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E02500: The Martyrdom of *Marcellinus and Petrus (priest and exorcist, martyrs of Rome, S00577) is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, between the late 4th and the 8th c., perhaps in the early 7th c. It narrates the trials endured by the saints and the miracles and conversions they performed, notably of *Arthemius, Candida and Paulina (S00552), who are then martyred and buried in a crypt on the via Aurelia; Marcellinus and Petrus’ martyrdom in Silva nigra/Silva candida; their burial near the martyr *Tiburtius (martyr of Rome, S01404) on the via Labicana; the writing by pope Damasus (366-384) of a verse inscription for their tomb; the conversion of the saints’ executioner.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Martyrdom of Marcellinus and Petrus (BHL 5230-5231)


§ 1: Short introductory prologue: the Saviour not only crowns the friends of the faith but rescues their enemies from hell. Rome is in the hands of pagans, and the exorcist Petrus is beaten and sent into a most dark prison in chains. The guardian of the prison named Arthemius has an only daughter, the virgin Paulina, who is tormented by a demon. Petrus tells him to believe in the son of God Jesus Christ and his daughter will be saved. Arthemius remarks that Petrus’ God cannot free him, how could he free his daughter? Petrus replies that the Lord can free him but does not want to prevent him from receiving the crown of martyrdom.

§ 2: To be convinced and believe, Arthemius asks Petrus to demonstrate that God can free him. Petrus tells him to go home and prepare a lodging-place for him, he will be freed from his chains and join him there thanks to Jesus Christ. Thus he will see and touch him and believe and his daughter will be saved. Arthemius thinks that Petrus has gone mad.

§ 3: Arthemius goes home and tells his wife Candida what Petrus said. She remarks that Petrus might be able to cure his daughter and, if he really comes, they should believe in Christ. Arthemius however disagrees and thinks that even the gods, even Jupiter coming down to earth, could not free him. Candida insists that they should all the more believe if it happens. Night falls as they speak, Petrus arrives dressed in white with the triumph of the cross in his hand. Arthemius and Candida come at his feet and proclaim their faith in God and Jesus Christ. Their daughter is freed from the demon, who shouts that it has been chased by Petrus thanks to Christ.

§ 4: Arthemius and his whole household believe and are baptised. More than 300 men, and even more women, proclaim their faith, demons are chased and the sick are healed. The priest Marcellinus is called and he baptises everyone in Arthemius’ household. Arthemius offers to free any prisoner who becomes Christian; all promise to believe, are freed and baptised by Marcellinus. The judge Serenus falls ill for more than forty days, enabling all the newly baptised to be strengthened in their faith by Marcellinus and Petrus.

§§ 5-6: The vicarius Serenus asks Arthemius to gather all prisoners to be questioned at dawn. Arthemius tells him what happened, how Petrus was freed from prison, converted all prisoners and freed them. Serenus orders Marcellinus and Peter to be questioned. Serenus suggests to them that if they abandon Christianity they will be treated less severely for having freed criminals. Marcellinus replies that all crimes are washed away when one believes in Jesus Christ. Serenus orders him to be beaten, then to be separated from Petrus, imprisoned naked and chained without light or water in a cell where broken glass is thrown.

§§ 7-8: Petrus speaks against Serenus and the tortures that he inflicts on Marcellinus, stating that while Marcellinus will be rewarded, he will suffer forever. Serenus orders Petrus to be chained and his feet bound to a stake. A praying angel appears to Marcellinus, gives him his clothes and tells him to follow him. The angel and Marcellus come to Petrus, he is freed and they follow the angel to a house where all those who were baptised are praying. The angel tells the saints that they should comfort the new believers and then hand themselves to the vicarius Serenus.

§ 9: The next day Serenus hears that Petrus and Marcellinus are nowhere to be found. He summons Arthemius, Candida and Paulina, tries to force them to offer sacrifice but they refuse and proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ. Serenus orders them to be buried under a heavy amount of rubble on the via Aurelia. As they reach the place of their martyrdom, they are met by Marcellinus and Petrus and the crowd of all the Christians. The officials try to escape but are seized. Christians try to convert them without success and they are kept under custody while Marcellinus celebrates mass in the crypt where the saints are to be punished. Then all the people leave.

§ 10: As the crypt is now quiet, Marcellinus and Petrus tell the officials that they could have done anything with God’s help but have done nothing, not even freed the prisoners or escaped. The officials however strike Arthemius with the sword, throw Candida and Paulina into a precipice and cover them with stones. They bind Marcellinus and Peter to a tree and tell the judge.

