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E02139: The Visigothic Spanish king Sisebut composes, in around AD 613, a Latin Life and Martyrdom of *Desiderius (bishop and martyr of Vienne, ob. c. AD 607, S01171).

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posted on 2016-12-17, 00:00 authored by mszata
Sisebut, Life and Martyrdom of Saint Desiderius (BHL 2148)


(§ 1) In the introduction, the author says that he writes to provide a model for imitation, for edification, and to make the saint well-remembered in the future. The author promises to use a simple style. He invokes God's help.

(§ 2) The origins of the saint; his education, with an emphasis on his prowess in literary and biblical studies; the virtues and charity that he displayed from the earliest age.

(§ 3) Desiderius is asked by many towns to become their bishop, but he refuses. Eventually, he reluctantly agrees to be the bishop of Vienne. As a prelate, he makes people abandon their vices and live charitably.

(§ 4) King Theuderic II of Burgundy (r. 596-613) and his grandmother Brunhild conspire to incriminate Desiderius, which is presented as a plot of the Devil. At the council a noble woman called Justa accuses Desiderius of rape. The council condemns Desiderius, deprives him of his office, and exiles him to a monastery on an island. In the see of Vienne he is replaced by the 'pseudo-priest' Domnolus.

(§§ 5-7) Desiderius cures a mute beggar. The miracle attracts others who look for healing. Among others, Desiderius heals a blind man, and three lepers.

(§§ 8-11) The news of the miraculous actions of Desiderius reach the court of Theuderic and Brunhild. In the meantime one of the initiators of the plot against Desiderius, an unnamed dignitary of Theuderic, is murdered by the rioting Burgundians. Justa confesses that she lied about Desiderius, and that Brunhild should be blamed for it; then she dies. Theuderic and Brunhild, fearful because of these deaths, revoke the condemnation of Desiderius, and ask him for forgiveness. The bishop returns to a rejoicing Vienne.

(§§ 12-14) Three miracles of Desiderius: he provides wine for the crowds visiting him, and when this runs out, he miraculously refills the empty jar; Desiderius is fasting and fellow-priests come to him to talk, while they discuss the divine portents, an eagle brings them fish to eat; Desiderius fills a lamp on the altar with oil, the oil miraculously overflows the vessel and is gathered by the faithful and used for healing:

(§ 14) Ante quodam suae nobilis acta passionis tempore gestum est ut lucernam manu propria replens iuxta altarem accenderet, quae minus porrectas luminis astas inradiat ac suae capacitatis mensuram sine cuiuspiam abiectione crescens exuberat. Liquor sane exundantis olei summa ratione amplectitur, qui aegritudines laboris per Dei gratiam pellet atque morbidas humanum passiones salutem conferendo remouet. Ista sane qua extenuatus sermo breuiter summa prestringere potuit, de uita eius dixisse sufficiat.

'Some time before his glorious martyrdom, it happened that he lit a lamp by the altar, filling it with his own hands, whence it poured forth afar its beams of light. Though no one had refilled it, the oil grew greater and became too much for the vessel. Indeed the lees of the overflowing oil is gathered with great veneration and through God's grace puts to flight the pain of sickness, restoring those suffering from illness and bringing them health once more. Let these outstanding events which my feeble style has been able to outline suffice as an account of his life.'

(§§ 15-16) The hagiographer marks the beginning of his account of the saint's martyrdom. Theuderic and Brunhild rule disastrously, therefore Desiderius decides to reproach them. The Devil makes them unwilling to change, and they order their servants to assassinate Desiderius.

(§§ 17-18) Desiderius is dragged from his church. A crowd of people beg the bishop to let them defend him, but he refuses, and orders them to fight instead with spiritual weapons. The assailants appear, and stone Desiderius. Eventually one of them finishes Desiderius off with the blow of a club, breaking his neck.

(§§ 19-21) The hagiographer concludes that he has told the story of the life, miracles, and martyrdom of Desiderius, and what is left is only the account of the deaths of the persecutors. Theuderic dies 'seized by a disease of the bowels'. Brunhild has qualms about her conduct toward Desiderius, then she loses in war with the neighbouring kingdom, and is taken captive. She is humiliated by being paraded naked on a camel, and later is torn apart by horses.

