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E02499: The Martyrdom of *Hedistus, Priscus and Companions (martyrs of Laurentum near Rome, S01229) is written in Latin, presumably near Laurentum, at an uncertain date. It narrates how the soldier of Nero Hedistus, who had been baptised by *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), meets and celebrates liturgy, vigils, prayers and fasts with the priest Priscus, his wife Thermantia and daughter Christes, and Victoria in a sand quarry close to an altar of Diana where Nero hunts; their death by being buried alive in the sand quarry, situated on the via Laurentina, except Victoria who is killed by the sword.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Hedistus, Priscus and Companions (BHL 3765)


§ 1: The emperor Nero goes to Laurentum to sacrifice to the demons and stays for a long time there to tame a revolt. He comes to an altar of Diana and hunts there with his soldiers, among whom is the beautiful Roman arms-bearer (armiger) Hedistus (Hedestus), who has been baptised by the apostle Peter and is secretly Christian. At that time Hedistus hears about a priest Thimoteus [there follows a lacuna]. As he cannot find him, he is saddened and prays to God with vigils and fasts, asking to be granted to see him.

§ 2: Hedistus looks for a place where the mass (missa) is celebrated. Nero comes to the altar of Diana with tribunes and pagan priests; Hedistus also comes, looking for a priest. He finds a girl sitting with her servant spinning wool. He learns from her that she is the daughter of Thermantia and Priscus a Christian priest, that she has been taught by her parents not to fear martyrdom, that and her name is Christes [there follows a lacuna]. After hearing this, Christes and Victoria (Victuria), go to the priest Priscus and his wife Thermantia and tell them that a young man wants to see Priscus. He is well appointed and beautiful. Priscus agrees and they come to Hedistus.

§ 3: Hedistus falls at Priscus’ feet and thanks Jesus Christ. He tells Priscus that he has been baptised by Peter, and is embraced by him. From that day Hedistus spends his time with Priscus and his wife and Christes and Victoria, providing them with food and lodging. They celebrate mass with hymns, fasts and vigils at the altar of Diana in a sand quarry (harenarium). One night Hedistus has a vision of the Apostle Peter telling him that he should not leave Priscus, through whom he will receive the crown of martyrdom. He tells Priscus about his vision.

§ 4: Nero tells Hedistus that he looks pale and unwell and advises him to see a physician (medicus). Hedistus tells him that he has a physician who heals through the word; this raises Nero’s interest. Then Hedistus speaks to Priscus about his conversation with Nero, who tells him that he will be rewarded for this.

§ 5: Hedistus often comes by horse from Laurentum to the altar of Diana in the sand quarry where he meets Christes and Victoria, and where Priscus celebrates mass. One of Hedistus’ servants remarks that Hedistus does not eat nor drink but spends his nights in vigils, prayers and hymns, and often leaves on horseback. One night as Hedistus leaves to go to Priscus, one of his servants named Florus questions him, learns that he is Christian and starts despising him. Hedistus goes to Priscus, receives the Eucharist, and then goes back to Nero.

§ 6: Nero orders baths to be built in Laurentum and tells the builders (philosophi ) to do nothing without Hedistus’ advice. Thus Hedistus closely follows the building works. As they dig up sand quarries they reach that of the altar of Diana where Priscus and Hedistus celebrate mass. Hedistus prohibits anyone to enter the place, and at night comes as usual to celebrate the liturgy with Priscus, Christes and Victoria.

§ 7: Florus follows Hedistus at night and sees him speaking with the virgin Christes. He goes back to the house in the city, unnoticed. Later, during a meal, Florus tells Hedistus that he has served him for ten years and that he wonders why he has not told him about his love for the girl, who is most beautiful. Hedestus replies that the girl brings him to love Jesus Christ and he forbids Florus to say anything, threatening to punish him.

§§ 8-9: The following night Hedistus goes to Priscus as usual and is followed by his servant, who sees him entering the sand quarry and witnesses all the mysteries of the faith. He tells everything to a pagan priest named Liberius who tells Nero. Infuriated, Nero orders Hedistus to be buried alive in the sand quarry and all his possessions to be given to the one who betrayed him, but only if what they tell is true. When, the following night, Hedistus goes to Priscus, the servant tells Liberius, who informs Nero. Nero orders Hedistus to be buried alive. When it is done, Victoria flees but is arrested in the forest next to the altar of Diana and killed by the sword. The priest Priscus, Thermantia, Christes and Hedistus are buried in the sand quarry next to the via Laurentina on the 4th day before the ides of October [= 12 October], during the fourth consulate of Nero and Cornelius [= 60 AD].

Text: Rigollot 1875, 112-113. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hedistus, Priscus and Companions, martyrs of Laurentum near Rome : S01229 Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source

Hedestus, Priscus, Thermantia, Christes, Victuria Petrus

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

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

via Laurentina

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

via Laurentina Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracles experienced by the saint Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Relatives of the saint Monarchs and their family Soldiers Officials Physicians Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Hedistus, Priscus and Companions 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 widespread literary genre, that scholars often designate as 'epic' Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, shorter 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 Hedistus, Priscus and Companions There is one main version of the Martyrdom, BHL 3765 (with variant BHL 3765a), for which the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( only lists a single manuscript from the 12th century: Paris, BNF, lat. 11753, f. 253v-255r.


The Martyrdom provides some information supplementing what is otherwise known about Hedistus and his companions (see S01229): it indicates a feast day, and the place and time of burial of the martyrs. There are no miraculous events except Hedistus’ vision of the apostle Peter, who clearly plays an important role as the one who converted Hedistus and who brought him to martyrdom. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition. It is generally dated to the 5th or 6th century (as recorded in repertories of Latin sources: Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2196; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 70), on the grounds that cult of the martyrs developed during that period. Dufourcq, and others, argue in particular that the hagiographer might have based his story on the existence of an imperial villa in Laurentum, and suggest that the city would have disappeared by the 6th century, thus implying that the Martyrdom could not have been written later than that. Lanéry however underlines that it is very difficult to suggest a dating on this basis, particularly because the Martyrdom is vague in terms of cult topography, not providing evidence that it was written at a time when the city of Laurentum was flourishing, but rather concentrating on the forest where Nero hunts. Noting that there is no clear evidence of knowledge of the Martyrdom in early martyrologies and liturgical sources, Lanéry (followed by Vocino) argues that the Martyrdom may have been composed in the context of the renovation works of the church dedicated to Hedistus at the sixteenth milestone of the via Ardeatina under pope Hadrian I (772-795).


Edition (BHL 3765): Rigollot, L. M., Ad acta sanctorum supplementum (Paris, 1875), 112-113. Further reading: Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, vol. 3 (Paris, 1907), 14-21. 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, at 312-313. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 vols. (1927), I, 103. Savio, F., “S. Edisto od Oreste e compagni martiri di Laurento,” Römische Quartalschrift 29 (1915), 29-53, 121-140, 250-259. 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 170-172.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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