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E02511: The Martyrdom of *Serapia and Sabina (martyrs of oppidum Vendinensium, perhaps near Terni in central Italy, S01303) is written in Latin, at an uncertain date, by the 9th c. at the latest. It narrates the virgin Serapia’s conversion of the aristocrat Sabina; Serapia’s trial; a punishing miracle preserving her virginity; her death and burial by Sabina in her own tomb; Sabina’s trial and death and her burial next to Serapia.

online resource
posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Serapia and Sabina (BHL 7586 and BHL 7407)


BHL 7586:

§ 1: At the time of a persecution of the Christians, there lived at the oppidum Vendinensium an Antiochene virgin called Serapia (Seraphia), in the house of Sabina (Savina), who was wife of Valentinus and daughter of Herodes Metallarius, who gave games (candidam dedit) three times under Vespasian in Rome. Serapia is Christian and seeks to persuade Sabina to join her in the faith; Sabina converts. Then the praeses Berillus asks Sabina to bring Serapia to his tribunal. At first she refuses, but when Serapia tells her to let her go, Sabina agrees but decides to go with her. They shall either live or to die together.

§ 2: The two women go to Berillus, and are brought in before him together. He speaks to Sabina, asking what is the nature of the madness that has possessed her, asking her to remember her station, and instructing her to recover her sense and go home. Sabina replies that she has been persuaded by Serapia to abandon idols and believe in God and that the praeses should do the same. Standing in awe of Sabina, the praeses returns to his palace and Sabina goes home.

§ 3: Three days later, the praeses prepares the lusorium across the bridge super arcum Bini, where shows used to take place, and orders that Serapia be brought there. Sabina follows on foot to the lusorium, but when she sees she cannot help, before going home, she cries out to the praeses – calling him a rabid Asiatic dog – warning him not to harm Serapia; Christ will come and submit him and his emperors (sic) to eternal punishment.

§ 4: The praeses comands Serapia to perform sacrifice to the gods, just as the emperors do. Serapia refuses, rejecting the gods as demons, and professing her belief in God. The praeses asks her where is the temple of Christ, she replies that she herself is the temple of Christ, if she keeps chastity and converts others (quoting Scripture). The praeses asks if she is violated, she will no longer be the temple of God? She says that he who violates the temple of God will be destroyed (again quoting Scripture).

§ 5: The praeses disregards her warning, and orders her to be given to two young Egyptian men to be used by them sexually for the whole night (ut ea per integram noctem uterentur). They bring her to a hidden place in a most dark chamber. There Serapia prays to Jesus to take mercy on her in this extremity and free her from this sordid pass by making the young men blind. When, at the first hour of the night, the young men approach the virgin, there is a loud noise and an earthquake which is felt by all those in the city. The young men are blinded and fall down as if they were dead, and Serapia, seeing that she has received divine help, spends the night offering prayers to the Lord.

§ 6: In the morning the two young men are found lying on the ground paralysed and Serapia praying. When the praeses hears about this, he orders the tribunal to be prepared and Serapia to be brought thither. She is interrogated about whether the young men satisfied her. Serapia replies that she did nothing with them, she did not spend the night with them, but with her guardian the Lord Jesus Christ. The praeses demands to know what sort of magic she used against the two young men. She protests that she, as a Christian, is not allowed to be a sorcerer; rather, any of those who have been killed through magic will receive life from Christ.

§ 7: The praeses responds that if Christ is stronger than any sort of sorcery, let him revive the two young men to good health so they can give their own account of what happened. He is sure that she has used some sorcery to prevent them from speaking against her. Serapia replies that her God is almighty and nothing is impossible for him. Fine, rejoins the praeses: let him revive the young men! Serapia tells the praeses that she knows no spell but only prays to God. The praeses asks her to go where the young men lie and pray to God, but she asks them to be brought to her so that all can see the miracle. The praeses arranges for the two young men to be brought in front of the tribunal. They are totally unconscious.

§ 8: Pray to your Christ (Christum tuum), the praeses now orders Serapia. She does so, invoking the miraculous healings achieved by Christ during his time on earth: she calls on him to revive the young men so that, by this action, the pagans present might know that God is the only God. She touches the young men, calling on them to rise up in the name of Jesus Christ. They do so immediately and start talking.

§ 9: The people are amazed and the praeses addresses himself to the young men, asking them what Serapia did to them. They reply that when they were about to violate her, a young man, splendid as the sun, interposed himself between them and her; because of his brightness they were shaken, lost sight and fainted, and they can’t remember what happened next. They turn to the praeses and tell him that either she is working through magic, or truly her God is great. The praeses again presses Serapia as to the nature of the witchcraft which she has used, and again Serapia responds that, as a Christian, she would never use magic.

§ 10: The praeses now threatens her: sacrifice or be beheaded. Serapia tells him to do as he wishes, but she will never sacrifice to demons. The praeses orders her to be tortured with burning torches but they are extinguished and those bearing them fall backwards. Serapia offers prayers to Jesus Christ asking for help. The praeses orders her to sacrifice or die. She refuses once more and he continues to accuse her of witchcraft. She turns the accusations back on him, because he denies the true God and worships demons.

§ 11: The praeses orders her beaten with cudgels, and there follows a terrible earthquake. A splinter from the cudgels used to beat Serapia touches the praeses’ right eye; three days later he loses this eye. The praeses, filled with anger again, orders her to be executed. She is beheaded across the arch of Faustinus (trans arcum Faustini) next to the area Vindiciani ducis ducum. Thus Serapia was martyred on the 4th day before the Calends of August [= 29 July].

