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E02349: The Life of *Epiphanius (bishop of Pavia, ob. 496, S01209) is written in Latin by Ennodius of Pavia (northern Italy), probably between 501 and 504. It describes the life of Epiphanius, from infancy to his accession to the bishopric of Ticinum/Pavia, his death in the same city, and burial. It particularly emphasises his impeccable way of life, his constant care for the people of his city, and his leading role in political embassies. In one passage, a barbarian king compares Epiphanius to *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037).

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posted on 2017-02-09, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Life of Epiphanius (BHL 2570)


§ 1: After a short prologue, presenting himself as a witness and companion of Epiphanius, Ennodius narrates Epiphanius’ infancy and youth: born in Ticinum [Pavia] to Maurus and Focaria, when he is still a baby his cradle shines with heavenly light. At eight years old, he becomes a lector under bishop Crispinus. He then trains as an exceptor, mastering the art of taking notes. At sixteen, he is of remarkable conduct, of handsome appearance as is fitting for priests, and skilled in speech. At eighteen he is ordained subdeacon and shows exceptional merit.

§ 2: When he is sent to end a dispute between a certain Burco and the clergy about the boundaries of the land of Summias, Burco beats him with a cudgel. The people want Burco dead for this, however Epiphanius refrains from taking revenge. At twenty he becomes a deacon, Crispinus hands him the care of the episcopal revenues assigned for the clergy, church buildings, and the care of the poor. He is most modest and embraces chastity, vigils and fasting. He is deeply impregnated with the Scriptures and lives according to them. He manages the funds with moderation and acts as a mediator on behalf of the bishop, taking care of the old bishop. All are eager to see him becoming the new bishop.

§ 3: Although there are many worthy clerics in Ticinum, Crispinus, in a speech given in Milan shortly before his death, choses Epiphanius, who is now twenty-eight years old. Although Epiphanius protests that he is unworthy, all the citizens of Ticinum and the neighbouring cities agree on his election, and he is consecrated in Milan. As a bishop he decides not to bathe, only eat at lunch, arrive before all else at church in the morning and never leave before the end of services, and to take personal responsibility for the care of the needy.

§ 4: His way of life impresses the whole world: he is entrusted with an embassy from Ricimer [magister militum and effective ruler of the West], who resides in Milan, to the emperor Anthemius in Rome, at a time of conflict between the two. In Rome, admired by all, he gives a speech offering peace to the emperor on behalf of Ricimer. The emperor, although recalling that he has given his daughter to Ricimer but that Ricimer has been constantly hostile towards him, finally agrees to grant the peace. Epiphanius returns to the province of Liguria, leaving Rome twenty days before Easter and arriving in Ticinum fourteen days before Easter. The Ligurians greatly rejoice at the restoration of peace. In the same year, Epiphanius consecrates his younger sister Honorata, and entrusts her education to Luminosa.

§ 5: At Ricimer’s and Anthemius’ death [in 472], they are succeeded by Olybrius then Glycerius, who greatly reveres Epiphanius, and after him by Nepos, who has to deal with the hostility of the Visigoths under King Euric. When Epiphanius has reached the eighth year of his episcopate, at an assembly of the leaders of Liguria, it is decided that he should lead an embassy to king Euric in Toulouse to ask for peace. His arrival in Toulouse is proclaimed by Leo, of the king’s council. Summoned, Epiphanius gives a speech to persuade Euric. Then, the king, speaking through an interpreter and deeply impressed by the plea, agree to conclude a truce. Epiphanius declines invitations to dinner at Euric’s table, because his priests are polluted [by Arianism]. On his way back he visits ‘single places of holy dwelling' (singula loca sanctarum habitationum), the Stoechades, Leros and Lérins.

§ 6: Later, due to the Devil’s work, Odoacer raises an army against Orestes, who hides in Ticinum [in 476]. Barbarians plunder and burn the city (in particular both churches of the city) and take many prisoners. Epiphanius, who remained in the city, obtains the freeing of captives, among whom is his sister. The situation calms down after Orestes’ killing in Placentia [Piacenza]. He is succeeded by Odoacer, who shows great respect for Epiphanius. The bishop takes care of the restoration of the churches of Pavia; he restores both the principal church (maior ecclesia) and the other church, miraculously overcoming a wall collapsing at the hands of the Devil, while the collapse of scaffolding leaves no-one hurt. Many demons are forced to leave the people they possessed at the bishop’s orders and prayers. Epiphanius also obtains a five-year tax exemption from Odoacer, and relief for landowners who had been oppressed by the praetorian prefect of Liguria, Pelagius.

