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E02510: The Martyrdom of *Rufina and Secunda (virgins and martyrs of Silva Candida, near Rome, S00809) is written in Latin, presumably near Rome, at an uncertain date, but by the late 7th c. It narrates the trials endured, miracles performed, execution and burial of the virgins at the 10th milestone from Rome on the via Cornelia.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Rufina and Secunda (BHL 7359)


[444] (15) Rufina and Secunda, sisters, virgins, and Roman citizens, are daughters of the clarissimi Asterius and Aurelia. During the persecution of Valerian and Gallienus, their betrothed men, Armentarius and Verinus, abandon their Christian faith. They try to persuade the two sisters to abandon their faith too. So as to (20) escape these exhortations, the girls go to their small landholdings (praediolus) in Tuscia. When they find out, Armentarius and Verinus tell the Count Archesilaus that the girls have repudiated them and the gods in preference for Jesus Christ. (25) Then the foul Archesilaus, with troops and cavalry, apprehends the sisters at the 14th milestone on the via Flaminia. He brings them back to Rome, and hands them over to the prefect, Iunius Donatus, whom he informs of their impiety (30) and disloyalty towards the emperors. Angered at this, Donatus orders them to be split up and imprisoned, and then to be brought to his secretarium on the third day.

The first to be presented is Rufina. He asks her why, considering the nobility of her birth, she (35) is behaving so ignobly: would she prefer to be imprisoned in chains, or to live happily with a husband. But she says that her captivity is only temporary and will grant her freedom forever. Donatus tells her not to talk such nonsense, and to sacrifice to the gods, so that she might return to her husband and live with him to a ripe old age. (40) Rufina rejects the advice he has given her, emphasising that sacrificing to the idols would mean to perish forever and marrying would mean to lose the glory of virginity; anyway the prefect makes unrealistic claims, as he cannot even be sure of what his own future holds. (45) The prefect is irate, and tells her to desist and see sense, not to lose the time she has left to live. Rufina replies that now the prefect seems to admit that nothing in human life is certain, not even how much time one has left to live; (50) she however seeks eternal life. Rufina invokes Christ who, though rejected by the Jews, raises the dead from their tombs. [445] Donatus tells her not to speak such vain things, and to marry her betrothed. But Count Archesilaus objects that she has committed sacrilege, and that therefore she cannot marry. Rufina replies that, despite his remarks, she does not seek to marry but to devote her virginity to Christ the son of God (5), and that she does not fear his threats, since he cannot revoke her palm of virginity (virginitatis palma), nor separate her from Christ.

Then Secunda is summoned, so that Rufina might be whipped in front of her; it is hoped that this might inspire enough terror to bring them back from their sacrilege. So the whipping begins, but (10) Secunda cries out to the judge, asking him what he thinks he is doing: does he not know that he is glorifying her sister, and paying such honour to her [Secunda] herself? The prefect says that he thinks she is madder than her sister. Secunda says that neither of them is mad, but they are Christians and devoted to Christ, and that (15) through these beatings they will aspire to crowns of eternity. The prefect suggests that she should rather convince her sister and they will be freed and returned to their future spouses. Secunda explains to him that they are virgins, and that they cannot compromise their integrity; (20) for violence indicates suffering, and this prepares the way for the palm. She tells him to impose the worst kinds of torture upon them, because through this she will gain martyrdom. (25) She persists in telling him such things.

Then the prefect orders that they be shut up in a dark place, where they are to be exposed to foul smelling fumes; but the fumes in fact are sweet smelling. (30) The girls are overcome neither by the fumes not by the darkness, for the darkness is illuminated by God. Then they are ordered to be taken from there to the baths, and tossed in a burning hot bathtub. After two hours, order is given to collect their bodies but the bathtub is found to be cool. When he hears this, the prefect is dumbfounded. He orders that they be led to the middle of the river Tiber (35) and thrown in with rocks tied to their neck. They are thrown in nude, but this doesn’t work: they reappear at the surface fully clothed, praising the Lord. When he hears this, the prefect starts doubting that they use magic: rather they are holy. He hands them back to the Count Archesilaus, to be either punished or freed.

Archesilaus orders them brought to a wood at the 10th milestone from Rome on the via Cornelia, to a farm (fundus) called Buxo. There the one is beheaded, and the other is run through, and their bodies are left for the wolves to feed on. (45) Then the matrona Plantilla, on whose property (praedium) all this happened, has a vision of them sitting, clad in jewels and wedding robes, and saying to her: abandon the worship of idols, give up your impiety, believe in Christ and you will find our bodies then bury them in the same place. Plantilla rises up, goes out and finds their bodies. And finding the bodies in an incorrupt (50) state, she converts and builds a tomb (sepulchrum) for them. In this place there are shown the benefits of prayers to them. They were martyred on the 6th day before the Ides of July [= 10 July].

Text: Mombritius 1910, II, 444-445. Summary: M. Humphries, The Roman Martyrs Project, Manchester University, adapted and revised by M. Pignot (numbers in brackets refer to page numbers and those in parentheses to line numbers in Mombritius).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Rufina and Secunda, virgin and martyrs at Rome, ob. c. 257 : S00814

Saint Name in Source

Rufina, Secunda

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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics Saint aiding or preventing the construction of a cult building

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Aristocrats Officials

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Rufina and Secunda 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 Rufina and Secunda There is one main version of the Martyrdom, BHL 7359, preserved in 36 manuscripts according to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, the earliest from the 9th century: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 63r-64r (9th-10th c.); Koblenz, Landeshauptarchiv, Best. 701 n° 759, 54, f. 2r-2v (9th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palat. lat. 846, f. 107v-108v (9th-10th c.).


Rufina and Secunda's martyrdom and burial is situated at the 10th milestone from Rome on the via Cornelia, in a forest, in the diocese known as Silva Candida (see a brief discussion about the burial site in Lapidge 2018, 552). The Martyrdom is of uncertain date, but must have been written by the late 7th century, when it is borrowed by Aldhelm (E06656). It is generally dated to the 5th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2227; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 85), however Lanéry argues that it should rather be dated between around 550 and 650, because it borrows from earlier accounts of martyrdom, in particular from that of Marius, Martha and companions (E02093), which Lanéry dates around 550.


Edition (BHL 7359): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 444-445. The original edition was published c. 1480. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 553-556. 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 300. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 551-553.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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