§ 11: The judge orders them to be brought to Silva nigra (‘dark forest’), which today is named Silva candida (‘white forest’) in honour of the saints, and to be beheaded there. In the middle of the forest, they clear a space with their own hands where they pray, kiss each other and are beheaded. Those who executed them see their souls going out of their bodies as virgins with jewels and most bright garments and being taken by angels to heaven.

§ 12: The most Christian women Lucilla and Firmina, relatives of the most distinguished martyr Tiburtius, stay by his tomb (sepulchrum) and build a chamber there, where they remain night and day. Tiburtius appears to them with the two martyrs and tells them where to find their bodies in Silva nigra and where to bury them, near him, in a lower part of the crypt. They do this with the help of two acolytes of the Roman Church.

§ 13: Damasus learnt all this, when he was a young boy and reader in the Church, from those who had beheaded the saints. Later when he became a bishop he put these verses in their tomb.
[There follows a quotation of Damasus’ inscription in honour of Marcellinus and Petrus].

§ 14: Dorotheus, who had beheaded them, repented and told everything to the bishop Julius; he was baptised as an old man and obtained the Saviour’s mercy through his confession.

[Addition ]:

Lucilla collected the bodies of Marcellinus and Petrus, placed them in her carriage, brought them to the via Labicana at the third milestone from the city, and buried them there on the 4th day before the Nones of June [= 2 June].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Iun., I, 171-173. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter and Marcellinus, martyrs of Rome : S00577 Tiburtius, son of the prefect Chromatius, martyr of Rome : S01404 Arthemius, martyr of Rome, buried on the via Aurelia : S00552

Saint Name in Source

Marcellinus, Petrus Tiburtius Arthemius

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 name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Other liturgical acts and ceremonies

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Other

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle after death Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Invisibility, bilocation, miraculous travels Exorcism Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Relatives of the saint Aristocrats Torturers/Executioners Prisoners Crowds Demons

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Marcellinus and Petrus 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 Marcellinus and Petrus There is one main early version of the Martyrdom BHL 5230 and 5231, the two numbers used to respectively record the omission or inclusion of a short additional mention at the end of the Martyrdom about the burial of the saints on the via Labicana. According to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, BHL 5230 is preserved in 90 manuscripts, the earliest from the 9th century: Paris, BNF, lat. 2026, f. 4r-5r and Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 59r-61v (9th-10th c.) and BHL 5231 in 37 manuscripts, the earliest from the 9th century as well: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 14v-16r (9th-10th c.); Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire, Section de Médecine, 156, f. 132v-137v; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 516, f. 104r-106v.


The Martyrdom provides evidence about the well-attested cult of Marcellinus and Petrus on the via Labicana in the cemetery Inter duas lauros near the tomb of the martyr Tiburtius to which they are associated by the hagiographer (see for their cult S00577 and a summary in Lapidge 2018). It also includes a noteworthy quotation of a now lost inscription of pope Damasus in honour of the martyrs, which served as inspiration to the hagiographer. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, but must have been written after Damasus’ papacy, and by the 8th century at the latest, since it is borrowed by Bede in his martyrology (E05554, see Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 82) and found in manuscripts since the 9th century. It is dated to the 5th or 6th centuries, following Lanzoni, in repertories of Latin sources (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2206; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 76). Lanéry however suggests that it may be dated to the early 7th century, after the rise of cult of Marcellinus and Petrus in the 6th century, and before the destruction of Damasus’ inscription dedicated to the saints that would have happened in the early 7th century. At that time, a new basilica was built to honour the martyrs in the cemetery inter duas lauros, encompassing the burial site of the martyr Tiburtius (see S00577 for archaeological evidence of cult in the cemetery). Lanéry argues that the Martyrdom, which associates the saints to Tiburtius and describes their burial place, was written during this phase of expansion of cult buildings, the writer taking care to record the inscription shortly before it was destroyed. Despite evidence of the development of cult in the cemetery ad duas lauros well after the 6th century, Lapidge argues that the whole cultic complex was destroyed during the Gothic wars in the 6th century and the bodies translated to another church in an uncertain location near the Lateran (where cult of the saints is attested only by the 8th century). On this weak basis, he suggests that the composition of the Martyrdom should be situated before these changes, between c. 560 and 600.


Editions (BHL 5230-5231): Acta Sanctorum, Iun., I, 171-173 Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 179-181. The original edition was published c. 1480. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 441-447. Further reading: 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 291-292. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 vols. (1927), 123-125. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 436-441.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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