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E02513: The Martyrdom of *Sixtus/Xystus, Laurence and Hippolytus (martyrs of Rome, respectively S00037, S00201, S00509) is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, perhaps in the 5th c. It narrates their miracles, martyrdom and burial in Rome. An augmented and rewritten version of it is incorporated in the Martyrdom of Polychronius, Sixtus/Xystus, Laurence, Hippolytus and others (E02504).

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus (BHL 7811)


§ A: This narrative is humble, but the virtues of the martyrs are eminent by themselves.

§ B: Sixtus is bishop of Rome, born in Athens, first he was a philosopher and later he became a true disciple of Christ. As he hears that the emperor Decius is coming to Rome, he says that as Christ and the apostles already had to endure suffering to preserve the Church, one has to be ready for it.

§ C: He calls Laurence, his archdeacon (archidaconus), a Roman citizen, and entrusts him with all the goods (facultates) of the Church so that the greedy king might not get hold of it. [Here variant versions introduce a dialogue between Sixtus and Laurence]. Laurence sells them all and gives the money to the poor.

§ D: Decius arrives in Rome with Abdo and Senes, Persian citizens and most Christian, whom he had arrested and tortured and brought from the East. He organises games in which they are thrown to wild beasts, that however bow in front of them. The emperor orders them to be killed by gladiators, then their bodies to be thrown out of the amphitheatre and left unburied to dogs. Christians however take the bodies at night and bury them in the cemetery of Pontianus (cimiterium Pontianum) on the 3rd day of the Calends of August [= 30 July].

§ E: Then the emperor orders Sixtus, the bishop of Rome, to be brought to him and summons him to sacrifice to the gods. Sixtus rejects them as mere idols made of stone. Decius orders him to be beheaded, this is done outside the walls of the city on the via Appia in the place called clivum Martis. Christians steal his body and bury it in the cemeterium caelesti [variant reading perhaps preferable: cemeterium Calixti] on the same road on the 8th day of the Calends of August [= 6 August].

§ F: The same day Decius orders Laurence to be brought to him and asks him where the treasures of the Church are, knowing that he manages them. Laurence asks for a delay of two days to assemble everything. Decius accepts, but puts him under the custody of the general Hippolytus. Laurence assembles all the poor who believe in Christ. Hippolytus asks him to show him the treasures of the Church. Laurence agrees on the condition that Hippolytus believe in Christ. Hippolytus agrees. Laurence gives sight to the blind by signing their eyes with the cross of Christ. Seeing this, Hippolytus falls at Laurence’s feet and asks him to be made a Christian.

§ G: After receiving the faith of Christ, the next day Hippolytus goes to the emperor and tells him that Laurence is outside with a crowd of poor people and requires to enter with them. The emperor lets Laurence enter with them all and asks him where the treasures of the Church are, Laurence tells him that they are the poor.

§ H: The emperor hands him over to Valerianus, the prefect of the city, ordering him to be killed if he refuses to sacrifice. Laurence is interrogated in the Tiberian palace (palatium Tiberianum), and he rejects the idols.

§ I: Valerianus orders him to be grilled alive on a gridiron (graticula), but as this is done Laurence blesses the Lord. As Valerianus mocks him, Laurence tells him that the coals do not hurt him but refresh him thanks to Jesus Christ; he rejoices as he is worthy of being sacrificed for Christ. He confessed Christ when interrogated and now, grilled, he thanks God. With these words Laurence gives up his spirit. The same day Hippolytus steals his body, embalms it with perfume and buries it in a hidden crypt, the 4th day of the Ides of August [= 10 August].

§ K: Hippolytus remains there two days fasting and praying. The third day he comes home but before eating any food he is taken by soldiers and brought to the emperor. The emperor asks him whether he has become a magician and has hidden Laurence’s body, but Hippolytus replies that he has become a Christian. Decius orders him to be stoned, to be stripped from his Christian clothes, and to be tortured on a rack. Then he is brought out of the city, his feet are bound to wild horses that drag him away; he dies. Christians steal his body and bury it in a crypt next to the praetorian field (agrum praetorianum), the day of the Ides of August [= 13 August].

§ L: Seven days after the martyrdom of Hippolytus, Decius organises games. As he and the prefect Valerianus are entering the amphitheatre in a chariot, they suddenly die, Decius shouting that Hippolytus holds him captive, and Valerianus shouting that Laurence has fastened him with burning chains.

§ M: This became known to all the world, and all believers were comforted and thanked the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who crowns his saints in heaven and takes revenge against persecutors.