(§ 22) The miraculous powers of the body of Desiderius, buried in Vienne:
... Ad cuius [i.e. Desiderii] uenerantissimum corpus tanta Christus conferet copia sanitatum: quacumque fuerit quispiam aegritudine conuexatus uel debilitate corporis deturpatus, statim diuinum nomen illic toto corde poposcerit, omnes a se morbos discutiens totamque maculam pellens sanus hilarisque ad cupitam per Dei gratiam peruenit sanitatem, unum in Trinitate Dominum semperque manentem, qui mihi uitam indignissimo prosequenti conferat sempiternam et audientibus uobis gratiam tribuat copiosam.

'... Christ gave such a quantity of holiness to his most venerable corpse that whenever anyone troubled by illness or afflicted by a sickness of the flesh called with all his heart on his divine spirit here, shaking off every disease and lesion, he came hale and hearty to the health for which he had longed through the grace of God, the one in three and everlasting. May He grant me, all unworthy, eternal life and you, my audience, an abundance of grace.'

Text: Martín 2000. Translation: Fear 2011. Summary: M. Szada.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Desiderius, bishop of Vienne (Gaul), marytred in 607 AD. : S01171

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

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

Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting/veneration of living saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities Punishing miracle Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - oil

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Oil lamps/candles


The Life and Martyrdom of Desiderius is a short hagiographical work composed by King Sisebut of the Visigothic kingdom in Spain. He ruled from AD 612 to 621. He probably wrote the Life of Desiderius shortly after the deaths of Theuderic and Brunhild in 613. The text survived in six modern manuscripts dated from the 16th to the 18th c. (for a list and description of these manuscripts see Martín 2000, 127–128). All of them attribute the Life and Martyrdom of Desiderius to King Sisebut, and his authorship has never been doubted.


According to the seminal article of J. Fontaine (1980), in the Life and Martyrdom of Desiderius Sisebut wanted to attack and denigrate the fallen Merovingian rulers, and prompt their Frankish enemies into reconciliation with the Visigoths. An account of the life and martyrdom of Desiderius can also be found in the anonymous Martyrdom of Desiderius, BHL 2149 (E07698) composed in Gaul probably not later than 617 (Martín 1995). The Gallic author certainly knew the work of Sisebut. Three later hagiographical works on Desiderius recorded by Martín 1995, 449–456, are all derived from this Merovingian Martyrdom. The death of Desiderius and the miraculous power of his body is mentioned in the Chronicle of Fredegar 4.32 (E05935). The account in the chronicle is probably independent of the Life by Sisebut, because he notes the participation of Bishop Aridius of Lyon in the conspiracy against Desiderius, a detail not known from the work of Sisebut.


Editions: Gil, J. Miscellanea Wisigothica (Seville 1972), 682-686. Krusch, B., Vita vel Passio sancti Desiderii Viennensis (Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum 3; Hannover 1896), 630-637. Martín, J.C., "Une nouvelle édition critique de la "Vita Desiderii" de Sisebut, accompagné de quelques réflexions concernant la date des "Sententiae" et du "De uiris illustribus" d'Isidore de Séville," Hagiographica 7 (2000), 127-180. Translation: Fear, A.T., King Sisebut, The Life or Martyrdom of Desiderius, in: A.T. Fear, Lives of the Visigothic Fathers (Translated Texts for Historians 26; Liverpool 2011), 1-14. Further reading: Fontaine, J., "King Sisebut's Vita Desiderii and the Political Function of Visigothic Hagiography," in: E. James (ed.), Visigothic Spain: New Approaches (Oxford, 1980), 93-129 Fox, Y., "The bishop and the monk: Desiderius of Vienne and the Columbanian movement," Early Medieval Europe 20 (2012), 176-194. Martín, J.C., "Una posible datación de la Passio sancti Desiderii BHL 2149," Euphrosyne: revista de filologia clássica 23 (1995), 439–456.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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