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E02506: The Martyrdom of *Bonosa (virgin and martyr of Portus near Rome, S01241) is written in Latin, presumably in Portus, probably during the middle ages, before the late 12th c. It narrates the trials and death of Bonosa in Portus under the emperor Septimus Severus, and the conversion, martyrdom and burial of 50 anonymous soldiers near Portus.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Bonosa (BHL 1425)


§ 1: In the year 207 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the emperor Severus takes power. Christians are persecuted for the fifth time since Nero, among them the noble virgin Bonosa, a Christian since infancy. She frequently prays and fasts.

§§ 2-3: Bonosa is arrested, brought before the emperor and interrogated. She rejects the worship of the gods and proclaims her faith in Christ, quoting Ps. 97:7 against idols. The emperor orders her to be sent to prison, without bread or water for seven days. In prison the virgin kneels and prays to God, asking for her body to be preserved from the enemy.

§ 4: Instantly an angel appears comforting her and exhorting her to martyrdom. After the seventh day, the emperor, surprised to find her alive, asks her who gave her bread; she quotes Matthew 4:4 about the word of God as food. The emperor summons her to offer sacrifice and to marry, but she replies that she offers herself as sacrifice to her heavenly husband Jesus Christ.

§ 5: The emperor orders her to be stripped and beaten. An angel makes sure that nobody can see her naked body. As she endures the beating, the emperors hands her over to a governor (praeses), ordering that she should be convinced to offer sacrifice or otherwise be killed. The governor prepares a tribunal next to the Romanus Portus before the forum and offers wealth to Bonosa in exchange of her offering sacrifice. She refuses, contrasting worldly goods and heavenly inheritance.

§ 6: The governor orders her to be beaten but the governor’s ministers are unable to touch her as they experience severe pain. Bonosa points out that it is a miracle of Jesus Christ and exhorts them to believe in Him. They state their belief and 50 soldiers are baptised by the bishop of the Rome (pontifex urbis Romae praesul) and received [as Godmother] by Bonosa who teaches them the divine law.

§ 7: The governor orders Bonosa to be brought before him and accuses her of using magic to seduce his servants, but she replies that the gods are demons, quoting Ps. 95:5. The governor orders her to be tortured on a rack. She thanks God. The next day the governor sentences to death those who have been baptised. They are brought outside the gate of the city and beheaded on the 8th day before the Ides of July [= 8 July], and buried one stadion (stadium) away from the Romanus Portus.

§§ 8-9: Bonosa is sent to a dark place, an angel appears to her, comforts her and gives her heavenly bread. Then the governor orders his attendants to beat Bonosa with leaden scourges (plumbatae). Bonosa tells the governor that he cannot defeat her, but he insists, suggesting that she should abandon Christianity and either marry or become a vestal virgin. Bonosa rejects his suggestion, exhorting pagans to convert with a description of hell and paradise.

§ 10: The governor remarks that what Bonosa describes is new to him but he rejects her invitation to believe and be baptised. He plans to send her to a brothel but she replies that she will never lose her virginity. The governor hands Bonosa over to brothel-keepers (lenones), but they are unable to seize her. The governor orders her sides to be burnt but Bonosa tells him that she does not fear tortures. The governor orders her to be further tortured on a rack. However, as she does not yield, he sends her to prison.

§§ 11-13: An angel appears with shining light to Bonosa in prison, exhorting her to keep her resolve and receive her crown of martyrdom. She thanks and praises God with a prayer, asking God to receive her after hear death, ending with ‘Amen’. The next day the governor orders a tribunal to be prepared in the forum of the city and Bonosa to be brought to him. Again he summons Bonosa to sacrifice but she rejects the gods as demons. The governor threatens her with death. As Bonosa still refuses, he orders her to be beheaded. She is brought outside the gates of the city and beheaded on the Ides of July [= 15 July]. The same year the emperor who had arrested her is killed by a disease in the town of York (Eboracum oppidum). Thus Jesus Christ avenges his saints and gives them glory. [The text ends with a request of prayers to Bonosa and repeats that her feast day is on 15 July].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Iul., IV, 21-23. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Bonosa, virgin and martyr of Portus near Rome : S01241

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

Portus Romanus

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

Portus Romanus 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 - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Miracle after death Miracle at martyrdom and death Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Changing abilities and properties of the body Miraculous sound, smell, light Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Pagans Monarchs and their family Soldiers Officials The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Angels

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Bonosa 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 Bonosa There is one main version of the Martyrdom, BHL 1425 (while BHL 1426 is a summarised version), preserved in 3 manuscripts according to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, the earliest from the late 12th century.


The Martyrdom is of uncertain date, but should have been written by the late 12th century at the latest, the date of the earliest manuscript preserved. Repertories of Latin sources date it with uncertainty to the 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2169; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 55), however Lanéry suggests that its features better fit a later date, perhaps in the 12th century in connection to the foundation of a church dedicated to Bonosa in Rome in Trastevere.


Edition (BHL 1425): Acta Sanctorum, Iul., IV, 21-23. 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 298.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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