.J., "An Unrecorded Variant of the ‘Passio s. Christinae’ and the ‘Old English Martyrology’," Traditio 36 (1980), 187-203 and 173-187. BHL 1750: L. Boglino, Palermo e santa Cristina (Palermo, 1881), 164-170. BHL 1751: Acta Sanctorum, Jul. V, 524-528. BHL 1758: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 360-363 (first published c. 1480). Further reading: Cross, J.E., and Tuplin, C.J., “An Unrecorded Variant of the ‘Passio s. Christinae’ and the ‘Old English Martyrology’,” Traditio 36 (1980), 163-236. Donnini, M., “La ‘Passio di s. Barbara: sedimentazione e variazione di motivi narratologici,” in: Santa Barbara nella letteratura e nel folklore (Atti della giornata di studio del 14 maggio 1988) (Rieti, 1989), 19-42. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii (Faenza, 1927), 536-543. Paschini, P., “Ricerche agiografiche su. S. Cristina di Bolsena,” Rivista di archeologia cristiana 2 (1925), 167-194. Van Acker, M., “Passio Christinae. BHL 1749,”, in: Goullet, M. (ed.), Le légendier de Turin. MS. D.V.3 de la Bibliothèque Nationale Universitaire (Florence, 2014), 463-467. 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 139-141.

Continued Description

eated for three days and Christina to be sent into it [BHL 1748, 1749, 1749b add: for five days’]. However Christina walks in the furnace glorifying God. Soldiers hear her voice resounding in the furnace, are frightened and tell Iulianus. He orders the furnace to be opened and they see her leaving it as if from the baths. They bring her to the court, where Iulianus asks her how she endured the fire. She tells him about the Lord her helper. §§ 16-17: Iulianus orders a snake handler [BHL 1748: ‘Marsum’; BHL 1749: ‘serpentarium’; BHL 1749b: ‘incantator serpentium’; BHL 1751: ‘duo Marsi’] to be brought and two asps [BHL 1748 and 1749: ‘two asps (aspides) and two snakes (serpentes)’; BHL 1749b: ‘two asps (aspides), two vipers (viperae) and two colubers (colubres)’] to be sent, asking Christina how she will defeat them. Christina replies that she believes in God who will prevail. The two snakes lick her feet and the two asps suckle her nipples like infants, doing her no harm [BHL 1748, 1749: Then two vipers are sent, they lick sweat from her neck; BHL 1749b: the two colubers lick sweat from her neck]. Christina thanks God. Iulianus tells the snake handler to use his skills against Christina, but, as he tries, the snakes kill him. Christina, after a prayer tells the snakes to go away and harm no one. Then she prays to Jesus Christ, asking Him to resurrect the man. A voice from heaven exhorts her to persevere and tells her that all that she asks for will be fulfilled. The ground shakes, Christina touches the dead man and he rises, thanking God. Iulianus asks her to convert to the gods, she tells him that he fails to see God’s power. Iulianus orders her breast to be cut off. Christina tells him to look at the milk flowing from the wounds instead of blood. [BHL 1748, 1749, 1749b: Then she thanks Jesus Christ for being purified and ready to fight for her crown.] He sends her to jail, where women come to visit and comfort her. [BHL 1748, 1749, 1751: seven matrons believe].§ 18: The following morning Iulianus summons her and asks her to convert to the gods. Christina tells him that he will have no rest, neither in this nor in the next world. Iulianus orders her tongue to be cut off, Christina prays, a voice is heard from heaven calling her to receive her reward [BHL 1748 adds that the voice is heard after Iulianus brings Christina to the amphitheatre. BHL 1749b lacks the rest of the narrative, after the voice heard from heaven until the end.] Iulianus orders her tongue to be cut off, Christina then takes her cut-off tongue and throws it in Iulianus’ face, hurting his eyes and blinding him. Christina shouts to Iulianus that he has lost his sight because of what he has done. Hearing this, Iulianus throws two arrows, one into her heart and one into her side. She dies [BHL 1748 states that Iulianus ordered two arrows to be thrown]. Someone (quidam) from her family comes, who also believes. [BHL 1748: Complevit autem martyrium ejus, et collocavit eam in templo Apollonis. Complevit autem martyrium suum sancta Christina nono kalendas augustas, quinta feria in Tyro civitate'He built her martyrium and placed her in the temple of Apollo. The holy Christina was martyred the ninth day of the Calends of August [= 24 July], the fifth day of the week in the city of Tyre.’BHL 1749: Fecit martyrium in templo Apollonis et collocavit eam ibi. Consummata est Beata Cristina VIIII Kal. Aug. die quinta feria in Tyro civitate.He built a martyrium in the temple of Apollo and placed her there. The blessed Christina was killed the 9th day of the calends of August [= 24 July], the fifth day of the week in the city of Tyre’. BHL 1751: ... et condivit corpus aromatibus, et collocavit eam optimo loco, XIIII Kal. Augusti.‘... and he embalmed her body and placed it in a fine place on the 14th day of the Calends of August’. [However the Acta Sanctorum edition notes that one should read ‘9th day of the Calends of August’, that is 24 July]*****BHL 158, which situates Christina’s martyrdom in Bolsena, follows the same narrative here summarised, but is shorter, has a simpler narrative and omits a good number of details found in common in the other versions considered. It is possible that it is a summarised version of the longer narrative. For this reason we have not used it as the basis of our common summary. Its most distinctive features are found at the beginning and end:- the text begins in the following way: ‘The most blessed martyr Christina suffered in the city of Bolsena in the eleventh year' (Beatissima martyr Christina passa est in Vulsinis civitate anno undecimo).- Christina’s death at the end of the text does not match the other versions. In BHL 158, Christina is said to die by the sword at the hands of two executioners, one striking her in the heart and the other in the side. The text ends mentioning her burial in a martyrium by the care of a member of her family converted to Christianity, under Hadrian on the eighth day of the Calends of August [= 25 July].Summaries and translations: M. Pignot.

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