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E02519: The Martyrdom of *Caecilia (virgin and martyr of Rome, S00146) and her Companions (martyrs of Rome, S00537) is written in Latin in the 5th or 6th c., perhaps by Arnobius the Younger in the mid 5th c. It tells of this noble woman's espousal of chastity and her conversion of her husband Valerianus and his brother Tiburtius to Christianity, and their eventual martyrdom; of the conversion and martyrdom of their intended executioner, Maximus; of Caecilia's house becoming a church, her martyrdom, and her body being buried next to those of the bishops of Rome.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Martyrdom of Caecilia (BHL 1495)


§§ 1-2 : Prologue promoting the writing and reading of stories about saints. In their victory over the devil, they all followed Christ. Apostles are the first followers, then martyrs, then confessors, then bishops (sacerdotes), then virgins, then widows, then chaste people.

§§ 3-4: Caecilia is a virgin, betrothed to Valerianus. The night after their marriage, she tells her husband that an angel keeps watch over her virginity.

§§ 5-6: Valerianus wants to see the angel in order to believe her. Caecilia tells him that he needs to be baptised and believe in God. She sends him to meet the holy (sanctus) Urbanus, at the third milestone of the via Appia. There he finds the holy confessor Urbanus amongst the tombs and tells him what Caecilia told him. Urbanus thanks God.

§ 7: Valerianus sees a man dressed in white holding an inscription carved in golden characters. The man asks him, in order to be purified and see the angel, to read the text of the inscription:

Unus Deus, una fides, unum baptisma, unus Deus et pater omnium, qui super omnia et in omnibus nobis.

'One God, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all things, who is above all things and in us all.'

Valerianus believes, the man disappears, and Valerianus is baptised and instructed by Urbanus.

§ 8: Valerianus comes back to meet Caecilia and sees the angel, who gives him and Caecilia crowns of roses and lilies, as they vow to maintain their chastity. These crowns will never fade, but can only be seen by those as piously chaste as Caecilia and Valerianus. The angel offers Valerianus, on behalf of Christ, any favour he might ask for, and he asks that his brother Tiburtius might also become a Christian.

§§ 9-10: The angel disappears, Tiburtius arrives and is amazed by the smell of roses and lilies, which he cannot see. Valerianus tells him that they wear crowns of flowers that he cannot see, the roses for the blood of Christ and the lilies for His white body, and he teaches him about the truth, requiring him to be purified, renounce idols and believe in one God. Tiburtius fails to understand, and Caecilia persuades him to abandon the idols with a speech. She exhorts him to go and meet Urbanus to be baptised.

§§ 11-12: As Valerianus tells Tiburtius about Urbanus, Tiburtius replies that he fears to be killed together with Urbanus, who is known as the papa of the Christians and has already been condemned. Caecilia teaches Tiburtius about the contrast between this life and the promise of eternal life after death. She instructs him about God and the Trinity.

§§ 13-16: Tiburtius is convinced, but wants Valerianus to tell him who is the giver of life. However, it is Caecilia who answers, since Valerianus is still a novice. She tells Tiburtius about Christ the Son of God, quoting several sayings of Jesus from the Gospels, and narrating his passion, death, resurrection and ascension witnessed by many. She ends by telling him about the Apostles sent to preach, heal and give new life. She exhorts him to fight against love of this life promoted by the devil, and to cherish the next life, to avoid death and reach paradise. Tiburtius is fully convinced and goes with Valerianus to meet Urbanus, who baptises him and instructs him for seven days.

§§ 17-20: The prefect of the city (urbis praefectus) Turcius Almachius tortures and kills many Christians, leaving their dead bodies unburied. Tiburtius and Valerianus gives their wealth in alms and bury the martyrs. The prefect hears about it and summons them. As he interrogates them at length, they state their beliefs, contrasting eternal life and life on this earth, and condemning pagan gods as mere criminals.

§§ 21-22: Almachius orders Valerianus to be flogged. Valerianus rejoices and exhorts the people to reject gods made of stone. The assessor Tarquinius Lacca suggests that they should be quickly punished and their riches seized before they are given away. They are brought to a place outside the city (pagus) where a small statue of Jupiter stands, and the order is given to sentence them to death if they refuse to sacrifice. The assistant (cornicularius) Maximus who leads them to the pagus implores them to change their mind, but they tell him about eternal life.

§§ 23-24: Maximus seeks this new hope and asks the executioners to bring them to his own house. There, after Valerianus’ and Tiburtius’ preaching, Maximus’ whole household believes, as well as the executioners. Caecilia comes with priests (sacerdotes) and all are baptised. At dawn Caecilia gives a speech exhorting all to keep their faith. Valerianus and Tiburtius come to the pagus at the fourth milestone from the city, and there, as they refuse to sacrifice in the temple of Jupiter, they are beheaded. Maximus asserts that he has seen their souls leave their bodies and being taken to heaven by angels. Hearing this, many convert. Almachius hears about Maximus’ conversion and orders him to be killed. Then Caecilia buries him next to Tiburtius and Valerianus in a new sarcophagus carved with a phoenix, evoking the resurrection.

