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E02091: The Martyrdom of *Felix and Fortunatus (brothers, martyrs of Aquileia and Vicenza, S01164) is written in Latin, probably between the 5th and the 7th c., presumably in Aquileia. It narrates the trial and death of Felix and Fortunatus under Diocletian and Maximian, and how their bodies are disputed between the cities of Vicenza and Aquileia, each taking one of the martyrs.

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posted on 2016-12-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Felix and Fortunatus (BHL 2860)


§ 1: In the eighteenth year of Diocletian and Maximian, an edict was issued in all cities ordering the killing of all Christians. It was ordered that anyone who wanted to trade should first be asked to sacrifice and that anyone hiding Christians should be punished. At that time, the prefect Apollinaris is sent from Rome to appoint magistrates and judges throughout Italy. In Aquileia the cruel pagan and persecutor of Christians, Euphemius, takes office as governor; he enters the temple of Jupiter and offers sacrifices. All citizens are invited to offer sacrifice in the Capitol, and all denounce their Christian friends.

§ 2: A certain Apamius from the governor’s office informs him that there are two Christian brothers in the city. The governor orders them to be arrested and interrogated; they find them praying to the Lord and praising his greatness. They are arrested and brought to the governor. The first (princeps) among the office of the governor presents them to him.

§ 3: Felix enters, signs himself on the forehead, hitting his breast and praying. The governor asks him his name and the name of his brother, and where they come from, if not from the city. Felix tells him that they are Felix and Fortunatus and are from the region, however they dwell in a forest to avoid the inhabitants who venerate idols. Euphemius reminds him of the edict of the emperors, but Felix replies that it only applies to those who obey them, while they have their own king in heaven.

§ 4: The governor orders them to be severely beaten; they pray to Jesus Christ, quoting Psalm 132:1 and asking Him to help them remain steadfast and serve as witnesses to the only God against the idols. While Euphemius emphasises that the emperors are angry against Christ and that he will kill them, they note that the more they are tortured the more they will be glorified since their glory is spiritual in contrast to that worldly power that is meant to pass.

§ 5: The governor, much angered, orders them to be put on a rack and their sides burnt with torches. Felix and Fortunatus sing hymns while being tortured, asking for help from the archangel Michael. The torches are extinguished, they praise the Lord. Euphemius demands that they sacrifice to Jupiter but Felix states that their protection is Christ. The gods cannot save them.

§ 6: Euphemius orders them to be laid on their back and hot oil to be poured on them, but Felix and Fortunatus find it refreshing thanks to Jesus Christ. Euphemius orders their mouths to be crushed to prevent them from speaking against the gods. Fortunatus replies that they fear no punishment as they will be protected by an angel. One of the advisors of the governor suggests that they should be sentenced to death.

§ 7: The governor orders them to be beheaded. They are taken outside the city next to the river flowing near Aquileia. Kneeling to thank God in prayer for being worthy of martyrdom, they ask God to grant them access to paradise where dwell all those who are crowned in martyrdom. As they pray and kiss each other, they are beheaded, then everybody leaves.

§ 8: At night, religious men (viri religiosi) from the city come and embalm the bodies secretly in clean linen cloths (linteamina). Meanwhile people from the city of Vicenza come and ask to bring the bodies to their city, but the inhabitants of Aquileia refuse. After some time, they find a solution, fearing the governor and pagans: each city takes one of the martyrs. Felix and Fortunatus were martyred the nineteenth day of the calends of September [= 14 August].

Text: Mattaloni 2008, 258-272. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix and Fortunatus, martyrs in Aquileia : S01164 Michael, the Archangel : S00181

Saint Name in Source

Felix et Fortunatus Michael

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)

Aquileia Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

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

Officials Ecclesiastics – unspecified Pagans Relatives of the saint Angels

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Division of relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Felix and Fortunatus 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 light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Felix and Fortunatus There is one version of the Martyrdom, BHL 2860, attested in more than 40 manuscripts, the earliest being of the 9th century: Cividale, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, cod. XXII, f. 90v-94r (9th to 10th c.); Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Aug. XXXII, f. 41r-42r (9th c.); St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, 577, f. 421r-426v (9th to 10th c.); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.14, f. 171r-173v (9th c.). Besides the list provided in the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, see the lists of manuscripts in Chiesa 2004 and Mattaloni 2008, the latter providing a critical edition with a detailed discussion of the manuscript transmission (see also additions in Lanéry 2010, 273, n. 578).


The Martyrdom, probably written in Aquileia, provides evidence of the cult of Felix and Fortunatus in Aquileia and Vicenza, corroborating other late antique sources (S01164). It is worthy of note that the Martyrdom makes use of African hagiography, notably the Acta Gallonii (EXXXX) as shown by Chiesa 2004. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition; it is borrowed in a Milanese preface that the editor Paredi dated to c. 450; however this date has been challenged and a broader dating between the 5th and the 7th centuries seems preferable before further research is carried on (see Heiming). The Martyrdom is then attested in manuscripts since the 9th century and used by Ado in his martyrology (Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 532-533). It has generally been dated to the 5th or 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2191; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 65). Summarising earlier studies, Mattaloni shows that, because of the lack of clear evidence, there is uncertainty and debate among scholars about the precise dating of composition of the Martyrdom, with datings suggested going from the 5th to the second half of the 8th century. On the basis of content, Mattaloni argues that the Martyrdom could have been written, perhaps on the basis of original acts, between the 4th and the 7th century, a dating more precisely in the 4th or 5th centuries being possible but not demonstrable. Lanéry, on the other hand, also summarising earlier hypotheses, argues that the Martyrdom is the oldest martyrdom account from Aquileia, and written in the first half of the 5th century (following Paredi’s dating of the Milanese liturgical preface for the saints).


Edition (BHL 2860): Mattaloni, V., “Passio Felicis et Fortunati,” in Colombi, E. (ed.), Le Passioni dei martiri aquileiesi e istriani, vol. 1 (Rome, 2008), 203-276 (text at 258-272). Further reading: Chiesa, P., “Relazioni agiografiche tra Africa romana e Alto Adriatico in epoca tardoantica,” in: Marcone, A. (ed.), Società e cultura in età tardoantica. Atti dell’incontro di studi. Udine 29-30 maggio 2003 (Florence, 2004), 119-137. Chiesa, P., “Le agiografie dei martiri triestini e aquileiensi nei manoscritti,” in: Cuscito, G. (ed.), San Giusto e la tradizione martiriale tergestina. Nel XVII centenario del martirio di San Giusto e per il Giubileo d’oro sacerdotale di Mons. Eugenio Ravignani, vescovo di Trento. Atti del convegno internazionale di Trieste, 11-12 mar. 2004 (Trieste, 2005), 57-82. Heiming, O., "Das mailändische Präfationale," Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft 1 (1950), 128-132. 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, 272-274. Mattaloni, V., “Passio Felicis et Fortunati,” in Colombi, E. (ed.), Le Passioni dei martiri aquileiesi e istriani, vol. 1 (Rome, 2008), 203-276. Paredi, A., I prefazi ambrosiani. Contributo alla storia della liturgia latina (Milan, 1937).

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