BHL 7404:

§ 12: Sabina, illustrissima femina, gathers Serapia’s remains (reliquiae) and, after celebrating the funeral, buries them in her tomb (monumentum suum) that she had built herself. From that day forth, she incessantly offers alms, keeps the faith received from Serapia, and visits the infirm and those in prison, caring for their needs.

§ 13: At that, a man like a most rapacious dog, the prefect Helpidius, is told by the praeses of the deeds of Sabina. He has her brought to the praetorium, where he interrogates her, asking her to confirm her illustrious lineage (spouse of the now dead Valentinus, and daughter of Herodes), and then demands to know why she is consorting with the Christians, for whom death is life, rather than worshipping the gods, who are worshipped by the emperors. She replies thanking Jesus Christ, who freed her from uncleanness and from the devil through Serapia. The prefect wonders whether Sabina thinks that not only him but the emperors as well do not worship gods but demons. Sabina states that if they worshipped the true God, they would not adore stupid, insensible statues of demons. They will all burn together in hell.

§ 14: The prefect orders her to sacrifice to the gods, or he will not delay in ordering her execution. Sabina addresses him as an insane devil, and tells him she will not worship his demons; she restates her Christianity. Now the prefect, a servant of the devil (diaboli minister), sentences her to death by beheading.

§ 15: Sabina is beheaded, and with great joy other Christians come and carry off her body, burying it in her own tomb in oppidum Vendinense next to the arch of Faustinus (ad arcum Faustini), where the virgin Serapia also lay buried. Sabina was martyred on the 4th day before the Calends of September [= 29 August], joining Serapia as a martyr.

Text: D’Angelo 2015, 169-182 (paragraph numbers from the Acta Sanctorum edition). Summary: M. Humphries, the Roman Martyrs Project, Manchester University, revised and adapted by M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Serapia and Sabina, martyrs of Rome : S01303

Saint Name in Source

Seraphia, Savina

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

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Vendinensium Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

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

Miracle during lifetime Punishing miracle Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle at martyrdom and death Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Aristocrats Officials Other lay individuals/ people Angels

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Serapia and Sabina 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 Serapia and Sabina There is one main version of the Martyrdom, composed of two parts narrating the martyrdoms of Serapia and of Sabina, often separated in manuscripts and thus recorded in separate entries: BHL 7586 and BHL 7407 (there are as well a number of variant versions, BHL 7586b-7587 and BHL 7407b-d). D’Angelo, who provided a recent edition of the Martyrdom, lists 31 manuscripts for BHL 7586, the earliest from the 9th-10th centuries: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 71v-72v; Chartres, Bibliothèque Municipale, 506 (144), f. 193r-195v; Paris, BNF, lat. 5275, f. 6r-8r; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palat. lat. 846, f. 112r-113v ; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 92r-95r. For BHL 7407, D’Angelo lists 64 manuscripts, the earliest from the 9th and 10th centuries: Chartres, Bibliothèque Municipale, 506 (144), f. 189r-190r; Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 101r-102v; Paris, BNF, lat. 5310, f. 182r-183r; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 92r-95r; Vienna, ÖNB, 357. To this list, one should add Karlsruhe, Bad. Landesbibl., Aug. XXXII mentioned by Lanéry 2010, 306.


It should be noted that cult of a titular saint named Sabina is attested in Rome in the late 5th and 6th century (see a summary in Lapidge 2018, 583-585). For this reason, Ado placed cult of Serapia and Sabina in Rome and thought that the narrative would have taken place in the city. However, the Martyrdom does not seem to refer to Roman topography but situates the narrative in oppidum Vendinensium, a place that has not yet been firmly identified but that may perhaps correspond to Vindena near Terni in the region of Umbria in central Italy. As argued by Susi and Lanéry, presumably as a result of the expansion of Sabina’s Roman cult, the author of the Martyrdom, probably writing in Umbria, would have borrowed the character of the Roman Sabina to create a new narrative in which Sabina becomes a local aristocrat converted by the virgin Serapia, and is honoured on the same feast day as in Rome (29 August). Nevertheless, other topographical markers in the Martyrdom remain difficult to locate. For a more detailed discussion of the issues regarding the origins of the cult of Serapia and Sabina, see D’Angelo 2015, 82-85. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, but should have been written by the 9th century at the latest when it is found in manuscripts and borrowed by Ado in his martyrology (Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 570-571). It was generally dated to the 5th or 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2234; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 87), however Susi, followed by Lanéry, notes that it should probably be placed between the end of the 6th and the end of the 8th century, the period which would best suit the expansion of cult of Sabina, while Lapidge places it between c. 600 and 700. D’Angelo, highlighting, among other arguments, further parallels with 7th century Umbrian hagiography suggests that it was composed after 650.


Editions (BHL 7586 and BHL 7407) Acta Sanctorum, Aug., VI, 500-504. D’Angelo, E., Terni medievale. La città, la chiesa, i santi, l'agiografia (Spoleto, 2015), 169-182. English translation (Acta Sanctorum edition): Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 585-592. Italian translation (D’Angelo edition): D’Angelo, E., Terni medievale. La città, la chiesa, i santi, l'agiografia (Spoleto, 2015), 183-189. Further reading: D’Angelo, E., Terni medievale. La città, la chiesa, i santi, l'agiografia (Spoleto, 2015), 80-91 and 165-169. 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, 305-306. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 582-585. Susi, E., “Il culto dei santi nel corridoio Bizantino e lungo la via Amerina,” in: Menestó, E. (ed.), Il corridoio Bizantino e la via Amerina in Umbria nell’Alto medioevo (Spoleto, 1999), 259-294; reprinted in Susi, E., Geografie della santità. Studi di agiorafia umbra mediolatina (secc. IV-XII) (Spoleto, 2008), 31-64, at 59-60.

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