§ 7: Then Theoderic arrives in Italy and settles in Milan [in 489]; he meets Epiphanius and is deeply impressed by him. Epiphanius even succeeds in keeping peace both with Theoderic, who gathered an army greater than any from the East and to whom he remains loyal, and with a rival named Tufa. Epiphanius takes care of all victims of this war, particularly obtaining from Theoderic the freeing of numerous captives. After five years, the Goths leave, the city is occupied by the Rugians for two years. They are violent and cruel but Epiphanius manages to temper them.

§ 8: After Theoderic’s final victory [in 493], the bishop helps with the restoration of Ticinum, welcoming citizens from other cities into his own. Theoderic makes a law granting the right to give testimony and to make wills and inherit property only to those who had been loyal to him. Epiphanius goes with Laurence, bishop of Milan, to Ravenna, where Epiphanius delivers a speech to Theoderic to convince him to extend to all the privileges granted by the law, praising him but also warning him by recalling the fate of his predecessors. The king hears Epiphanius’ plea and asks Urbicus to grant a general amnesty.

§ 9: Then Theoderic asks Epiphanius to lead an embassy to Gundobad [king of the Burgundians] to obtain the release of captives, entrusting him with a sum of gold, and emphasising how once-flourishing Liguria has been emptied of its inhabitants and the land left uncultivated. Epiphanius gratefully accepts the mission, but asks to be accompanied by Victor, bishop of Turin. Theoderic agrees. As he makes his way towards the Alps in a cold March, his reputation precedes him into Gaul and many gather to see him on the road, giving him gifts and inviting him to their tables. Epiphanius gives all the gifts that he receives to the poor. Thanks to all this help, he arrives very speedily in Lyons, where he meets the bishop, Rusticius. Gundobad sends assistants to meet Epiphanius and invite to him into the king's presence:

Quem postquam Gundobadus terrae illius dominus venisse cognovit, "ite" inquit ad suos "et videte hominem quem et meritis et vultu semper ego Laurenti martyris personae coniunxi."

'When Gundobad, the king of that region, learned that the Bishop of Ticinum had arrived, he said to his attendants: "Go and see this man whom in merit and in countenance I have ever associated with the martyr Laurence"'

§ 10: Then all the Christian assistants gather around Epiphanius and are amazed at his glory. Epiphanius meets Gundobad and gives a speech, exhorting the king to release the captives without ransom, in order to be fully rewarded and to enjoy true wealth [in heaven]. He also exhorts Gundobad to remember the past support that the Burgundian gave to Italy and, as a former master of the region of Liguria, to free these captives, who are labourers. He finally recalls that Gundobad is linked to Theoderic through the marriage of his son. Then Epiphanius and Victor weep and prostrate themselves before the king. Gundobad approves peace between the kingdoms and asks them to leave before he makes his decision. Gundobad summons Laconius, who convinces him to do the good deed. He decides to free all Italian captives without ransom, except those seized during battle, and orders a written statement to be prepared by Laconius and handed over to Epiphanius.

§ 11: As the word spreads, a multitude gathers in Lyons, witnessed by Ennodius himself, who brought notice of the release. Four hundred people depart from Lyons, and the same happens in Sapaudia and in other provinces. More than six thousand people return home. Many more are redeemed with the gold given by Theoderic. Syagria, the treasurer of the Church in these regions, provides further money, as does Avitus of Vienne. Epiphanius also frees captives in Geneva, the seat of the court of Gundobad’s brother Godigisclus. All come back to Liguria led by Epiphanius. In the third month as he is returning to Ticinum, Epiphanius heals a woman in the city of Tarantasia in the Alps.

§ 12: In Ticinum, Epiphanius takes care of those who returned. To avoid giving the impression that he claims a reward, he does not go to meet Theoderic in person but sends a letter of report about his mission. Theoderic replies granting compensation to all those that were redeemed; this happens two years before Epiphanius’ death. The inhabitants of Liguria however are still oppressed by tribute and ask Epiphanius to intercede for them. He reaches Ravenna and asks Theoderic for immunity from taxation for the current year; the kings agrees to remit two-thirds of the tax for the year. Epiphanius departs from Ravenna on a snowy day, passing through the province of Aemilia, but falls ill in Parma with catarrh (catarrhum). He finally reaches Ticinum, where his condition worsens. On the seventh day, he chants Psalms 88:2 and 30:6 and 1 Kings 2:1 and dies, in his fifty-eigth year, after thirty years as a bishop.