§§ 25-27: Caecilia gives all of Valerianus’ wealth to the poor before Almachius is able to seize it. Pagan priests (apparitores) summon Caecilia to sacrifice, imploring her to preserve her youth and nobility. She gives a speech contrasting this, and the next and eternal life. After her speech, she reaches the top of a stone and asks them all whether they believe. All reply stating their belief in Christ the Son of God. She sends the priests to tell Almachius that she wants more time to decide, while in fact she asks the holy father (sanctus papa) Urbanus to come to her house. Urbanus baptises more than four hundred people of the household, among whom is a senator (clarissimus vir) named Gordianus. The house of Caecilia become a hidden church bearing the name of this Gordianus.

§§ 28-30: Almachius summons Caecilia and interrogates her. He requires her to sacrifice to avoid death, but she refuses after a long dialogue with Almachius.

§ 31: As she condemns the idols, Almachius is angered and orders her to be sent home and burnt there by the flames heating the baths. However, in the baths she is refreshed by the fire for an entire day and night. Almachius orders her to be beheaded in the same baths. The executioner (speculator) fails three times to behead three times. She is left there wounded and survives for three days, comforting all in their faith and remarking that these three days were given to her to hand over her house and possessions to Urbanus, consecrating her house as a church.

§ 32: Tunc sanctus Urbanus corpus eius auferens cum diaconis nocte sepelivit eam inter collegas suos episcopos ubi omnes sunt confessores et martyrs conlocati. Domum autem eius in aeternum sanctae ecclesiae tradidit, in qua beneficia Dei exuberant usque in hodiernum diem ...

‘Then, the holy Urbanus, taking her body, buried it at night with the help of deacons next to his fellow bishops, where all placed there are confessors and martyrs. He gave over her house forever to holy church, in which favours (beneficia) of God abound up to the present day ...’

Text: Delehaye 1936, 194-220. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Caecilia, virgin and martyr of Rome : S00146 Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus, martyrs of Rome, buried at Via Appia : S00537 Urbanus, bishop and confessor/martyr of Rome, buried on the via Appia : S00538

Saint Name in Source

Caecilia Tiburtius, Valerianus, Maximus Urbanus

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


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

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracles experienced by the saint Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Relatives of the saint Officials Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Angels Torturers/Executioners

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Caecilia 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 widespread literary genre, that scholars often designate as 'epic' Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, shorter 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 novel-like 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 Caecilia BHL 1495 is the main version and most diffused text, the one discussed here. BHL 1495a omits the prologue, BHL 1496 is a summary already attested in manuscripts from the 8th or 9th century, BHL 1497 is a 7th century adaptation by Aldhelm (see more about these alternative versions and other later versions, their manuscripts and editions in Lanéry 2010, 85-86 n. 162-163 and 87). There are more than 200 manuscripts of BHL 1495: see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( and an additional list in Lanéry 2010, 84-85 n. 162. The earliest are from the 8th and 9th century: Munich, BSB, Clm 4554, f. 128v-135v (8th c.), Paris, BNF, lat. 12598, f. 62r-77v (8th-9th c.); Graz, Universitätsbibliothek, 412, f. 201r-204r (9th c.); Montpellier, Bibliothèque Universitaire Section de Médecine, 55, f. 126v-131r and 131r-135r (9th c.) ; Munich, BSB, Clm 14679, f. 127r-159v (9th c.); Paris, BNF, lat. 5296D, f. 84v-99v (9th c.); Paris, BNF, lat. 10861, f. 7v-21v (9th c.); St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 559, p. 95-128 (9th c.); St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 577, p. 534-559 (9th c.); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.14, f. 132r-146r (9th c.); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.15, f. 191r-209r (9th c.); Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare, XCV, f. 59r-68v (9th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 96r-107v (9th or 10th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 552, f. 22r-54v (9th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 1556, f. 111v-127v (9th c.); Würzburg, Universitätsbibliothek, Mp.Th.Q.15, f. 122r-125r and 183r-184v (9th c.); Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, C.10.i, f. 227v-235r (9th c.).


