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E02502: The Martyrdom of *Pancratius (martyr of Rome, S00307) is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, at an uncertain date, by the early 8th c. at the latest, perhaps in the late 6th or early 7th c. It narrates Pancratius’ journey with his uncle Dionysius from Phrygia to Rome, where they live on the Caelian Hill; their conversion triggered by pope Cornelius, and their baptism; Pancratius’ martyrdom at the hands of Diocletian and his burial on the via Aurelia in a new tomb.

online resource
posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Pancratius (BHL 6426)


There is a great persecution against the Christians under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian. In a city of Phrygia (civitate frigida), Cledonius and his wife Quiriada, of noble origins, have an only son, Pancratius. Cledonius makes arrangements to give over, after their death, in the name of all the gods, the care of his son and of his patrimony to his brother Dionysius. Dionyisius starts to love Pancratius, and after three years they go to Rome and live in the insula caminiana on the Caelian Hill with all their household. As the Christians are persecuted, the Roman pope (papa romanus) Cornelius hides near them. Hearing about the wonders performed by Pope Cornelius and the conversions he triggered, Dionysius and Pancratius come to the door of Cornelius’ house. As they ask the doorkeeper Eusebius to be allowed to meet Cornelius, he goes and asks Cornelius, who rejoices and thanks Jesus Christ with a prayer. They are allowed in, come to Cornelius’ feet and ask to be enlightened about the Lord of the Christians. The holy man embraces them and instructs them about God. After twenty days, he baptises them and makes them Christian; they start fearing God to the point that they hand themselves over to the persecutors. After a few days Dionysius dies.

The pagans rage against the Christians asking the emperors to expel them from the city. Diocletian promulgates a law ordering the punishment of anyone who is found to be Christian. They arrest Pancratius, learn that he is of noble birth, tell Diocletian, and he orders him to be quickly brought to his palace. Diocletian advises Pancratius to abandon Christianity to avoid death, since he seems to be only around fifteen years old, of noble birth, and the son of his dear friend Cledonius. He offers him honours and wealth: he will become almost like his own son. But if he refuses he will be killed and his body burnt to avoid Christians honouring him as a martyr. Pancratius replies that although he is only fourteen, Jesus Christ gives him the strength not to fear any prince or judge. He rejects the pagan gods as demons. Diocletian orders him to be brought to the via Aurelia and to be beheaded there. He cannot bear to be surpassed and dishonoured by a boy (puer). Pancratius’ body is taken at night and buried by Christians in a new tomb (sepulchrum) on the 4th day before the Ides of May [= 12 May].

Text: Mombritius 1910, II, 342. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Pancratius, martyr of Rome, ob. 303/312 : S00307

Saint Name in Source


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

Caelian Hill

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

Caelian Hill Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Observed scarcity/absence of miracles Unspecified miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Children Relatives of the saint Monarchs and their family Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Pancratius 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 Pancratius There are several related versions of the Martyrdom, BHL 6420-6427b (divided into 4 main redactions, see Lapidge 2018, 468-470). The earliest attested and most widespread in the manuscripts, according to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, is BHL 6421, notably with three manuscripts preserved from the 9th c.: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 9v-10v (9th-10th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 516, f. 95v-96v; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 57r-58r (9th-10th c.). A detailed study of the manuscript transmission would be required before any sound conclusion could be drawn on the relationship and chronology of the various versions of the Martyrdom. Awaiting such a study, we have here summarised BHL 6426, because of Verrando’s suggestion that, although the earliest form of the Martyrdom seems to be lost, the earliest extant version would be BHL 6426, published by Mombritius (although no manuscript of it is preserved). Indeed, BHL 6421, the most widespread, follows the same narrative as BHL 6426, with only a number of variants that could be seen as attempts to provide a more accurate narrative, notably locating Pancratius’ family in the city of Synnada in Phrygia, replacing pope Cornelius (251-253) by pope Gaius (283-296), using common stereotypes to describe in more details Pancratius’ burial, and situating his death in 304. We have not considered the other versions here, but see De’Cavalieri, Verrando and Lapidge for a summary of the issues, and a comparison of versions. Lapidge provides a full translation of BHL 6421, however attempting to reconstruct the original narrative by including variants from BHL 6426. There are also two Greek translations of the Martyrdom, BHG 1408 and 1409, the latter preserved in a 9th c. manuscript, and, according to De’Cavalieri, a paraphrase of the former.


The Martyrdom provides information about Pancratius’ Phryrgian origins, his connections to the Caelian hill in Rome, his execution on the via Aurelia, and his burial in a new tomb. The status of Dionysius is unclear, as he is said to die after his conversion without any detail given. There is no evident connection between the Martyrdom and Gregory of Tours’ description of miracles happening at Pancratius’ tomb (E00538), but this does not help to date the Martyrdom. On the cult of Pancratius, see the useful summary in Lapidge 2018, 471-473. The Martyrdom was written at an uncertain date, but by the early 8th century at the latest, when it was used by Bede in his martyrology (E05548), although it is unclear which version he used (see Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 87); it is also preserved in 9th c. manuscripts. As recorded in the repertories of Latin sources, it is generally dated in connection to the development of the cult of Pancratius in the 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2218; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 82; see for instance De’Cavalieri and hypotheses of dating summarised in Verrando), particularly after the building of a basilica in Rome in his honour by Pope Symmachus (498-514). However, Amore, followed by Verrando, Lanéry and Lapidge, argues that it should not be dated before the late 6th century, when Benedictine monks who had arrived from Cassino and dwelt on the Caelian Hill took charge of the church of Pancratius, since our text establishes a clear connection between Pancratius and the Caelian. Verrando suggests, with weaker arguments, that the Martyrdom could not have been composed under Gregory the Great (590-604) as suggested by Amore, because he would not have approved the writing of such a text, but rather under his successor Sabinianus (604-606). Verrando also based his dating on supposed borrowings detected in our Martyrdom from the martyrdom accounts of *Nereus and Achilleus (E02033) and *Agatha (E01916).


Editions: BHL 6421: Acta Sanctorum, Mai. III, 21. BHL 6426: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 342. The original edition was published c. 1480. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 473-476. Further reading: Amore, A., I martiri di Roma (Rome, 1975), 250-253. Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, vol. 1 (Paris, 1900), 235-237. Franchi De’Cavalieri, P., “Della leggenda di S. Pancrazio romano,” Hagiographica (Rome, 1908), 77-105. 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 289-290. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 468-473. Verrando, G. N., “Le numerose recensioni della Passio Pancratii,” Vetera Christianorum 19 (1982), 105-129.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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