Illud namque silentio praeterire non debeo, quod eius sanctae reliquiae usque in diem tertium, quo cum summa veneratione recondiate dinoscuntur, tanto lumine ac decore vestitae cunctorum visae sunt oculis, ut splendorem vitae vultus signaret defuncti ...

‘I must not pass over in silence this fact – that, up to the third day, when with the greatest veneration they laid away his holy remains, all sa


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Epiphanius, bishop of Pavia, ob. 496 : S01209 Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037

Saint Name in Source

Epiphanius Laurentius

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)

Pavia Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Ennodius of Pavia

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous protection - of church and church property Miraculous protection - of people and their property Exorcism Miracle after death Observed scarcity/absence of miracles Miraculous sound, smell, light Miracle during lifetime

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Heretics Foreigners (including Barbarians) Monarchs and their family Officials Peasants Aristocrats Soldiers Other lay individuals/ people Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The Life of Epiphanius is one of the few preserved examples of Lives written in Italy during Late Antiquity. The author, Ennodius, was a deacon in Milan and later bishop of Pavia (c. 473-521). He also wrote another hagiographical text, the Life of Antonius (see E02348). The Life of Epiphanius focuses on Epiphanius' leading role in embassies to the barbarian kings, to obtain peace, tax relief and the freeing of captives. Ennodius writes as a contemporary, member of the clergy of Pavia, and eyewitness of the embassy to Gundobad, king of the Burgundians. The Life is generally thought to have been written between 501 and 504, on the basis of the hypothesised internal chronology of the preserved corpus of Ennodius' works. For bibliography on the manuscript evidence, see Gioanni 2010, 430. The oldest manuscripts listed by Gioanni are: Brussels, KBR, 9845-9848, f. 58r-77v (9th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, lat. 3803, f. 42-58r (9th c.).


There is no evidence of any cult of Epiphanius in the text itself (for instance no posthumous miracles at his grave are recorded). Indeed miracles are scarce throughout the Life, except light shining over Epiphanius' cradle as a baby, miraculous events during the rebuilding of the churches of Ticinum, some exorcisms, and, finally, light shining on Epiphanius' face after his death. The Life also contains a mention of the martyr Laurence of Rome (S00037); Epiphanius is compared to him by king Gundobad, presumably because, like Laurence, he is entrusted with the Church's wealth by the bishop Crispinus and uses it for the benefit of the needy.


Edition (BHL 2570): Vogel, F., Vita de beatissimi viri Epifani episcopi Ticinensis ecclesiae, in: Magnis Felicis Ennodi opera (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 7; Berlin, 1885), 84-109. English translation: Cook, G.M., The Life of Saint Epiphanius by Ennodius (Washington D.C., 1942) Further reading: Barnish, S.J.B., "Ennodius' Lives of Epiphanius and Antony: Two Models for the Christian Gentleman," Studia Patristica 24 (1993), 13-19. Gillett, A., Envoys and Political Communication in the Late Antique West, 411-533 (Cambridge, 2003), 148-171. Gioanni, S., “Hagiographie d’Italie (300-550). II. Les Vies de saints latines composées en Italie de la Paix constantinienne au milieu du VIe siècle,” in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 371-455, at 398-407 and 430-431. Pietrella, E., “La figura del santo-vescovo nella Vita Epiphanii di Ennodio di Pavia,” Augustinianum 24 (1984), 213-226. Sotinel, C., "Les ambitions d’historien d’Ennode de Pavie: la Vita Epiphanii," in: La narrativa cristiana antica: codici narrativi, strutture formali e schemi retorici. Atti del XXIII incontro di studiosi dell’antichità cristiana (Rome, 1995), 585-605.

Continued Description

w his countenance aglow with a radiance and beauty which confirmed the sanctity of his life ...'Ennodius, mourning, ends the Life recalling Epiphanius as a father and teacher and concludes with a prayer to God. Text: Vogel 1885, 84-109. Translation: Cook 1955, 303-351. Summary: M. Pignot (paragraph numbers added).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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