Text: Verrando 1991, 207-213. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Xystus II, martyr and bishop of Rome, ob. c. 258 : S00201 Laurence, martyr of Rome, ob. 258 : S00037 Hippolytus, martyr in Rome, d. c. 235 : S00509 Abdos and Semnes, martyrs ar Rome, ob. c. 251 : S00573

Saint Name in Source

Xystus Laurentius Yppolitus Abdo, Senes

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom



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


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

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Distribution of alms

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family Soldiers Officials The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus 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 Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus The transmission of the Martyrdom of Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus is particularly complex and intricate. Verrando, bringing together earlier studies, has demonstrated that the earliest version is the rather brief BHL 7811, which scholars name Passio vetus (‘old martyrdom’), our focus here. The much more widely spread Martyrdom of Polychronius, Sixtus, Laurence, Hippolytus and Others (E02504) contains an augmented rewriting of the Martyrdom of Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus that is incorporated into a larger hagiographic cycle, named by scholars Passio recentior (‘more recent martyrdom’, on which see E02504). The Passio vetus, here designated as the Martyrdom of Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus, was later expanded (Passio aucta, ‘augmented martyrdom’), fragmented and contaminated with versions from the Martyrdom of Polychronius, Sixtus, Laurence, Hippolytus and Others. On the different versions with corresponding BHL numbers and new additions, see Verrando (1990, 1991) and the tables in Lanéry 2010, 105-107, offering as well an overview of editions of the various versions of the martyrdoms. The complete Martyrdom of Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus, or fragments of it, are preserved in 40 manuscripts according to the lists provided by Verrando 1991, 187-194 and Lanéry 2010, 103-104 n. 119. There are 8 manuscripts dated before the 10th century and the earliest complete copy, at the basis of Verrando’s edition, is from the 8th century: Munich, BSB, Clm 4554, f. 86v-88r. The Martyrdom of Sixtus, Laurentius and Hippolytus was also transmitted in Greek (BHG 976-977, 977c-e), BHG 2178 being a combination of it with the Martyrdom of Polychronius, Sixtus, Laurence, Hippolytus and Others.


Cult of the Roman martyrs Sixtus, Laurence and Hippolytus is attested from an early date in a number of other sources (see S00037, S00201, S00509; an overview in Lanéry 2010, 96-100, and Lapidge 2018, 181-189). The Martyrdom, presumably written in Rome, thus developed from the growing cult of these martyrs in the 4th and early 5th centuries. As argued by Lanéry, while both the Martyrdom and Ambrose’s references to Laurence’s martyrdom share distinctive features (Laurence’s treasures, his death on a gridiron three days after Sixtus), there is no evidence of direct borrowing and both seem only to stem from a common Roman legend. Similarly there is no clear connection between the Martyrdom and Prudentius’ hymn for Hippolytus. The building of a common narrative including Sixtus, Laurence, Hippolytus, Abdon and Sennes, all celebrated in early August, seems to be the work of the hagiographer. The precise date of composition of the Martyrdom is uncertain. It must be situated before the 8th century, when the earliest preserved manuscript was copied. Moreover, the Martyrdom was soon interpolated to include other elements of the legend of Laurence, while its fuller rewriting (E02504), certainly known to Bede, was perhaps composed in the early 6th century, in the aftermath of the Laurentian schism (498-506). Lanéry argued that its composition cannot be situated too early since earlier references to Laurence do not seem to depend on it but rather on Ambrose. While she suggested that the Martyrdom was composed between 430 and 450, on the basis that the basilica of Laurence in Rome would have been expanded under pope Sixtus III (432-440), Lapidge points to the fact that these building works are now rather situated by scholars at the time of Constantine. Lapidge suggests dating the Martyrdom broadly between 450 and 500.


Edition (BHL 7811): Verrando, G.N., "«Passio SS. Xysti Laurentii et Yppoliti»: La Trasmissione manoscritta delle varie recensioni della cosiddetta Passio vetus," Recherches Augustiniennes 25 (1991), 181-221, at 207-213. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 190-194. Further reading: Lanéry, C., Ambroise de Milan hagiographe (Paris, 2008), 141-153. 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 96-108 (with further bibliography). Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 180-190. Verrando, G.N., “Alla base e intorno alla più antica Passio dei santi Abdon e Sennes, Sisto, Lorenzo ed Ippolito,” Augustinianum 30 (1990), 145-187. Verrando, G.N., "«Passio SS. Xysti Laurentii et Yppoliti»: La Trasmissione manoscritta delle varie recensioni della cosiddetta Passio vetus," Recherches Augustiniennes 25 (1991), 181-221.

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