The Martyrdom of Caecilia provides little evidence for her cult: it does not give any clue about the historical period of her death, nor her feast day. It only mentions her burial place in vague terms, noting that she is buried next to bishops, martyrs and confessors. This could correspond – although it remains uncertain – to the crypt in the cemetery of Callixtus bearing a famous inscription of Damasus celebrating martyrs and confessors (see E01866). Moreover, the Martyrdom clearly points to the concentration of cult in a specific building, thought to be Caecilia’s former house by the hagiographer. The Martyrdom explains that the house first bore the name of Gordianus, although it was Caecilia’s house, given by her to Urbanus, who consecrates it as a church (ecclesia). The Martyrdom also notes that favours are still bestowed there by the saint. Finally, the Martyrdom also states that Maximus is buried together with Valerianus and Tiburtius at a different place, Maximus being laid in a carved sarcophagus. See more details about Caecilia's cult in Lapidge. The Martyrdom was certainly written before the 7th century. It apparently borrowed from Augustine’s De Trinitate written in the 410s and early 420s (see Dufourcq 1900, 294), and in turn it was borrowed from in a Milanese preface for Caecilia (EXXXX), uncertainly dated between the 5th and 7th century, then by Aldhelm, who wrote in the late 7th century (E06575 and E06659). It also circulated in Spain at the same period, being included in the Pasionario Hispánico (Fábrega Grau 1955, II, 25-40). The Martyrdom is also employed in Bede's 8th century martyrology (E05674) and in a preface of the Leonian Sacramentary (EXXXX). Its prologue is probably reused in the 7th century by Braulio of Zaragoza in the Life of Emilianus (E02685), and by other later hagiographers (see Tomea for these borrowings). Other borrowings are less evident: De Vogüé suggested that our Martyrdom could have influenced a passage of the Rule of the Master, while Lanéry argued that it inspired other late antique Roman martyrdom accounts like the Martyrdom of Chrysanthus and Daria (E02487), the Martyrdom of Eugenia (E02490) and the Martyrdom of Susanna (E02515) – though common narrative patterns in these martyrdom accounts provide a thin basis for demonstrating direct borrowing. Despite this evidence, it remains difficult to date our Martyrdom more precisely than in the 5th or 6th century. Repertories of Latin sources (CPL 2171; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 56) situate it after Victor of Vita (who died 486), following Dufourcq 1900, 294-295 and Delehaye 1936, 78-79. These scholars thought that the spouses’ decision to choose virginity in our Martyrdom was inspired by a similar episode in the History of the Vandal Persecution 1.30-31 written by Victor. However, any clear contact between the two texts beyond similarity of themes and language still has to be demonstrated (see Lanéry 2009, 537-538). Delehaye 1936, 87-88 (followed by Lanéry 2010, 83 n. 158) also argued that the addition of the names of Caecilia’s companions on 22 November in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum would provide proof that it took this information from our Martyrdom, but again this is uncertain. Similarly, Dufourcq, followed by Lanéry 2010, has suggested that our Martyrdom was used by the author of the life of Urbanus in the Liber Pontificalis ($00328), because of the mention of the same characters and parallel features of the narrative. The exact relationship between the two texts remains to be ascertained, however, particularly because of some inconsistencies (Urbanus dies after Tiburtius in our Martyrdom, while he is buried by Tiburtius in the Liber Pontificalis). Although transmitted anonymously, Lanéry 2009 has argued that the Martyrdom should be attributed to Arnobius the Younger (mid 5th c.), together with the Martyrdom of Sebastianus (E02512). Its author would also have been influenced by the Historia monachorum translated by Rufinus and by the Martyrdom of Anastasia (E02482). Because of the lack of emphasis in our Martyrdom on the 'semi-pelagian' controversy and of similarities to the Contra Serapionem by the same author, Lanéry argued that it was composed around 440-450.


Editions (BHL 1495): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I,, 332-341 (original edition published c. 1480). Delehaye, H. Étude sur le Légendier Romain. Les saints de Novembre et de Décembre (Brussels, 1936), 194-220. Fábrega Grau, A., Pasionario Hispánico (siglos VIII-XI), 2 volumes (Madrid-Barcelona, 1953-1955), II, 25-40. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 144-164. Further reading: Acta Sanctorum, Nov. II: Pars posterior qua continetur Hippolyti Delehaye Commentarius perpetuus in Martyrologium Hieronymianum ad recensionem Henrici Quentin O. S. B. (Brussels, 1931): 22 November. Amore, A., I Martiri di Roma (Rome, 1975), 144-156. Delehaye, H. Étude sur le Légendier Romain. Les saints de Novembre et de Décembre (Brussels, 1936), 73-96. De Vogüé, A., “La Passion de sainte Cécile. Ses rapports avec la vie de Samson et la Règle du Maître”, Studia Monastica 40 (1998), 7-10. Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, volume 1 (Paris, 1900), 292-296. Lanéry, C., “Nouvelles recherches d’hagiographie arnobienne: la Passion de Cécile (BHL 1495)”, in: M. Goullet (ed.), “Parva pro magnis munera”: études de littérature tardo-antique et médiévale offertes à François Dolbeau par ses élèves (Turnhout, 2009), 533-539. Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie. 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, volume V (Turnhout, 2010), 15-369, at 80-88 (with further bibliography). Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 138-144. Tomea, P., "Qualche nota sulla fortuna e il reimpiego del prologo della Passio Caeciliae BHL 1495", Analecta Bollandiana 122 (2004), 269-276.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity